Even though hundreds of Egyptian newspaper journalists are collectively refusing to mention him by name in print, Mortada Mansour, one of the world’s most eccentric football moguls, is a man of the Egyptian moment.
Whether he is being doused in urine, as he was in October, or sued seven times for libel, it is hard to keep him out of the news.
First there was his election last March to the chairmanship of Zamalek, the second-biggest team in Egypt. Then there was his tilt at the national presidency last summer. Mansour ultimately withdrew from the race, citing a divine vision, after an odd and brief campaign in which he threatened to rip up the peace treaty with Israel and force atheists to practice atheism in their bathrooms.
But it got him what he most desired: attention.
And after grabbing the limelight, he has not let it go. At Zamalek, Mansour fired two managers in two months, including Mido, the former Tottenham striker. On television talkshows, he is a weekly absurdist presence, shouting down all who disagree with him – hence the newspaper blackout and the libel suits.
And he is fighting a vicious battle with the White Knights, the most diehard section of Zamalek’s fanbase – hence the urine, or, as he claims, acid. Once among the footsoldiers of Egypt’s 2011 uprising, the White Knights do not warm to a counter-revolutionary figure like Mansour, while he wants them banned.
“They are not fans, they are criminals,” Mansour, a lawyer by training, said in an interview with the Guardian at Zamalek’s headquarters last year. “They are using bombs, live ammunition and shotgun pellets … And last week they threw acid at me – but I continue because this is part of the nation’s battle against terrorism.”
Many find it hard to take seriously much of what Mansour says, not least his exaggerated portrayal of a largely middle-class group of football supporters. But his actions are worth taking note of, since they give a sense of the kind of reactionary person and hardline discourse that dominate Egypt four years after its failed revolution.
Back in 2011, Mansour was accused of (and later acquitted, due to lack of evidence) inciting a notorious camel attack on protesters during the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. But as parts of the ancien régime reconstitute themselves under new strongman Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Mansour – a Mubarak-era MP – has once again found the space to flex his muscles.
“What happened on 25 January was a conspiracy,” he proudly claims, referring to the 2011 revolution by the date on which it started. “Revolutions mean that today is better than yesterday, and that tomorrow is better than today. But 25 January brought a fascist dictatorial regime,” he adds, meaning the Muslim Brotherhood government that was toppled by Sisi in 2013.
But if the Brotherhood had hardline instincts, Sisi’s subsequent “war on terror” has proved far worse, and created a smokescreen for a crackdown on all kinds of subversion – be it from Muslim Brothers, leftists, atheists, gay people, independent journalists or politicised football fans. And as the smoke lifts, the loudest voices left are ones like Mansour’s.
“The worst-ever day in Egypt’s history was 25 January,” said Mansour in a typical outburst on a recent talk-show, “and whoever doesn’t like my point, I’ll beat them with my shoes.”
For human rights lawyer Tarek el-Awady, Mansour’s prominence is a symptom of Egypt in 2014. “He is the natural outcome of the current phase,” says Awady. “It’s an ugly phase. There is no clear vision for the future. There is a clear intention to create a new pharaoh, to return to the Mubarak era. So it’s natural that Mortada Mansour would be a big player, and that everyone else would be described as spies and traitors.”
Awady would know: he represents the White Knights in their courtroom battles with Mansour. As a result, Awady is one of several people Mansour and his allies on television have attempted to smear. By Mansour’s account, Awady is variously an agent for the Brotherhood’s funders, Qatar; an arsonist; and, of course, a terrorist.
Others to have attracted Mansour’s ire include the revolutionary hero Wael Ghonim, who Mansour baselessly claims is a CIA operative “involved in a case worse than devil worship”; and the Guardian, whose critical coverage of Egypt has led him to wrongly conclude that the newspaper is Qatari-owned. “I’m challenging you to write about this,” he confidently smirks.
But while he makes many enemies, Mansour has his supporters, particularly within Zamalek itself. The White Knights hate him. But he gets a fonder response from those who flock to the club for its facilities, rather than its football, and are attracted by his promise of “cleaner bathrooms than the cleanest hotels in Europe”.
“Mortada’s excellent,” says one member, 49-year-old Nada Zeinhom, happy with the recent construction of new playgrounds and swimming pools. “He’s the difference between heaven and earth.” Even Gamal Abdelhameed, a club legend, and former captain of the national team, agrees: “He’s the knight who has come to raise up Zamalek.”
Mansour is quieter in person than his on-screen belligerence suggests, a juxtaposition he ascribes to his Gemini star sign, which he claims has left him with 15 separate personalities.
Certainly, his career shows he is a man of many identities. He’s a media personality who many in the media refuse to report on, after he insulted one too many journalists. Before joining Zamalek, Mansour was a member of their arch-rivals, Ahly. Before entering football, he was a high-court judge, notoriously jailing one of Egypt’s leading actors in 1983, for making a film that poked fun at lawyers.
And though he is seen today as a product of the Mubarak era, he had his run-ins with the former dictator’s regime. During an earlier stint at Zamalek in 2005, the government forced him from office after he waved a shoe in the presence of a Mubarak aide. Separately, he was also convicted of assault.
All these contradictions make Mansour a difficult man to categorise – but for his opponents they also underscore what makes him a fitting metaphor for contemporary Egypt. “He is a symbol,” says Awady, “for the chaotic state the country is in.”
Source : theguardian