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6 Jul



After the opening of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament, a controversy broke involving Amr Warda, a 25 year old forward.   A Dubai woman of Egyptian-UK background, Merhan Keller released shots of his direct messages and a voice memo to her on Instagram. Giovanna Valdatti, a Mexican model also showed his aggressive efforts to get her to send nudes, that he sent his own photos and a video of himself masturbating and then later threatened her.  Other women shared similar stories and screen shots of direct messages. The Valdatti shots prompted Egyptian humor on Twitter like “I show you, you show me” or “I show her, but she didn’t show me, ya basha.”

The Egyptian Football Association initially announced suspension of Warda from AFCON on July 26, 2019.  Then Muhammad Salah, a Liverpool forward, playing for the Pharoahs squad for the AFCON issued two tweets defending Warda, in English.    The EFA’s President, Hany Abu Reda reversed the decision on Warda on June 28, 2019 in response lobbying by top players and after Warda released a brief apology. Orange Egypt removed Warda’s photos from their ad campaign despite his reinstatement by the EFA.


Detractors of Warda felt he had demonstrated a pattern of harassment, mentioning that after his first training in 2017 on loan to the Feirense team there was nearly a fight with two teammates as their wives accused him of harassment. He was let go.  There were other incidents including one at a training camp in Tunisia.


The immensely popular Salah came under fire for using his platform to support Warda as Egyptians used hashtags like Team of Harassers, or ‘Amr_Warda_Harasser. Those upset at the EFA’s reversal commented that men who harass or attack women are always defended by other powerful men. Others called the women’s stories silly, that the behavior wasn’t harassment, or that the women were complicit, or worse.


Brief Response


The controversy continued for about a week, illustrating the keen resentment of sexual harassment by many Egyptian women and sense of impotence in dealing with it – and solidarity from some men towards this issue.  The incident simultaneously showed precisely how the culture of harassment is perpetuated by males protecting other males who engage in it, heightened in the male-dominated arena of sports.  It demonstrated that some men (and some women) mock feminism and ‘political correctness’ which is supposedly motivating reforms and the Me Too movement globally and consider harassment not to be illegal (or are unaware of laws against it).  Warda-Gate revealed that harassment is magnified online where people meet those outside their normal networks, and strange women are easily dehumanized and fantasized by men as being available sexual partners.


Given the extreme violence toward women during and since the January 25, 2011 revolution in crowded settings like demonstrations (and prior to it at mawalid and the Eid festivals) and despite efforts like HarassMap, not much progress has been clocked toward eradicating the attitudes that fund that violence. Given the controversy about what harassment consists of, it was striking that defenders of Warda and Salah parsed different varieties of harassment, and insisted that the solidarity and national image inherent in sports has nothing to do with players’ private behavior.  It upset some that Warda did not apologize directly to his targets, but to his fans, other Egyptians, and only vaguely to those who might be upset by him. The women who complained were shamed and blamed as if they had encouraged the harassment in the first place, just as victim-blaming occurs in other forms of VAW (violence against women).  Considering that numerous Me Too cases have not been reported, discussed, nor tried in Egypt it was discouraging to witness the EFA’s actions and the way in which an incident with verification was argued in the court of public opinion.