Photo: AP
The handshake that wasn't
Photo: AP

Arab media reacts to Egyptian judo loss

Following Islam El Shehaby's loss to Israeli Ori Sasson, reactions across the Arab world and its media have been varied

Since the defeat of Egyptian judoka, Islam El Shehaby, and his refusal to shake the hand of Israeli Ori Sasson in the Olympic match, it would appear as if Egypt would prefer to forget the whole thing.



In main Arab press, coverage has been terse. In the widely circulated Al-Hayat newspaper published in London, the sports section had the headline, "El Shehaby lost the fight as expected."


Sasson defeating El Shehaby (Photo: Oren Aharoni)  (Photo: Oren Aharoni)
Sasson defeating El Shehaby (Photo: Oren Aharoni)


In the hours after the fight, news sites and social media in Egypt responded with mixed reactions following the incident. Government newspapers Al Gomhuria and Al Akhbar made no reference at all.


Also ignoring the defeat is the popular paper Al Ahram, who in their Friday edition published an article with the headline, "After winning two bronze medals in weightlifting, Egyptian aspirations come from Judo, wrestling and swimming." El Shehaby was mentioned in the same article that followed developments after the fight.


There were newspapers that extensively covered the fight, which ended in a victory for Sasson, who went on to win the bronze medal.


"Defeat…and not peace," concluded the front page headline of the newspaper Al-Masri Al-Youm.


"Defeat...and not peace." Al-Masri Al-Youm
"Defeat...and not peace." Al-Masri Al-Youm


The article focused heavily on the disappointment of the Egyptian delegation with the loss, and specifically, how Egyptians always managed to beat Israeli athletes in weightlifting and squash, despite their low frequency of encounters.


In a phone interview Saturday night with El Shehaby by Wael El Ebrashy, the Egyptian judoka was asked whether the decision not to shake the Israeli's hand "was made before the fight or in the moment?" to which El Shehaby answered, "In the moment." As for the defeat itself, El Shehaby did not agree to elaborate, but added, "God-willing, God will compensate."



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The newspaper Al-Youm a-Sabah actually decided to put a reference to what happened following the fight on its front page. "Crisis of El Shehaby's refusal to shake the Israeli judoka's hand," the report said. The same paper followed the events closely and even mentioned Sasson going on to win the bronze medal. In an attempt to save face, the article noted that Israel now ties Egypt in the medal count—each with two bronze.


Al-Youm a-Sabah mentioning the fight in the upper left corner
Al-Youm a-Sabah mentioning the fight in the upper left corner


On the website of the Egyptian newspaper Al-Shourouk, an article was published concerning the ambivalent relations between Israel and Egypt: "Normalization in politics and enmity in sport."


"Some people say we are not civilized," said Iman a-Din on her show on the channel El Mehwar, while criticizing El Shehaby's behavior. "You represent Egypt and not yourself—and Egypt is above everything." According to her, if he had a particular view, he should not have gone ahead with the fight. Additionally, she leveled criticism on his performance in the fight itself: "This loss is also a loss on the sporting level, the political level, the media level, and the moral level, and it is not right."


One of the responses highlighted in the Egyptian media was from Egyptian soccer legend Ahmed Hossam, also known as "Mido," who referred to El Shehaby was a "champion of paper" and said "exaggerated media focus on everything causes people like El Shehaby to worry more about what people say about them and less on their substance."


There were no opinion columns from traditional Egyptian and Arab newspapers, but the flood of responses continued, and is evident of dissatisfaction with the way things turned out.


Caricature in Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds: the Egyptian with an olive branch on the ground
Caricature in Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds: the Egyptian with an olive branch on the ground


"An embarrassed athlete and a blind minister of sport," wrote Gamal al-Gamal, an Egyptian auther, on his Facebook page, and claimed that the two don't respect themselves in the fields of politics or sports. "It's a scandal on all levels," he wrote about the refusal to comply with a handshake.


Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef, who was forced to live in the United States due to his views on the government, tried to understand the Egyptian judoka's intentions. "They say he normalizes with them by agreeing to compete, or they ask him why he didn't shake his hand, and either way there is a chance for Israel to escalate the situation. May God help him."


Egyptian student Mohammed Abed al-Azim wrote an article on the Huffington Post website in Arabic under the title "Islam El Shehaby—Unjustified Pandemonium." He ponders what would have happened if El Shehaby had won the fight: "Would all those opposed to him participating stay in their positions? Would he be described as a traitor and a normalizer or would he all of a sudden become a hero? What would have happened had he agreed to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent? Would they have described him as a moral athlete or a loser and a normalizer?"


Ori Sasson with his bronze medal (Photo: Getty Images) (Photo: gettyimages)
Ori Sasson with his bronze medal (Photo: Getty Images)


The same student concluded that according to his personal opinion, El Shehaby not shaking hands "did not have a beneficial effect on the general image of Egypt. Israel will certainly not drop the subject and try to show how tolerant it is and that sport is not a political arena. In any case, we are losers—according to the game and to what comes after."


"Arabs," wrote a Syrian Twitter user in English with the picture of El Shehaby refusing to shake hands with Sasson next to another picture of the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, shaking hands with Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Israel. An opinion that surely reflects what Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah thinks about the incident. The same Nasrallah, who lately has not missed a chance to talk about the hypocrisy of Arab nations in relation to the Palestinian issue.


Prime Minister Netanyahu and Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukri (Photo: AFP)  (Photo: AFP)
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukri (Photo: AFP)


Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, which is affiliated with Hezbollah, reported on the chain of events in the sports section with the following statement: "El Shehaby and his superiors decided not to withdraw from the match with Israel, which most Arab athletes do when they are matched against Israelis. Yet he refused to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent after the loss and caused a controversy over not respecting the rules."


The Judo Association explained Saturday that the decision to participate in the fight was theirs and not El Shehaby's, who is expected to return to Cairo on Sunday. Despite the initial praise he received on social media, the revulsion at his behavior has intensified, and Egypt would rather quickly forget the event and the ensuing controversy. The Egyptian Olympic Committee has indicated as much by not explicitly denouncing the act, and instead referring to it as a personal choice.


Officials in the Israeli Foreign Ministry said about their judoka, "By offering his hand, Ori Sasson reflects the Israeli spirit. If there are Arabs who refuse to shake our hand—we will not stop trying."


פרסום ראשון: 08.14.16, 23:36
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