Cairo derby divides an entire nation

March 11, 2008

The match-up between Al Ahli and Zamalek is arguably one of the world’s biggest footballing fixtures. The Cairo derby not only divides a city but virtually the entire 72-million strong Egyptian nation, few of whom are ambivalent about either club.

Indeed, the clash between two titans spills over into the rest of the Arab world, where more millions follow the clash with almost as much passion as the Egyptians.

The two clubs meet again on Friday at the Cairo International stadium, but this year the traditional edge that characterises the clash is gone because of the great variance of form between the pair.

Traditionally, Al Ahli and Zamalek tussle virulently for the title and the derby matches often prove decisive in the championship chase. This year Al Ahli are runaway league leaders and on the verge of yet another title, a record 33rd. Zamalek are nowhere near the front runners, stuck 17 points off the pace in fourth place in the premier league standings.

Such has been the escape of the fizz around this clash that the Egypt Football Association decided to dispense with their usual policy of bringing in a foreign referee to handle the derby.

Usually the match officials are brought in from Italy, France, Spain, Germany or England, who dispatched Uriah Rennie to Cairo in 2003. But because Zamalek are so far off the title chase, the FA suggested a local be given the rare honour of officiating Friday’s game.

To put things simply, Al Ahli and Zamalek represents a match-up between the disparate levels of Egyptian life. Zamalek are seen as aristocrats of the domestic game, taking their name from the pricey piece of island real estate in the Nile where Cairo’s well-heeled live. Ironically, their club headquarters are on the other side of the river bank while Al Ahli’s club grounds lie nestled firmly on the exclusive island. Both clubs, if they are honest, are reserved for the cream of society and membership of their expansive facilities are far out of the reach of the common man.

But there are substantial bragging rights still at stake,as well as the not too minor detail of continued employment for the two coaches. Al Ahli’s Manuel Jose is called the King of Egypt’ for his all-conquering role with Al Ahli in recent years but their failure to win a third successive African Champions League title last November saw the fans turn on him for the first time.

Zamalek appointed Dutchman Ruud Krol to the post at the start of the season, a returnto the job he previously held a decade earlier. But the former Dutch international has not delivered.

Friday’s encounter is the 101st meeting in the league between the two teams, with 35 wins for Al Ahli, 25 for Zamalek and the other 40 games drawn. This statistic goes back to the start of the Egypt league after World War II but the rivalry extends back almost a century now to when the clubs were first formed.

Mark Gleeson covers African football for Reuters

7 comments

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come on egypt….keep proving to the world how soccer in egypt is artistic like argentinian,brazilian soccer! Zamalek and ahly are by far the 2 best african clubs since the first african matches and until this day!

Posted by Sherif | Report as abusive

I think mark is right that derby is one of the best in the world.The entire continent of africa notice when the two teams play.

Posted by RENDANI | Report as abusive

The entire world take note when the two giants meet.But it is not biggerthan the south african derb of kaizer chiefs and orlando pirates,that one is the biggest in africa

Posted by RENDANI | Report as abusive

Nowadays it is just another derby because zamalek is no longer playing their best football.buty the south african one between mamelodi sundowns and supersport united is catching up. it is now stronger than the soweto derby.

Posted by RENDANI Pharamela | Report as abusive

the tswane derby of sundowns and supersport united is much better in africa

Posted by RENDANI | Report as abusive

it is no longer interesting as al ahly are the dominant force in africa.zamalek just add the number

Posted by RENDANI pharamela | Report as abusive

According to the horrible circumstances that people in Egypt live .. no work , no enough money to start a family no democracy no freedom no liberty so all Ahly fans believe that El Ahly club is the place we call HOME . it’s our own country that gives us the happiness and warm feelings we need .
El Ahly is the African club of the century , El Ahly is the African and Egyptian champion forever

Posted by Mohamed El Sibai | Report as abusive