For the first time in a decade, the Al-Ahram Squash Open took place in its unique desert setting, flanked by the pyramids of Giza in the backdrop. On Friday, September 23, world No. 5 Raneem El-Welily and No. 6 Karim Abdel Gawad clinched the women and men’s titles respectively in an event that aimed to prove that Egypt was no longer plagued with “security concerns.”
The Al-Ahram Squash Open first debuted as a men’s championship in 1996 under the name Al-Ahram Squash International. The event was part of the PSA Super Series, the highest level of men’s professional squash competition. In terms of sports prestige, the Al-Ahram tournament was one of Egypt’s crowning jewels, given the talented athletes that emerged from within the country. The competition lasted 10 years before it concluded for various reasons.
Under controversial President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, however, Egypt has undergone several intriguing projects to seemingly improve its image abroad. Along with ambitious (and expensive) plans like the Grand Egyptian Museum, the Egyptian government appears to have shown a keen interest in sports diplomacy in an attempt to overcome its deteriorating image internationally.
In December 2015, the 2015 World Team Championships was suddenly postponed after several countries withdrew from the event over “security concerns.” This prompted squash to become the latest example of this soft power approach to diplomacy.
Several weeks ago, Mohamed El-Naggar, chairman of the Ahram establishment, revealed interest in cooperation with the country’s tourism and antiquities ministries to capitalize on the tournament as a way to boost tourism to Egypt. It was also an attempt to guarantee foreign governments that Egypt no longer suffers from “security fears.”
“Our success in the hosting of this tournament will confirm that there are no security fears in the country,” El-Naggar said at a news conference.
With the event now behind us, it appears Egypt will continue to use sports as a political tool to improve its image.