Saying it cannot allow its national women’s soccer team to play during Ramadan, Libya has withdrawn from an important international tournament in Germany this weekend.
Given that the team has attracted unwanted attention from religious extremists, however, that might only be a half-truth.
The Libyan federation isn’t allowing the women to play because during the holy month, Muslims are supposed to fast from early dawn to sunset.
“The federation said you cannot play in Germany because of the need for fasting,” midfielder Hadhoum el-Alabed told the Guardian. “We want to go but they say you cannot go.”
The Discover Soccer tournament in Berlin bills itself as “nine countries, eight teams, one language.”
It’s offering teams from North Africa and the Middle East the chance to compete against players from Germany, Ukraine and Poland.
Other Muslim teams from Palestine, Jordan, Tunisia, Lebanon and Egypt are to compete.
“Other teams can play, so why not us? If you could see the girls, when they were told, they were all crying,” el-Alabed said.
After forming shortly before the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi began, the Libyan national team has found itself under threat.
It doesn’t publicize a roster and trains in secret, sometimes under the watch of armed guards.
“For the players, football is an expression of freedom and an opportunity to overcome political, cultural and demographic boundaries,” the Discover Football website says of Libya.
“The women believe that this is an important step in the right direction for the redevelopment of their country and the difficult process of reconciliation.”
That’s not a view shared widely in Libya, even after Gaddafi’s 42-year dictatorship fell with the Arab Spring.
Religious extremists say the women have “soiled the honor of their families with the filth of nudity and shamelessness,” Bloomberg News reported.
That assessment came from influential cleric Salim Jabar during a recent televised address. The Ansar al-Sharia militia threatened the team, saying that playing in Germany “could lead to unforgivable things.”
Ansar al-Sharia is thought to have played a role in the killing of US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, Reuters reported.
Despite women earning about 15 percent of seats in the post-Gaddafi government, of the 60 Libyans charged with creating a new constitution, only six are female.
“It’s about control,” one Libyan woman told Bloomberg, “control of women by men.”
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