Salah has previously appeared to protest Israel on the field

As Liverpool team eyes Israeli, some in Egypt ask if star Salah should quit

Possibility of Nazareth’s Moanes Dabour joining team has some in tizzy, but Salah has given no indication he’ll leave, nor does Egypt’s former coach think he should

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Egypt's Mohamed Salah vies for the ball against Congo's Tobias Badila during their World Cup 2018 Africa qualifying match between Egypt and Congo at the Borg el-Arab stadium in Alexandria on October 8, 2017. (AFP Photo/Tarek Abdel Hamid)
Egypt's Mohamed Salah vies for the ball against Congo's Tobias Badila during their World Cup 2018 Africa qualifying match between Egypt and Congo at the Borg el-Arab stadium in Alexandria on October 8, 2017. (AFP Photo/Tarek Abdel Hamid)

The possibility of English soccer team Liverpool FC adding an Israeli player has sparked some hand-wringing in Egypt over the possibility that star and favored son Mohamed Salah may have to play alongside an Israeli.

Barry Hunter, Liverpool’s chief scout, has traveled to Austria several times to watch Moanes Dabour, a 26-year-old Israeli-Arab striker on Red Bull Salzburg, unnamed sources recently told Football Whispers, a London-based soccer news site.

Liverpool could attempt to sign Dabour in the month of January when a window will open for it to acquire new players.

Salah is an Egyptian national who has become one of soccer’s biggest stars and is revered in his home country, where normalization with Israel is still considered taboo despite almost four decades of a peace treaty.

The possibility of the two playing side by side has led some in Egypt to question how Salah should react.

Salzburg’s Moanes Dabour, center, kicks the ball between Shkendija’s Visar Musliu, right, and Mevlan Adili, left, during the Champions League third qualifying round, second leg soccer match between Shkendija and Red Bull Salzburg, at Philip II Arena in Skopje, Macedonia, Tuesday August 14, 2018. (AP /Boris Grdanoski)

“What must Mohamed Salah do if Liverpool brings an Israeli player to play for it?” Isam Rashad of Alexandria posted on his Twitter account on December 25.

Other Egyptians have said they believe Salah will not agree to play with Dabour should he be signed to Liverpool.

Asked if Salah would consent to playing with Dabour, one man man told Egyptian news outlet Al-Bawaba he believed the soccer star would not because “his religion, Islam, would not allow him to play with him.”

Confronted with the same question, an unidentified Egyptian woman, said she believed Salah would not agree to play with Dabour.

An Egyptian team official comforts Egypt’s Mohamed Salah after the group A match between Russia and Egypt at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the St. Petersburg stadium in St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

But at least two prominent Egyptian personalities have suggested if Dabour joins Liverpool, it would not be problematic for Salah.

“This Israeli is Arab 48er and a Muslim,” Amr Adib, a pro-government Egyptian TV host, said on his show on December 24, referring to a term sometimes used to describe Arab-Israelis. “Arab 48ers are not responsible for which citizenship or passport they hold… Also England and the city Mohammad Salah lives in has Jews, Israelis, Christians and all the different peoples. England is not our country. This is not a place where we are going to be making its laws.”

Israel’s national soccer team has at least four Arab Israelis, including Dabour, who hails from Nazareth. Its captain, Bibras Natkho, is a Circassian Muslim.

Mahmoud Fayez, who formerly was a coach for the Egyptian national soccer team, echoed some of Adib’s comments.

“Salah is a professional player. The issue of Liverpool making a contractual agreement with an Israeli is not relevant to him,” Fayez wrote on Twitter. “And even though it is not important us or make a difference, Moanes Dabour is an Arab-Israeli [Muslim] who was born in Nazareth. God knows his circumstances, suffering and reasons for choosing an Israeli passport best. Let Salah just play soccer.”

Amr Adib, a pro-government Egyptian TV host, speaking on his show on May 27, 2017. (Screenshot: Youtube)

Salah has given no indication he is mulling leaving the team or any other move should Liverpool acquire Dabour, but in the past he has raised eyebrows for appearing to protest Israel on the field.

In 2013, while playing for Swiss side Basel against Maccabi Tel Aviv, Salah appeared to avoid a pre-match handshake by changing his cleats on the side of the soccer field. Basel contended the incident was “a coincidence and no snub was intended,” the Telegraph, a London-based newspaper, reported in January 2014.

Before the start of the second leg in Israel, his choice of a “fist bump” rather than handshake hand also attracted attention.

Egyptian international footballer Mohamed Salah, winger for FC Basel, arrives at Ben Gurion International airport on August 5, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger / Flash90)

He was roundly booed and whistled by Maccabi fans during the game but still scored.

Salah said at the time he was not interested in politics at all.

“The club told me if I don’t go I will be suspended and there will be lots of problems. So I went and thank god I scored,” he said in a 2014 interview.

Earlier this year, then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman jokingly said he would recruit Salah to the Israeli army after he managed to spur Liverpool to a 5-2 win over Roma in the first leg of the Champions League semi final.

“I will be calling the chief of staff immediately to tell him to hire Mohamed Salah to the Israeli army,”Liberman wrote on Twitter.

Liverpool has a history of signing Israeli players, including Avi Cohen, Ronny Rosenthal and Yossi Benayoun.

Dabour played for Maccabi Tel Aviv FC and Maccabi Ahi Nazareth FC before relocating to Europe in 2014.

The striker scored 22 goals in 32 matches in the Austrian Bundesliga in the 2017-2018 season; he also has put a total 9 goals in the net in 18 matches in the league in the 2018-2019 season as of Wednesday

Dabour’s brother, Anas Dabour, is a midfielder for Hapoel Bnei Lod Rakevet.

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