A Cairo Criminal Court last week approved the listing of 1,420 individuals who allegedly have links to the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists.
Mohamed Abu Treika, the 2008 BBC African Footballer of the Year and one of Egypt’s most celebrated football players, was among them. Abu Treika is accused of funding the Muslim Brotherhood which was designated a terrorist group in December 2013.
Under the country’s anti-terrorism laws any person placed on a terror list is subject to a travel ban and faces having their passports and assets frozen in addition to being barred from holding public office. The verdict, issued by court on 12 January but only announced last week, is a first-degree verdict and can be appealed.
Abu Treika’s lawyer, Mohamed Osman, said he had received no notice of the verdict of the court’s reasoning behind it.
“My client has not been convicted in any criminal case,” said Osman.
The court decision means that the footballer’s assets will be frozen for the next three years and his name will be added to a no-fly list at airports across the country.
Osman says the name of the 38-year-old footballer had been added to a list of individuals allegedly supporting terrorism which includes a host of political opposition figures who are supposed to be supporters and financiers of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We will appeal this decision,” Osman said.
Abu Treika has repeatedly denied allegations that he is linked to, or financially supports, the Brotherhood.
Abu Trieka was a mid-fielder and playmaker in Al-Ahli Football Club and in the national football team. Though he retired in 2013 he is still one of the best known football players in the country and the Arab world, celebrated for his good manners.
The decision prompted an outcry from fans on social media networks with the Arabic hashtags “Abu Treika is Not a Terrorist” and “Our Hearts’ Terrorist” trending on Twitter nationwide.
Many public figures have also expressed their disquiet with the decision.
“When Abu Treika becomes a terrorist, Egyptians defending Egyptian islands become traitors and the presence of cultural and human rights libraries in popular neighbourhoods becomes a threat to national security we know that we need to place different definitions on those words,” Egyptian lawyer Khaled Ali posted on his social media account.
Egypt international and Tottenham Hotspur striker Ahmed Hossam “Mido”, tweeted his support of Abu Treika: “I don’t know the details pertaining to Abu Treika’s problem, but I do testify before God that he is one of the best personalities I have dealt with in my life and a kind, forgiving man to everybody.” He called on the government to clarify whether they had evidence that Abu Treika was linked to terrorism.
“Until that time we will all keep defending him and I will continue to support him,” Hossam tweeted. “I doubt a man of his character could do anything against Egypt.”
Ahmed Mahmoud, an accountant, believes that the decision will soon be annulled. “The decision is intended to distract public opinion away from the issue of Tiran and Sanafir islands which has been the focus of public debate in the last two weeks. Abu Treika will soon be acquitted,” says Mahmoud.
Maged Ashour, a university student, says that, “if Abu Treika’s support for Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi during the 2012 presidential elections led to his name being added to the terrorist list then they need to add the names of half of Egypt’s voters as well”.
Islam Shahin, another university student, told Al-Ahram Weekly that no one is “a red line” and exempt from justice, even Abu Treika. Islam was apparently echoing pro-regime TV host Ahmed Moussa who addressed news of the football star’s alleged link to terrorism on his show by saying: “You cannot exempt a football player from justice if he commits a crime. Everyone is subject to the law.”
Egyptian actress Dalia Al-Beheiri was heavily criticised after she attacked Abu Treika on her Facebook account saying: “[It is clear that] Abu Treika is a terrorist even before he supported the Muslim Brotherhood… his face says he is a terrorist.”
Al-Beheiri apologised the day after and deleted her post following widespread criticism of her words.
“I would like to apologise to the football player Abu Treika, to his fans and to the majority of Egyptians for any misunderstanding or hurt I might have caused. My posts do not mean to defame or hurt anyone, it was nothing more than a tease to some of my friends and relatives,” she wrote.
Abu Treika is currently in Gabon as a commentator for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament and faces the threat of arrest on his return to Egypt.
In 2015 a government committee froze the assets of the former football star. In June 2016 the asset freeze was overturned by an Administrative Court verdict.
The terrorist list included senior Brotherhood leaders convicted of violent crimes. They include former president Mohamed Morsi and the Brotherhood’s supreme guide Mohamed Badie. It also included Chairman of the Wasat Party Abul-Ela Madi and his deputy Essam Sultan, businessman Safwan Thabet, chancellor Walid Sharabi and former presidential assistant Pakinam Al-Sharkawi.