Earlier today an article appeared in the Jordan Times (the Kingdom’s official English language newspaper) about how the soccer craze that is “El Clasico” is sweeping Amman’s streets.
According to the paper, shopkeepers and cafe owners reported that the unique four-matches-in-three-weeks scheduling anomaly between arch-rival Spanish soccer mega clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid, has boosted local business. Desperate for a respite from the revolutions sweeping the region, the Clasico has allowed Jordanians to turn their attention away from home. Curious as to whether there was the same interest in Egypt, I headed out on a tour of Cairo’s downtown hours before the third game of this series – Wednesday's UEFA Champions League semi-final.
Similar to the scene described in Amman, Cairo’s streets were buzzing with an excitement one could easily confuse for a World Cup match. Vendors on nearly every corner were selling shirts, jerseys, flags, towels, and trinkets mainly supporting Barcelona and star goal scorer Lionel Messi.
In fact on one side-street lined with cafes, the overwhelming displays of Barcelona blue and red made me feel as if I had just wandered onto La Ramblas. I even found one guy who offered red and blue face paint.
Stopping by an already-full coffee shop, I spoke with Tariq, a devout Barcelona fan, who explained the added meaning to these fierce showdowns. Only occasionally un-gluing his eyes from Al Jazeera’s pre-game coverage to emphasize a point, Tariq spoke about how soccer has captivated Middle East audiences and has served as a welcome respite from the often gruesome and somber scenes of revolution that have become the staple of Middle East news.
While acknowledging the necessity and importance of staying informed, Tariq admitted, “We need a break. People here just talk about the news. Cairo, Libya, Yemen, now Syria. Always sad news. Always death. We are with our brothers in these countries but we want happy things too. Soccer is good because it gives us a time without thinking.”
A few seats away Mahmoud, another Barcelona supporter, chimed in that watching together in cafes “was good for unity. We enjoy this. It makes for a fun rivalry.” When I pointed out that I had yet to see a Real Madrid fan anywhere he quipped, “this is good. Egypt has had enough violence.”
Barcelona eventually pulled away sinking the short-handed Madrid side 2-0. Playing along and pretending to be more dejected than I actually was, Bonduq offered a rather cheerful condolence, “don’t worry habibi, there is a game next week too.”
Indeed there is. Admist the bleak news from around the region, Arab soccer fans can take solace that one more round of El Clasico awaits in two weeks. Until then the many shop owners and street vendors surely hope to continue capitalizing on Spain’s, and maybe the Middle East’s, most watched sporting rivalry.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons