Scottish football manager Bill Shankly once said, "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death... I can assure you it is much, much more important than that." On the other hand, millions of people who dislike the game have stated that "it's just 11 fools chasing a ball."
This dispute will probably remain undecided, but following a column published Thursday in the London-based Arabic-language al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, it is quite clear which stance is supported by Syrian President Bashar Assad's senior advisor, Buthaina Shaaban.
In a scathing column, dealing mainly with Israel's actions against the Palestinians and Arabs and with the construction in West Bank settlements, Shaaban slammed the Arab world for being preoccupied with the heightened tensions between Egypt and Algeria following last week's 2010 World Cup qualifier.
"The Arab street is engaged in the 'football war' between Egypt and Algeria," Shaaban wrote. "We tremble with fear that blood will be spilled between the country of Nasser and the country of a million and a half martyrs, instead of being concerned with defending the people besieged in Gaza, Jerusalem and the Arabs' holy places.
"We are not concerned about the change in the reality of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but about getting a ticket for a football tournament held repeatedly for entertainment purposes."
The tension between Cairo and Algiers began two weeks ago, on the eve of the match in Egypt determining which of the two teams would qualify for the World Cup finals, scheduled to take place next year.
On the eve of the game, Egyptian fans attacked Algerian team players, and after Egypt won 2-0 – forcing another deciding game between the two teams in Sudan – Algerian fans began rioting, in European countries as well.
Ahead of the latest match, Algerian fans attacked Egyptian institutions in their country, and violent clashes between the two camps were also recorded in Khartoum on the day of the game, in which Algeria won 1-0. Twenty-one people were reportedly injured in the clashes.
At least 35 people, including 11 police officers, were injured in clashes which took place the day after the game near the Algerian Embassy in Cairo.
Following the violent incidents, Egypt recalled its ambassador to Algeria for consultations, and President Hosni Mubarak stated that his country would not tolerate its citizens being hurt.
In her column, Shaaban continued to criticize Arab countries. "Official Israeli sources, who hesitate before travelling to Europe for fear of being arrested for committing war crimes against the Palestinians, have been finding a haven of rest in certain Arab countries. There, there are no proceedings to prosecute them, sue them or at least stop them from entering the country," she wrote.
"Now, there are even Arab countries inviting official Israeli sources, who don't dare visit any other countries in the world because they are criminals who have spilled the blood of Arab children."