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Vol 45 No 4

Published 20th February 2004

And now the world

Held back by political and economic crises, Africa's football talent shines through

President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali's restrained applause after the national soccer team's victory in the African Cup of Nations on 14 February was, like many things in Tunisia, heavily controlled. Yet the Carthage Eagles had just defeated Morocco's Atlas Lions 2-1. In fact, it was just the latest piece of good news for Ben Ali ­ he's standing again this year for yet another four-year term, with little visible protest, and he was due to fly to Washington on 16 February. There, he would meet President George W. Bush and successfully play the role of a key United States' ally in the 'war on terror'. Ben Ali translates this locally into a generalised right to crush and control his Islamist opponents without Western censure. None of the Islamist cells or groups operating in the region managed to break through Tunisia's security cordon to launch an embarrassing attack on an African Cup match. Security and terrorism are critical issues for North African football when four states with armed Islamist opponents ­ Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia ­ are bidding to host the 2010 World Cup. The African Cup delighted Ben Ali and was a personal success for the Chairman of the African Cup organising committee, Slim Chiboub. After a contretemps with Tunisia's first family, Chiboub (who is also Ben Ali's son-in-law) is now back in favour. He is a keen soccer promoter: Chairman again of the leading Tunis club, Espérance Sportive, he is on the Executive Committee of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and close to its President, Sepp Blatter.

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