Liverpool's Mohamed Salah on Thursday criticised Egypt's football authorities for kicking out one of his teammates over disciplinary issues, including what the player's accusers say was online sexual harassment.
The 27-year-old striker's criticism of the expulsion of midfielder Amr Warda has the potential to rekindle his differences with football's local governing body at a time when he and the rest of the Pharaohs are just two games into an Africa Cup of Nations they hope to win.
Also Wednesday, a report by an authoritative local sports television station suggested there may be player unrest over the expulsion of Warda, who plays his club football in Greece. The report said Salah and several squad veterans were demanding that Warda be reinstated, arguing that his expulsion could mean the end of his career.
At the behest of his teammates, Warda has defied the expulsion decision and remained at the squad's Cairo hotel, according to the report, which could not be independently confirmed. Authorities are looking into the matter in view of the players' demand, it said.
With sexual harassment ranked near the top of Egypt's litany of social ills, Salah's position on Warda's expulsion, laid out in a series of tweets posted on Thursday, has fueled an intense and somewhat thorny debate on social media networks about the extent of the player's guilt and whether his removal from the squad was the best course of action.
Egypt's football association on Wednesday said in a statement that Warda's expulsion was designed to safeguard the commitment and focus of the squad. It did not specify his offences, but the statement followed accusations last week by a Dubai-based, Egyptian model that Warda used threatening language when she rejected his online advances.
On Tuesday night, a video clip purporting to show the player engaging in a sexual act with a woman surfaced online.
Warda has denied wrong-doing over the model's incident and claimed that the video clip was fabricated and leaked by someone he did not identify to ruin his career. On Thursday, he posted a video in which he offered an apology to the squad, his teammates and family and promising better conduct going forward.
News of his expulsion broke on Wednesday just hours before Egypt took on the DR Congo in their Group A match in Cairo. Egypt won 2-0 before a capacity crowd of 70,000 to qualify for the second round of the 24-nation continental tournament.
Egypt kicked off their campaign to win the cup for a record-extending eighth time with a 1-0 win against Zimbabwe last Friday in the tournament opener.
"We need to believe in second chances," Salah, who scored the second of Wednesday night's two goals, wrote on Twitter. "We need to guide and educate. Shunning is not the answer."
He also wrote: "I also believe that many who make mistakes can change for the better and should not be sent straight to the guillotine, which is the easiest way out."
Another sign of dissent at the Pharaohs’ camp came when defender Ahmed Elmohamady of Aston Villa celebrated his first-half goal against DR Congo by putting out two fingers from each hand while facing fans, alluding to Warda’s jersey No 22.
Salah’s tweets drew a flurry of responses from social media users, with some criticising him for coming to the defence of a player who faces allegations of sexual harassment in Greece and in Portugal, where he was briefly loaned by Greek club PAOK. Others argued that Salah and others on the squad would not have lobbied to reinstate Warda had the victims of his alleged sexual harassment were female members of their own families.
"Second chances are given after a fair punishment is meted out," prize-winning novelist Basma Abdel Aziz wrote on Facebook. "Men [particularly those who sexually harass women] will be held accountable, no matter what their status or profession is," another woman wrote, also on Facebook. Other women on social media vowed to stop following the Nations Cup or cheer for the home team if Warda was reinstated.
Salah's criticism of Warda's expulsion harkens back to his public tussle with the local football federation following Egypt's poor World Cup campaign in Russia last year, when the Pharaohs went home after losing all three group games.
At the time, Salah and several players who spoke anonymously criticised the federation for failing to instill discipline at the team's hotel and giving precedence to financial gains ahead of the squad's interest or it’s lack of respect for exclusive sponsorship deals struck with some players.