Crowned Cairo soccer club Al Ahly SC has resumed training in a tangible declaration of confidence that the Egyptian military will lead the country to democracy. Al Ahly’s Portuguese trainer Jose Manuel began Al Ahly’s first training session since anti-government protesters took to the streets of Egypt three weeks ago with a minute of silence for the hundreds of people killed in the demonstrations that finally forced President Hosni Mubarak from office. Al Ahly, which boasts 50 million supporters and traces its history back a century to the resistance against British colonial rule, refrained from officially taking sides in the fight between Mubarak and a majority of the Egyptian population but signaled its stance in a variety of different ways. Al Ahly supporters played a key role in the protests while the club resisted attempts to lift the suspension of Egyptian professional league matches or a resumption of training prior to Mubarak’s ousting that constituted government efforts to project a semblance of normalcy despite the turmoil. The Egyptian Football Association (EFA), which has yet to lift the suspension declared at the outset of the protests, had proposed allowing league matches to take place behind closed doors. Al Ahly blocked the proposal saying matches could not be played in the absence of fans. Some Al Ahly supporters while supportive of their club’s decision worry that confidence in the military’s ability to keep its promise to lead Egypt to democracy within six months may be misplaced. They note that the military has effectively ruled Egypt for almost 60 years and is unlikely to voluntarily dismantle its political power and eliminate its economic privileges. Instead, these supporters expect the military to retain as much of the old structure as possible repackaged with elections and a greater degree of freedom to make it domestically and internationally palatable. Democratization of Egypt is likely over time to lead to significant restructuring of Egyptian soccer in terms of management, which often had close ties to Mubarak and his cronies, as well as club ownership. A majority of Egyptian clubs are government-owned through ministries and state-owned companies.
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