Match Tickets: An Egyptian Short Story
The reason I am starting with this, is that I think it's better to blame yourself first before blaming others...it makes you seem more credible.
But really, as most of you know Egypt will now play DR Congo (DR Congo...that sounds like the name of a DJ in a club called Ebony Beats, or something...) in the quarterfinal of the African Cup of Nations, which is currently held in Egypt. Having attended a couple of matches for Egypt already, I really can't imagine watching the match on TV; I have to be in the stadium. And to do that, I have to have tickets (naturally!), and here is where procrastination comes in. The tickets were on sale last August, but most of us didn't bother to buy. We'd be sitting in a cafe, and somebody will say something like "We have to buy tickets for the tournament", and somebody will reply "Don't worry, hanzabat" and then they all suck on their shishas and then blow smoke in unison. (In case you're wondering: hanzabat is an Arabic word, which I think has no translation in English, for an apparently good reason; it means something like "we'll fix things up"...and as matters are never "fixed up" the term is actually redundant).
That happened in September, October, November, December, and even a couple of days before the games kicked-off. And for the couple of games I went to, the strategy was actually working.
But not this time, not for this match.
(Here is were I shift to the part where I blame others)
According to Al-Ahram (arabic), 30% of tickets were sold before the tournament. So 70% of the stadium 74,000 capacity (approx. 52,000 tickets) should be up for grabs. Well, apparently not!
The organizing committee started selling tickets on Monday (their justification is that until Sunday evening they didn't know who will be playing against Egypt...well...I'll buy that for now!). Now here is when the thing really develops into a farce. As Monday is a working day for almost all human beings (except of course the un-employed, and the barbers), selling the tickets at 9 AM didn't seem like a very good timing. But so be it. "I'll pass by the FA on my way to work, and be late for work for maximum 30 minutes; that should be ok" I thought. I was in front of the Egyptian Football Association building at 9 AM sharp. The street looked every bit like a battle-ground. "Kefaya shouldn't be having demonstrations now" I thought, but I was wrong. The huge crowds, the riot police, the chanting, the beatings, and the name calling were all for the tickets. "That is going to be one long day" I said, as I untied my tie, rolled up my sleeves, and jumped into the action. 35 minutes later, I reached the tickets booth, only to be told that they're not selling second class tickets (the ones I wanted). I asked when will they be available, but nobody responded. I drove back to work, thinking that maybe later I would be able to get them. On arriving to work, I was really surprised that a lot of people didn't show up. When I asked where they were, I discovered that they're taking the day off to go searching for tickets.
(Let the games begin!)
For the next 8 hours, you'd hear this sort of conversation all over the office:
"So did you get any tickets?"
"Not yet, but somebody is getting them for me"
"Will he find any?"
"Yeah of course; we have somebody in the FA, Zamalek, and the two gates at Ahly...we've got it covered"
"So, can you get me a ticket?"
Mobile operators surely made a killing during that day. Thousands of calls were placed to operatives in the field roaming the streets of Cairo, looking for the elusive tickets. People started calling everybody they knew who is remotely related to the tournament, football in general, police, or any other entity (I know somebody who complained to his manager that he can't find any tickets!). This massive search operation continued well into the night. You can see groups of young people driving around the streets of Cairo looking for any sign of any sort of gathering of people (they should be selling ticket!). At one point, we saw a group of people gathering at the side of Salah Salem: "These guys are selling tickets!" the driver shouted, as he pulled over. The other passengers were like "GO, GO, GO". In a moment everybody was out of the car racing to get the ticket from the "street vendor". A few moments later, somebody returned "it is just an accident, somebody was apparently killed. Never mind, let's go!!"
Early today we went again for the tickets, but were surprised to learn that they were all sold!
So apparently 52,000 tickets just vanished in a matter of, get this, two hours! If you do some math, it turns out that they were selling tickets at a rate of 108 tickets per minute in each of the four outlets! Now that's fast!
Of course, we're in Egypt, and in such situations rumors are abound. Somebody kept swearing to me that Samir Zaher (the president of the EFA) has 5000 tickets for himself, as well as Hani Abou Rida (the president of the organizing committee), which they will sell on the black market, just before the game (update #1: there are some pretty-reliable news that many members of the FA have bought entire tickets booklets, and are selling it in the black market). People were talking about how the tickets are all going to people with connections, and naturally this progressed into a discussion of how corrupted this country had become, with some people even wishing for us to lose on Friday (now talk about emotional reactions!)
So what started as a show of patriotic feelings, degraded into a feeling of betrayal, and a stinky smell of corruption.
And that's how things go in Egypt.
Black Market Price Watch (1/2 12PM): 50 LE for third class (originally 20 LE), 100 LE for second (originally 50 LE)
Black Market Price Watch (1/2 8PM): 70 LE for third class (originally 20 LE), 140 LE for second (originally 50 LE)