In a new chapter in the ongoing despite between Egyptian fans and Saudi investor Turki Al-Sheikh who is the head of Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority (GSA), as the later announced on Monday night he will withdraw from investing in Egypt’s football scene.
Al-Sheikh and his associates have founded what is now known as Pyramids FC, formerly known as Al Assiouty Sport—a club that was formed in 2008—has spent millions of Egyptian pounds in establishing the club, singing players, broadcasting a channel, and bringing up international stars to comment and analyse matches.
On Monday night, Pyramids FC official channel announced the Al-Sheikh has made a “final decision to withdraw from sports investments in Egypt.” The channel said on its official Twitter account that management of the club will be the responsibility of its top officials.
Earlier on Monday, Al-Sheikh, who is a vocal commentator on Egyptian football, wrote on his official Facebook “I am seriously thinking of withdrawing from sports investment in Egypt. Strange [that targets me] from different sides. Why bother?”
Al-Sheikh has created animosity between and several fan groups more precisely the hardcore fans of Al Ahly Club, Ultras Ahlawy. On Sunday, night thousands of fans, attending Al Ahly’s game against the Horoya Conakry in the CAF Champions League quarter-finals, chanted in anger against Al-Sheikh, vigorously insulting him in some.
As the game was part of the CAF qualifying matches, the fans were allowed inside the games. In early September, Egypt’s sports officials have issued a decree that allows only 5000 fans in every match, 3000 for the home team, 1500 for the away team, and 500 university students and physically challenged individuals.
The insulting chants also came after, a dispute that took place between Al-Sheikh’s Pyramids and El Mokawloon SC over Al-Sheikh threat to order his owned club to withdraw from the Egyptian League if the video assistant referee (globally known as VAR) was implemented.
Days after the Egyptian Football Association started taking measures to seek international assistance to implement the VAR in Egyptian stadiums. On Tuesday during a phone call on the ON Sport radio station, former international referee Gamal El-Ghandour, Egyptian Football Association (EFA) member and head of referee committee said that Egypt will have three VAR units installed in vans, that will operate in different matches of the Egyptian league.
Another controversy took place with El Mokawloon SC coach Alaa Nabil was interviewed by the privately-owned ON Sport channel and expressed surprise about how quick the EFA brought in foreign referees. Nabil compared mocked the situation hinting as a possible bribery, comparing the incident with a popular comic film called Morgan Ahmed Morgan, where a wealthy businessperson bribed players, league officials, and referees.
After Nabil’s comments, Al-Sheikh wrote on his social media page that “there are authorities in Egypt that can discipline El Mokawloon’s coach.”
Al-Sheikh has made some provocative tweets that deepened animosity between him and Egyptian fans, after posting on his social media that he wishes Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah speed recovery “after the World Cup”. The comment was made weeks before Egypt was planned to play in Saudi Arabia.
Hours after Al-Sheikh’s decision to withdraw from Egypt’s football scene, Member of the Egyptian Parliament and the President of Zamalek FC Mortada Mansour said in a televised interview on Pyramid’s official channel that fans who insulted Al-Sheikh during Al Ahly game were “as dogs and criminals, and [were] paid,” describing what happened as a “plot.” Mansour has been a furious enemy of the Ultras groups and has been a vocal advocate to legally persecute and ban their fans from entering stadiums. “Why did you insult Al-Sheikh’s mother?” Mansour said, defending him and describing him as a “foreign investors,” but at the same time accusing officials at Al Ahly of receiving presents and gifts from him.
Mansour used a nationalist tone blaming the Ultras of being a reason for sending dozens of workers, who he claimed to be all Egyptian, in the Pyramids club out of work.
In its statement confirming Al-Sheikh’s decision, Pyramids confirmed that the contracts of workers in the channel will not be touched, and players in the club will be offered opportunities to play outside Egypt.
However, it remains unclear whether Al-Sheikh’s declension will actually affect the Egyptian league.
Al-Sheikh’s recent bold move to invest in Egyptian football has enriched several aspects of the game, six years after restrictions were done on fans attendance. Since 2012, Egyptian football was met with two major crises. The first took place in what is now known ‘Port Said massacre’ in February 2012, where fans of Al Ahly and Al-Masry were fighting on the football ground amid no security presence, and reports that the stadium doors were locked, leaving 72 victims died.
The second took place on 8 February 2015, when a premier league football match between Al-Zamalek SC and Enppi’s team took a violent turn as fans were attempting to enter the Air Defence Stadium.
During these clashes, at least 22 fans were killed in violence between security forces and Al-Zamalek SC supporters. The Air Defence Stadium deaths led to an uproar from different political parties, coalitions, opposition groups, and institutions. All parties mourned the dead and expressed their condolences to the victims’ families.
After Al-Sheikh’s decision, the club signed a big number of commentators and veteran footballers to host a programme on the new channel, benefiting from his wide base their followers. The channel will also have Khalid Al-Ghandour, Reda Abdel Aal, Medhat Shalaby, Ahmed Hassan, Ahmed Hossam Mido, Bilal Alam, and Ibrahim Said, who are known for their huge viewership, spontaneous expressions, and opinions that always raise controversy on social media.
The aftermath of Al-Sheikh’s decision included supportive social media campaigns by Saudi users to support the Saudi minister.
During an uproar between him and Al Ahly, Al-Sheikh denied that he is “a sack of rice”, hence withdrawing and haling all financial support that he previously dedicated to the Egyptian club.
Al-Sheikh played a significant role at the club through financial support. However, the relation between him and Al Ahly fans came to an end when the team’s negotiations with Argentinean manager Ramon Diaz failed and he was appointed the new manager of Jeddah’s Al-Ittihad.