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memri
April 4, 2016 No.
6370

Debate In Egypt: Is Lionel Messi's Donation Of His Shoes A Blessing – Or A Humiliation?

On March 26, 2016, international soccer superstar Lionel Messi, who is very popular in Egypt, was a guest on the Egyptian MBC Masr TV channel show Yes I Am Famous; it was his first appearance on Egyptian television and generated a great deal of interest in the country. Near the end of the program, the interviewer announced that Messi had donated a pair of his shoes to be auctioned off for charities benefiting Egypt's poor.

Messi's action drew harsh reactions on social media and from a number of prominent sports figures, who saw the donation of shoes - often considered a symbol of humiliation in Egyptian culture - as an insult. They also resented the implication that Egypt is an indigent country in need of foreign donations to take of its poor, and demanded that Messi apologize.

On the other hand, several Egyptian journalists came to Messi's defense and condemned his critics, saying that it is undeniable that there is poverty in Egypt and that his donation of shoes is perfectly natural for a soccer player whose fame rests on his feet. Instead of condemning the donation, they argued that it would be preferable to learn from and emulate his example.

 
Lionel Messi and his shoes on "Yes I Am Famous" (image: mbc.net, March 26, 2016)

The following is a collection of reactions in Egypt to Messi's donation of his shoes:

Egyptian Soccer Officials: Messi Humiliated Egypt, And Must Apologize

Azmi Megahed, media spokesman for the Egyptian Football Association and former member of the board of directors of Egypt's Zamalek Soccer Club, rejected Messi's statements and told him to donate to the poor back in his home country of Argentina, where there are many needy who are more deserving of his charity. "Egypt's poor," he said, "are our responsibility, and we cannot let them be the target of harm or humiliation, or be fed from the money received in return for the shoes of a player, no matter how great."

Ali Gheit, former start of the Ismaily Soccer Club, said that such public auctions are inappropriate to Egypt's status, and demanded that firm action be taken against the interviewer, who as an Egyptian should not have allowed such humiliation to go unanswered. He also demanded that Messi apologize and that Egypt take steps to repair its reputation.[1]

Ahmed Hassan, former captain of the Egyptian national soccer team, harshly attacked Messi and the entire MBC administration, saying: "This is a disgrace. Egypt's [good] name is more important than Messi's shoes. This is a humiliation of the great Egypt, which does not need Messi's shoes, with all due respect to him as a superstar. He ought to have donated a signed jersey, as international stars often do for charity."

Media personality Mohammad Al-Dally criticized MBC for the broadcast and demanded that the Egyptian broadcasting authority and journalist union file complaints against the channel with police for humiliating Egyptians.[2] He called the incident "no less [grave] than Tamer Al-Sobky's humiliation of Egypt's wives" - referring to Facebook marital advice columnist Al-Sobky who was recently sentenced to three years in prison after saying on TV that many women in Upper Egypt were willing to cheat on their husbands.[3]

Egyptian Journalist: No Need For Talk Of Humiliation, Egypt's Poor Need Help

Conversely, several Egyptian columnists came to Messi's defense and attacked his critics. Journalist Muhammad Al-Dasuqi Rushdi wrote in Al-Watan on March 27, 2016: "Suddenly, without any advance warning, the air was filled with slogans about the honor of Egyptians, such as 'we are no beggars,' 'we want money from no one,' and 'this is a humiliation of Egypt and its people.' This is what is happening now, and the reason is the shoes of Lionel Messi - the star of Barcelona FC and one of the most famous and skilled in the world at controlling the ball with his feet, and who is beloved by Egyptian children even more than Egyptian adults. Messi's shoes did not land on the head of an Egyptian citizen, and were not used to strike anyone or to humiliate any Egyptian club in a soccer game. So what did Messi do that angered some Egyptians?

"The Argentinian player... is known worldwide for his involvement in charity and societal development, and regularly donates to various elements who work for education, healthcare, and aid to the needy. He has done this in his home country of Argentina as well as in Syria and other countries around the world, including in Europe...

"Those who are angry at Messi claim that his actions humiliate [Egypt]... Messi is a soccer player - moreover, he is the best soccer player in the world, and his shoes are his most valuable possession. Messi's shoes are special - they are the most famous and best-selling around the world. A number of soccer players donated their uniforms or shoes for charity auctions before he did.

"What is so humiliating about Messi's gesture? Is Egypt a wealthy country that needs no foreign donations? Was the Argentinian player lying when he said that there are poor people in Cairo who require aid? Have Egypt's businessmen, for example, taken it upon themselves to fund the expenses of the country's poor so that they have no need of foreign donations? Do... we not often turn on the TV and see commercials asking for donations for some hospital, village, or project? Have we heard, for instance, that Egyptian soccer players, who earn millions more than their playing ability is worth, have taken it upon themselves to donate money and act to expand charity work and the culture of charity auctions?

"Answering any of these questions will show that what Messi did was natural for a star who grew up and was educated in an environment that trained him to play a societal role in the best way he can. Meanwhile, we here are desperate [for help], due to the lack of a culture of social partnership among [Egypt's] stars and businessmen."[4]

Egyptian Journalist: Those Who Curse Messi Are Humiliating Both Egypt And Themselves

Columnist Wael Al-Samry adopted a similar stance. In his March 29, 2016 column in Al-Yawm Al-Sabi', he harshly criticized those who attacked Messi: "Messi committed an unforgivable crime by trying to aid some of Egypt's poor in the same dignified and civilized manner as other global soccer superstars. We mocked and cursed him, because some of our media figures are afflicted with national chauvinism in the true sense of the word - to the point where some showered curses on the world's greatest soccer player... whose only crime was to act like every soccer player in the world and donate his shoes, valued at millions, to Egypt's poor. [He did this] simply and spontaneously, without the slightest intention of humiliating anyone. Were this not the case, the European Golden Shoe award, which Messi has won some five times, would be terribly humiliating - and the world's players would be competing for the Golden Humiliation award, not the Golden Shoe award.

"This incident has shown that the shoe is on the other foot. Those who cursed and humiliated Messi have made Egypt a target of criticism in the world, particularly for Israeli newspapers... and have themselves become worthy of being on the receiving end of a shoe."[5]

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] Alarabiya.net, March 27, 2016.

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 27, 2016.

[3] Al-Ahram (Egypt), March 13, 2016.

[4] Al-Watan (Egypt), March 27, 2016.

[5] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), March 29, 2016.