Mortada Mansour: Egypt’s Enigma

Mortada Mansour is the most important man in Egyptian football: a country where football runs supreme. Because of this, he is arguably the most important man in Egypt. Never out of the headlines, Mansour always grabs the attention, regardless of what position he is acting as. A lawyer, member of parliament, club president, and social media presence, Mansour is a man of many talents.

Mansour has always relished being in the spotlight. His popularity soared when he was elected as Zamalek Club President in March 2014, replacing Dr. Kamal Darwish. While his election as club president has pushed him further into the public eye, it is important to go over his actions outside of football.

Just a week after being elected as Zamalek President, Mansour announced he was running for President. He withdrew days later, announcing his support for then defense minister and current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. 

Mansour has become a darling of Egyptian talk shows.

To say the least, Mortada Mansour is provocative. He was once put in jail for insulting a judge. Additionally, in 2016 he caused more controversy (than usual) when he refused to take the prescribed constitutional oath, saying he disliked the wording. He later mumbled the correct oath.

I hope you’ve noticed a trend with Mansour’s actions. He will do something outrageous, attract attention, and then reverse whatever he did days later.

One of the many pro-Sisi members of the Egyptian parliament, Mansour’s antics have served more as distractions from the actions of the government than they are genuine actions. In my opinion, his dual role as a member of parliament and Zamalek President has made him the perfect puppet for the Sisi regime. Whenever the government does something questionable that can raise a few brows, Mortada Mansour says something outrageous that grabs the headlines instead of whatever Sisi did. 

Mansour has become an excellent distraction for the Sisi regime.

He boasts that he beats his opponents with his shoes, even saying that he “ran out of shoes” because of how often he does this. While we cannot verify if he does this to his political opponents, he has treated the Zamalek presidency in a similar, brutal manner. 

Zamalek

What stands out the most is his quick trigger when it comes to firing managers. Since taking the helm in March 2014, he has fired 15 managers. Mohamed Salah has been caretaker manager five times. 

The longest standing manager under Mansour has been the Swiss manager Christian Gross, who lasted just under a year, leading the team to 31 wins in 47 games. Mansour hires many relatively unknown managers, most of whom were unqualified to manage a team of Zamalek’s stature. Even when he doesn’t, though, Mansour still has little patience when it comes to the likes of former Rangers, Aston Villa, and Scotland manager Alex McLeish, who only managed 10 games before being sacked. 

Despite his overseeing of a major renovation of the club’s facilities, the results have been shaky. Since Mansour took over, Zamalek have definitely fallen under arch-rivals Ahly in terms of prestige and performances. Zamalek have won only one Egyptian Premier League in the 2014/15 season and won the most recent edition of the CAF Confederation Cup. Performances in the CAF Champions League haven’t been great either, reaching the final in the 2016 edition before losing 3-1 on aggregate to Mamelodi Sundowns. 

Battle with Ultras

Mansour has gotten the most heat for his feud with the Zamalek and Egyptian ultras. These die-hard, passionate fan bases are what give African football the authenticity and flavor that many crave, yet Mansour has been a vocal critic of them, instigating their ban from matches. 

Mansour shares the opinion of the Sisi regime that the ultras should be banned: but for what reason? Some may attribute violence at games to the ultras, but what angers them more than fans dying is the anti-government chants that the ultras rang out at matches. While Mansour might claim to be acting in the safety of the fans when they call ultras a “menace to Egypt”, he really wants to prevent any anti-government chants or protests from the crowd.

Mansour’s feud with the Zamalek ultras group, Ultras White Knights, was the biggest story in Egypt for years. Members of the group threw urine at Mansour’s face in October 2014. (He claimed it was acid.) Additionally, the UWD allegedly attempted to assassinate Mansour, shooting at him multiple times but missing and injuring bystanders. 

There were many more instances of Mortada Mansour going against the ultras group, granting the stadium security artillery to shoot at ultras and threatening to forfeit any Zamalek game that the ultras attended. It’s easy to see how strong and brutal Mansour is when it comes to things like this. The UWD dissolved in May 2017, 10 years after their formation.

Recent Absurdities

In more recent times, Mansour’s antics have elevated. Whether it’s accusing legendary goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary of sorcery to keep a clean sheet or saying that some of his players are ‘only good enough for a women’s football team’, Mansour will say whatever is on his mind, regardless of who he angers. 

In late September, it seemed like Mortada was finally done for when he was banned from “all football-related activity” for a year by CAF after insulting CAF president Ahmad Ahmad and general secretary Amr Fahmy. Somehow, that didn’t stop him, and Mansour is back at it again with his antics, which have increased in absurdity.

Mansour threatening to forfeit the league has become an almost monthly occurrence. In a viral video that he posted on his youtube channel with over 300,000 subscribers, he banned his players from using Facebook, saying “None of you are allowed to have a Facebook page. Pick between Zamalek and your Facebook and Instagram page.”

A few days ago, after two consecutive goalless draws in the league, Mansour blamed sorcery for the White Knight’s dry spell. “This is not sports. Our players did their best but if they would’ve played for 100 years they would not have scored.” Mansour claimed. 

He is in an ongoing dispute with CAF over the Super Cup being played in Qatar, with the 67-year-old once again threatening to pull his team from the match. 

Mortada Mansour is an enigma. Whether his provocativeness is caused by his desire to be the center of attention or to act as a distraction to the Egyptian people is unknown. What is known though is his effect on the Egyptian people, whom he is able to control with near-perfect effectiveness.