CAIRO (AP) Mohamed Salah‘s intervention helped get Amr Warda back on the Egyptian national soccer team despite accusations that he sent lewd messages to two women.
Warda was originally expelled from the team at the African Cup of Nations, but Egyptian soccer federation president Hany Abou Rida reversed the decision on Friday following a plea from Salah and other teammates, and a meeting with the national team that was attended by the country’s minister of sports on Thursday.
“During the meeting, (Abou Rida) praised players for their sense of solidarity, their desire to see their teammate pardoned, to end his suspension, and also for their respect of any decision made by the EFA in this regard,” the federation wrote on its website. “Hence, he decided to alleviate the sanction by suspending the player only until the end of the group stage.”
Egypt, which has already qualified for the knockout stage after beating Congo on Wednesday, has only one match left to play in the group stage. The game against Uganda is scheduled for Sunday.
On Wednesday, the Egyptian federation issued a brief statement saying Abou Rida had decided to send Warda home to maintain “discipline, commitment and focus” in the squad. The decision came after videos emerged of women alleging that Warda verbally harassed them.
Warda initially denied the allegations but he soon posted a video on his Facebook page where he apologized to his family, teammates and coaches.
“I promise you that everything will be fine and that I won’t do anything that would be upsetting to anyone,” the 25-year-old player said.
Salah condemned Warda’s behavior on Twitter but said he should be given “a second chance.”
“Women must be treated with the utmost respect. `No’ means `no.’ Those things are and must remain sacred,” the Liverpool forward wrote on Thursday. “I also believe that many who make mistakes can change for the better and shouldn’t be sent straight to the guillotine, which is the easiest way out.
“We need to believe in second chances … we need to guide and educate. Shunning is not the answer.”
Egypt captain Ahmed el-Mohamady also showed solidarity with Warda. After scoring against Congo on Wednesday, El-Mohamady celebrated his goal by making a 22 sign with his fingers in reference to his teammate’s shirt number.
However, Salah’s comments in particular elicited the ire of many of his fans on social media and reignited the debate on Egyptian society’s tolerance of injustice against women.
Ghadeer Ahmed, a young Egyptian feminist, mocked Salah on Facebook by changing his nickname from “The pride of Arabs” to “The pride of sexual harassers.”
Sexual harassment, mostly ranging from catcalls to occasional pinching or grabbing, is rampant in Egypt. Polls have found that a majority of both men and women in the conservative Muslim country believe it is justified if women dress “provocatively” in public. According to a survey by the U.N. women’s agency, released in April 2013, nearly 99 percent of Egyptian women reported having been sexually harassed, with 91 percent saying they feel insecure in the street as a result.
Amro Hassan Elserty, a journalist and soccer commentator, called Salah an “absolute disgrace” on his Facebook page.
“I’ll never ever support a team of sexual harassment endorsers, who believe in giving second chances to someone who has long been imposing himself on females and sexually harassing them for years,” Elserty wrote.
Since Thursday, the hashtag “unfollow-mosalah” has started attracting social media users who voiced their disillusionment with Egypt’s 27-year-old striker.