Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Tourism or terrorism?

Embroiled in controversy, former football superstar Mohamed Abu Treika unleashed a tidal wave of nationwide debate after his travel company was charged with funding the terrorist-designated Muslim Brotherhood. Inas Mazhar reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Since the beginning of the week the legendary ex-footballer Mohamed Abu Treika has been going through difficult times with the Ministry of Justice. The issue under dispute could destroy his business interests and, more importantly, stain his stellar career with his club and the country.

Abu Treika launched an appeal against the confiscation of his money in a travel agency and the freezing of his personal assets. On Monday the appeal was rejected by the government committee charged with managing the funds of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The committee, headed by Councillor Ezzat Khamis, rejected the appeal issued by the tourism company Asshab Tours, which is owned by Abu Treika and other partners.

According to Councillor Mohamed Yasser Abul-Fetouh, the appeal was rejected because Abu Treika and three other partners failed to provide evidence disproving the allegations.

Abul-Fetouh said an investigation by security and monitoring authorities confirmed that the company is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, officially labelled by the Egyptian government as a terrorist organisation. The allegations include providing funding for the Brotherhood to launch terrorist attacks in the country and organising touristic trips to and from Turkey and Qatar, two countries which have taken in some of the now-exiled Egyptian Brotherhood members.

Asshab Tours was founded in 2012 in Alexandria by several partners, including Abu Treika, who is the company’s board chairman. One of the main partners at the time, Anas Mohamed Omar Al-Kadi, a company director, is currently in jail for crimes committed in Alexandria.

In November 2013, Abu Treika and other partners bought the company, the main business of which was tourism in Egypt and abroad and the organising of Umrah and Hajj pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia, plus trips to Qatar and Turkey.

One of the most celebrated players in the history of Egyptian football, Abu Treika has been stoic and defiant since his personal crisis unfolded. He tweeted on his official Twitter account: “We earn money to keep it in our hands, not in our hearts. You can seize money or seize whomever you want, but I will not leave this country. I will continue to work here for the welfare of the country.”

Several Egyptian football players in Abu Treika’s former club Ahly and in other clubs are supporting the player, praising his ethics and conduct on and off the field and refusing to believe that he would do anything that would harm the country.

Former team captain Ahmed Hassan and players Emad Meteb, Omar Gamal and Ahmed ‘Mido’ Hossam have all written on their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts in support of Abu Treika. “If you are a terrorist, then I am a terrorist too,” wrote Gamal. And from Zamalek’s Bassem Morsi, “You will remain the people’s idol.”

The nation has been split during the past week over the story. The pro-Abu Treika camp believes political revenge is being taken against Abu Treika because he is seen as anti-regime.

On several occasions, Abu Treika has publicly expressed his political leanings, including refusing to shake hands with army officers who managed the country during the transitional period after Hosni Mubarak was removed as president. “I was unhappy with the country’s situation,” Abu Treika reportedly said at the time.

He also endorsed the presidential campaign of the Islamist former president, Mohamed Morsi, but has repeatedly denied that he is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Others believe that Abu Treika is guilty of having ties to the banned group. They accuse him of disloyalty and of betraying the country for the sake of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Denouncing him a terrorist, they claim Abu Treika has been wearing a mask and that the nickname he was given by his fans, ‘The Prince of Hearts’, was unearned.

Still others are remaining neutral, saying that Abu Treika, no matter how famous, is not above the law.

They say his dealings should be investigated and that if he is found guilty, he should pay the price.

Not surprisingly, pro-Islamists have given their all-out support for Abu Treika. “You’ll continue to be a symbol of all beautiful meanings in Egypt,” said Nader Bakar, a senior member of the Salafist Al-Nour Party, on his Twitter page. “Egyptians will continue to be able to distinguish between the reformist and the spoiler,” Bakar added.

Ismail Hanaiya, a senior official in the Palestinian Islamist Hamas group, joined the pro-Abu Treika campaign. “May God compensate you. This is better than the money of this world, you wizard,” Hanaiya wrote in a tweet.

Political analyst Ossama Al-Ghazali Harb wrote that it was true Abu Treika has always been frank about his political views and has publicly announced his position several times. “This is his right and he is free to support whomever he wants,” Al-Ghazali Harb said.

“However, it is the right of the country to investigate the allegations because no one is above the law, regardless of his popularity among the people. Egypt now has two former presidents who have gone on trial and are currently in jail. This is what we are discussing here, not Abu Treika, but the fact that no one is above the law.”

After appeals by Abu Treika and his partners were rejected, Asshab Tours, according to Councillor Abu Al-Fetouh, will come under the control of the committee managing the Muslim Brotherhood funds, like other companies and properties before it.

Abu Treika’s football exploits are unparalleled. Known as ‘The Smiling Assassin’, he was on the Egyptian squad that won a record three consecutive Africa Cup of Nations crowns, scoring the deciding penalty against Ivory Coast in 2006 and notching the lone goal against Cameroon in the 2008 final.

At the club level, his last-minute goal for Ahly against Tunisia’s Sfaxi in an away game in the final of the African Champions League in 2006 is forever etched in memory.

He also helped Ahly win the bronze medal in the FIFA Club World Cup in the same year, scoring twice against Club America of Mexico for third place, an unprecedented result for the Egyptian club or any African outfit at the time. He was the top scorer of the tournament with three goals in three matches.

Abu Treika came second in the African Footballer of the Year award in 2008 and was one of five nominees for the 2006 award, and one of the ten nominated for the 2013 award. He was chosen African Best Player of the Year four times, in 2006, 2008, 2012, and 2013. The award is given by the CAF for players based in Africa.

Off the pitch, Abu Treika was also in the spotlight. He spoke out on the publication in Europe of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohamed that many in the Muslim world deemed disrespectful and blasphemous.

At the height of the cartoon crisis, Abu Treika took his jersey off during a game, revealing a T-shirt that read: “We sacrifice our lives for you, Mohamed.”

“Sympathize with Gaza” was Abu Treika’s message when he did the same in support of the Palestinians during the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

He took the actions despite FIFA’s avowed policy that players should not mix either religion or politics with football.

Abu Treika was also outspoken in his support for Ultras Ahlawy after 72 spectators, mostly Ahly spectators, were killed in a soccer riot in a domestic league game in Port Said in 2012.

Since his retirement in 2013 at age 37, Abu Treika has travelled regularly outside Egypt to attend football events and worked as an analyst for Al-Jazeera Sports Channel and BeIN Sport, the global network of sports channels.

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