Here’s the thing about Egyptians. We love football. Football transcends all political, cultural, and socio-economic barriers in the country. With all of the different people in Egypt, football is literally the only thing that all Egyptians have in common.
We could be in a civil war, there could be attacks from extremists. Yet, we will still march ourselves over to the television to watch the game. And now because of Mohammad Salah, not only will the entire Egyptian population be supporting Egypt in the football World Cup in Russia this summer, standing next to us will be millions of other non-Egyptian fans, too.
There’s something very special about Mo Salah. I’m not talking about his speed, skill and pure talent on the field. I am talking about what he represents for Egypt. Many young and successful people there, who earn decent money, usually spend their free time at parties, eating out and just having a good time.
These days, many resort to doing recreational drugs, to add some risk and perhaps even excitement into their lives. Getting high in Egypt is so common that it is cemented as part of growing up. It’s a rite of passage, a coming of age activity. Whether you choose to do it once, or regularly.
Young Egyptians can either take a path that is right or a path that is wrong. Salah, hardworking, humble, drug free and just a kind human being with talent and ambition, encourages Egyptians to always choose the path that he has chosen, which is to focus on self-improvement and to focus on humility, all while improving the body with exercise.
The best part about Salah is that he doesn’t even try to chase fame. He doesn’t try to get the spotlight on him and he doesn’t bombard people with his own agenda. He just does what he is best at — playing football. It’s rare to come across someone who is so incredibly successful, yet chooses to keep his head down when it comes to the glamorous celebrity life.
You hear of all these footballers dating models, going out to clubs, jet-setting across the globe, while Salah chooses to use his time for good. He donates to hospitals, he builds schools for young children. He physically goes to the poorest rural areas in Egypt to meet people and help in the most hands-on way. He still loves and supports Egypt in any way he can.
Speaking of Egypt, Salah is not ashamed of where he’s from. It’s tough being a Muslim in today’s world. Yet, he still celebrates each goal by performing a sujood prayer. Many other Arab footballers tend to shed their identities when they make it to the big leagues, for fear of being bullied or ostracised. You cannot deny the fact that racism in football is omnipresent. Even I had occasionally found myself trying to downplay my religion when I lived abroad. But Salah is proud of his roots. Children in the United Kingdom, who have been hearing the words “Muslim” and “terrorist” together far too often, are now saying: “I wish I had Salah’s hair” or “I want to be like Salah when I grow up.”
This is something even the most skilled politician could not conjure up. For fans, not only to accept him but to also accept his heritage, is a huge deal for Arabs everywhere. Fans could have just ignored his background and praised him alone, but they accepted him whole and are now happily chanting, “If he scores another few then I’ll be Muslim too”.
To me, Mohammad Salah is the ideal representation of youth in Egypt. Educated, hardworking and ambitious, thus success followed. He discovered what he was good at and simply followed his dream. He is undeniably a well-rounded person with a good heart and I am proud to be where he is from. Proud to be an Egyptian.