Part sports prodigy, part local hero, Mohamed Salah is proving himself to be the new face of Egypt. Will his performance at the World Cup put the historic civilization back on the map and into the international spotlight?
Painting the picture of a troubled nation
Following the 2011 Arab Spring, Egypt emerged as one of the countries that had sustained the most economic damage. In 2017, the national debt of Egypt amounted to an astonishing 103.26% of the GDP, Statista revealed. Its national debt will arrive at $224.93 billion in 2018. Even on a controversial scale such as one measuring happiness, Egypt ranks low, placing in 122nd place out of 156 in the World Happiness Report.
To make matters worse, the monthly minimum wage rests at approximately $67 at this current point in time, according to Trading Economics. This follows efforts by the country to float the Egyptian pound in 2016, which resulted in significant devaluing of the currency by 50%. This, in turn, resulted in a 33% increase in inflation following the decision by the Egyptian government, according to Bloomberg.
Recently, however, the country has been making an incremental improvement. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recorded a 4.6% growth in GDP in the first half of 2017, with prospects for a better future for the country. Following the Arab Spring, the country’s unemployment rate has also been making a slow, gradual improvement, with unemployment in the country dropping from 13.2% in 2014 to 11.6% in 2017.
While the nation seems to be making tiny steps at improvement, one man could lead to a major turn of events.
The Young Pharaoh arrives on the scene
Originally playing for the Egyptian Football Club El Mokawloon, Mohamed Salah left the team in 2012 to pursue an international career. He first landed at Basel, a Swiss football club, and then had stints at Chelsea and Roma, before eventually settling at Liverpool. His time with the English team has been nothing short of outstanding. He won the Premier League’s Golden Boot award for the 2017-2018 season, a title reserved solely for the top scorer in England in a given year.
His crowning moment as a national hero, however, coincided with his winning goal versus the Congo national team, an achievement that resulted in Egypt qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 28 years. This event cemented him as an Egyptian hero for decades to come.
A humanitarian first, a superstar second
Salah has been earning his people’s love and support for more than his football accomplishments. The Egyptian star has not forgotten his homeland, nor his people.
When the Egyptian government urgently required capital for their Tahya Masr Fund, Salah was quick to donate 5 million Egyptian pounds, or $281,000. When a businessman offered to reward him with a villa for securing a spot for Egypt in the World Cup, he refused, and instead asked for a donation to his hometown Nagrig in the Gharbiya province, according to the Liverpool Echo.
He has also funded a water treatment center in Nagrig, while also pouring money into hospitals, schools, and emergency services, according to the Independent. “Mohamed is a frequent visitor to his home. He loves us here, and he loves Egypt,” Nagrig’s mayor had said.
The advent of an international icon from a nation famed for its ancient history and monuments should remind the world that there is more to Egypt than its mummies and tombs. Egypt as a modern nation is wounded, politically and economically. Salah, however, has a huge following in the MENA region and beyond. Such a following could help boost tourism in his homeland, and football deals and interest in the country could bring in new investors looking to capitalize on the Young Pharaoh’s fame.
Hatem Kadous, the host of the Oil Field Index podcast, said, “he’s managed something no politician has ever done, he has managed to unite the Middle East. Moroccans, Tunisians, Saudis, Kuwaitis, Emiratis, Omanis — everyone wants a Salah shirt. With Egypt, he’s carrying the hopes of 90 million. We’re having terrorist attacks every week. Economic trouble. He’s the only thing keeping Egyptians happy. Go to any coffee shop in Cairo when Liverpool are playing . . . it’s amazing. He scores, we’re happy, we forget. And that echoes around the Middle East. Messi doesn’t unite a nation, a region, right? Ronaldo doesn’t. They don’t have the social dimension.”
Now, Salah stands to be the hero his country needs.
And the world is watching.