Soccer loss bruises Egyptian pride

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LAURA LYNCH: Brazilians can take pride in something else. Their country is the only one that sent a team to every soccer World Cup, all nineteen of them. The next one is in South Africa, next summer. Brazil will be there as usual, but not Egypt. Its national soccer team failed to make the cut yesterday and as Aya Batrawy reports, Egyptians are seeing this as a national humiliation.

AYA BATRAWY: The last time Egypt reached the World Cup finals was nearly twenty years ago. So when Egypt and Algeria went head to head for a playoff match in Sudan last night, it was more than just a game for millions of Egyptians. It was about national pride, about being the Arab superpower. About being the sole Arab country represented in the World Cup. When Egypt lost, 1-0, it was a painful defeat, said Media Analyst, Mohamed Selim.

MOHAMED SELIM: When Algeria got it yesterday as if it was alas, the end of the world. Many people were crying, students were crying, my mother was crying. Everybody was lost. It is the end of the world and Armageddon is almost an hour ago.

BATRAWY: The loss comes at a sensitive time for Egyptians. Their status as the most powerful Arab nation has steadily eroded. And recently Egypt's efforts to get its culture minister named head of UNESCO backfired when he was passed over amid controversy over his political views. So Selim says the country's bruised ego was counting on soccer.

MOHAMED SELIM: In the sixties Egypt had a national project, their high dam. And we build the high dam. In the seventies we had the war against Israel. Was it good or bad? We did something but throughout the last twenty eight years, what is the national project of Egypt? Soccer was the only thing but right now even we lost in soccer. We lost that yesterday.
BATAWRY: Granted Egypt has had some international bright spots of late. It's where President Obama chose to give his speech to the Muslim world earlier this year. Still, nineteen year old student, Dahlia Sarwat said in a country where a quarter of Egyptians live on less than a dollar a day, soccer was one of the few things that people felt good about it.

DAHLIA SARWAT: There's nothing going well in this country because we're more interested in superficials rather than looking deep, deep inside because it tears too much. It's a lot to be fixed and it will be not be fixed.

BATAWRY: When I asked fifteen year old Amr Ahmed what do Egyptians have left if they don't have soccer, he says at least we can be happy that we are Egyptians. What else? There's nothing more.

BATAWRY: For the World, I'm Aya Batawry in Cairo.