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Egypt’s Aboutrika slams FIFA president for participating in Bahrain workshop

Football star questions why Gianni Infantino, president of a non-political body, is at the controversial Manama event
'The presence of FIFA president is a big question mark… Our holy places are not for sale,' Mohamed Aboutrika tweeted (AFP)

Egyptian football star Mohamed Aboutrika has slammed FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, for participating in the controversial US-sponsored “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in the Bahraini capital of Manama.

Led by US President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, the event aims to promote a financial solution for the political conflict in Israel and Palestine, but has been widely panned by Arab countries.

Many states, including Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, boycotted while Gulf states sent low-level officials. Representatives of the International Monetary Fund, European Union, and the World Bank are also present - and so was the FIFA head, drawing criticism from Aboutrika.

The former midfielder, well-known for his support of Palestine and defence of human rights, tweeted: “My little Jared [Kushner], the Zionist entity is occupying the Palestinian lands, and this auction in Manama won’t change this truth… Thanks for everyone who boycotted this auction.”

He added that “the presence of FIFA president is a big question mark… Our holy places are not for sale.”

Infantino, who was re-elected as FIFA president earlier this month, has been criticised by some observers for politicising FIFA and, according to ESPN, taking "geopolitical risks for the benefit of certain favored investors", including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

On Tuesday, Infantino reportedly met with a representative of the Bahraini king and the head of the High Council of Youth and Sport to discuss developing football in the Gulf state island.

He was reportedly listed on a roster of speakers scheduled to address the event, including former British prime minister Tony Blair and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. 

FIFA has long championed itself as being a non-political body.

In 2008, during the African Cup of Nations tournament, Aboutrika was criticised for wearing a shirt under his uniform that said "Sympathise with Gaza" in Arabic and English. When he scored a goal, he lifted his uniform to reveal the message.

He was warned by authorities overseeing the tournament for making a policial statement, although he gained public sympathy in the Arab world. He later said in an interview that he will be buried with the “Gaza T-shirt".

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The "Peace to Prosperity" workshop is being held at The Four Seasons hotel on a small island in Manama, only accessible by a heavily secured bridge.

The event - and report launched with it - has been promoted as the first part of Washington's political blueprint to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, although some of those involved in the process have told Middle East Eye it is a harbinger of its death.

The report unveiling the White House’s economic vision for the occupied Palestinian territories highlights sports as an area of investment, allocating $75 million for the prospective construction of “a new state-of-the-art athletic training center for Palestinians”.

The economic document, however, makes no mention of the impact the Israeli occupation has had on Palestinian athletes and their ability to compete on the national and international stage.

Neither the Israeli or Palestinian governments have sent officials to the Manama meeting, except for Israeli journalists and businessmen.

Both the Hamas movement that governs Gaza Strip and its rival the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah have rejected the Manama meeting which is scheduled to end on Wednesday.