Everyone wants piece of Salah on his home turf

Cairo: Patriotic statements, flashy commercials and an anti-drug campaign: Mohamed Salah’s dazzling displays for Liverpool have taken the football world by storm, and on his home turf in Egypt seemingly everyone wants a piece of him. Salah has shot to stardom thanks to his goal-scoring exploits in England and Europe, and senior Egyptian officials increasingly refer to the player — although he has carefully steered clear of politics. Last month, foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid went so far as to call him “an icon of Egypt’s soft power”. Abu Zeid made the comment on Twitter after Salah scored a brace and set up two more goals as Liverpool beat AS Roma 5-2 in the Champions League semifinal first leg at Anfield last week.
The second leg takes place on Wednesday night in the Italian capital.
The remarkable game prompted President Abdel Fattah el Sisi to also congratulate the flying forward.
“What he has accomplished calls for pride and affirms Egyptians’ capabilities in all fields… Proud of him every Egyptian who holds Egypt’s name high,” Sisi tweeted.
Salah the “Pharaoh” represents an opportunity for the country to improve its image internationally after years of turmoil in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.
‘Global face’
The fact that “an athlete at that level penetrates the media wall and becomes a face known globally inevitably reflects… on his home country,” said Pascal Boniface, director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs.
From the modest village of Nagrig in the Nile Delta, Salah has catapulted to worldwide fame since his arrival last summer in England from AS Roma in a transfer deal worth 42 million euros.
Awards have since piled up, leading to talk of him challenging Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for the 2018 Ballon d’Or, given to the world’s best player. On April 22, Salah scooped the Professional Footballers’ Association player of the year for the 2017-18 Premier League season.
Salah also became a national hero for his leading role in helping Egypt to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 28 years.
The competition kicks off on June 14 in Russia, and the eyes of all Egyptians are expected to be on him.
But Boniface remains sceptical of how successful attempts would be to use Salah politically on the international stage. Such attempts would be “very exposed” and similar “to the old ways of propaganda,” he said. On the other hand, the prodigy can give a significant boost to Egyptians’ “national self esteem”, he said. In Egypt, images of President Sisi abound in public, with Salah the only other person coming close to having as many appear on advertising billboards. — AFP