Egypt has placed former soccer star Mohammed Aboutrika on a terrorist watch list, while he’s away in Gabon, as a TV commentator at this year’s African Cup of Nations soccer competition.
The popular soccer player, adored by millions of Egyptians for leading his country to three African Cup of Nations finals, was put on the list by a court on suspicion of financing the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been deemed a terrorist organization by the government since Dec. 2013.
The decision comes on the back of a regressive anti-terrorism law in 2015 that gives authorities the power to arrest individuals and groups on charges of terrorism imposing heavy penalties. He joins a list of 1,400 individuals including ousted president Mohammed Morsi.
Aboutrika, who was known as ‘The Prince of Hearts’, ‘The Magician’ and ‘The Saint’ during his playing days, still has his assets frozen on the same suspicion, even though he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
The latest decision underscores how Aboutrika’s endorsement of Mohammed Morsi, during the 2012 presidential elections, has stuck to him. President Abdel Fattah El Sisi overthrew Morsi in July 2013, after he was his defense minister for a year, and has overseen a wide-ranging crackdown targeting the Muslim Brotherhood and secular dissidents since then.
It is unclear if Aboutrika will be able to travel back to Egypt from Gabon, according to his lawyer. The expected public backlash has been swift with the court’s decision dominating social media discussions overnight.
Egyptian soccer fans have had a trying time with the authorities, since the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak six years ago.
The domestic league has been played in empty stadiums since 2012 after several incidents where fans were killed and as part of an ongoing clamp down on the Ultras’, groups of dedicated fans, ability to politically mobilize.
In Feb. 2012, military forces killed 74 fans from the top Egyptian club Al Ahly in Port Said. Three years later, security forces opened fire and heavy tear gas killing 22 fans from Egypt’s other powerhouse soccer club Al Zamalek as they were entering the stadium.
Last week 21 fans were arrested and then later released for holding offensive signs, during a warm-up match between Egypt and Tunisia, taunting Al Zamalek’s chairman and parliamentarian Mortada Mansour who antagonized young soccer fans by calling them “criminals”.
Aboutrika’s is set to appeal the decision. His legendary status among an ardent soccer nation will probably test a government that is losing support in recent days, with a court nullifying its transfer of strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.