After getting kicked off the national squad for alleged sexual harassment accusations, Egyptian footballer Amr Warda has been reinstated in order to play in the African Cup of Nations amid a heated debate about women's rights.
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The midfielder was sidelined by the Egyptian football federation (EFA) last week, but in a stunning reversal, that took less than 48 hours, he was on the pitch Saturday with a beaming smile and waving a peace victory sign.
Multiple women had posted screenshots and testimonies of Warda's alleged lewd comments, as well as explicit videos attributed to the player.
A day after the initial ban last Wednesday, Warda apologized publicly to his family and teammates in a brief, 16-second Facebook video, but pointedly did not mention his victims.
Reactions have ranged from the pious to the political with many celebrities coming out to defend Warda and others pointing out his lurid history of sexual misconduct.
A 2013 United Nations (U.N.) survey noted that 99 percent of all women in Egypt have been sexually abused, either physically or verbally.
Several of the national team's players, including star player Mohamed Salah, called on the EFA to reinstate Warda in the team’s lineup in the wake of the scandal. The association duly responded with a statement on Friday confirming that his return comes "amid a spirit of solidarity ... to delight the fans on the field."
In an April interview with Time magazine, he vehemently defended women's rights in the region. Many of Salah's fans noted his hypocritical line of argument.
In 2017, Portuguese club CD Feirense terminated Warda's contract over claims that he sexually harassed the wives of two of his team-mates. His tenure lasted only three days and he was transferred to Greek club PAOK. He now plays for another Greek club, Atromitos.
One of the most popular Twitter hashtags in the wake of Salah and others defending the midfielder was "National team of sexual harassers." Ahmed Elmohamady, the team's captain, raised two fingers in the air in support of Warda, who wears the number 22 jersey, at their last match against DR Congo.
Azza Soliman, a prominent women's rights advocate and lawyer, expressed her shock at the players' defense of Warda.
"This crystallizes how (Egyptian) society at large and the regime deal with cases of sexual harassment and their attitude to women," the award-winning human rights veteran told AFP, adding, "He is not being seen as a criminal. This case shows that a harasser can get away with it."
She criticized how authorities have remained silent on the matter and that Warda was not being charged, even though sexual harassment is a criminal offense in Egyptian law.
Egypt will face Uganda on Sunday, but Warda is not expected to play again until the knockout stage that starts next week.