CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt has added one of the country’s most renowned athletes, retired football star Mohamed Aboutrika, to a terrorism list for alleged ties to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Fans expressed shock and called the government move an “injustice” against the former midfielder who led the country’s national team for roughly a decade and is widely considered to be the most celebrated athlete of his generation in Egypt.
Egypt has listed the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and jailed thousands of its supporters since the military removed Islamist president Mohamed Mursi from office in July 2013 following mass protests against his rule.
Aboutrika has denied supporting the Brotherhood, which maintains that it is peaceful, but was seen as supporting the former president’s election campaign in 2012. He later had his assets frozen by a committee established to seize and manage Brotherhood properties and funds.
The 38-year-old racked up a bevy of awards and honours locally and internationally. Outside his former sporting club, Al Ahly, in the posh Cairo neighbourhood of Zemalak, fans voiced disbelief.
“It’s an injustice. Is this what Aboutrika deserves for everything that he’s done for this country? To have this happen to him? And by the way, his popularity is higher than that of the president,” said 62-year-old Yosry Abdel Hamid.
Aboutrika is a towering sports figure in the Arab world and its most populous country, where football is a national pastime with the ability to quiet Cairo’s chaotic streets during big matches.
“I was shocked when I turned on the TV and saw the news. My children were devastated,” said Mona Mohamed, an Ahly Sporting Club employee.
Egypt is facing an increasingly violent insurgency in Northern Sinai, where the country’s most active militant group has pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Cairo and other cities have also suffered attacks.
The terrorism list designation means the former player will be banned from travel and placed on a watch list for three years, state newspaper Al-Ahram said. More than 1500 other individuals were also placed on the terrorism list, it added.
Aboutrika is currently in Gabon as a commentator for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
His lawyer, Mohamed Osman, declined to say when he might return to his home country, but said the decision, made by a Cairo criminal court, would be appealed.
Additional reporting by Mostafa Hashem; Writing by Eric Knecht; editing by Richard Lough