JOHANNESBURG – It is impossible to miss the images of the ruler in military dictatorships across the African continent as they are splashed flamboyantly on billboards, banners, flags, and even in murals.
But in Egypt, it is not the image of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi that represents the mood and aspirations of the country, but rather the face of talented young footballer, Mo Salah, that is splashed almost everywhere, on the walls and even on clothing items.
Salah, whose name reverberates throughout the Arab Republic of Egypt, will be turning 25 a day after the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Russia following an impressive season with Liverpool where he netted 44 times for the English club who reached the Champions League final.
On a recent visit to Cairo attending the launch of the Intra-Africa Trade Fair spearheaded by the Afreximbank and the African Union (AU), it was evident how much Salah was admired by young and old, alike.
In Khan Al-Khalili bazaar, it is the image of Mo Salah printed on T-shirts, tracksuits, jeans, paintings, ornaments, and all sorts of paraphernalia that dominates and fetches the most money.
In the unforgiving 40°C heat of Cairo, the Egyptians ply their trade furiously negotiating up to 50 percent discounts with tourists, whom if unsuspecting may end up buying something with Salah's image on it.
A shop owner at Khan Al-Khalili takes out more clothing items with the image of Egyptian football maestro Mo Salah which have become a very popular product among the locals and tourists alike in Cairo. Photo: Siphelele Dludla/ANA
And the Arab advertising industry has not been left behind, latching on the bandwagon much earlier and leading the pack in commodifying and selling Salah's image for profit.
As a country that has meticulously preserved its history, culture and heritage dating back to the earliest years of human existence - which is evident when you visit the Great Sphinx of Giza in front of the great pyramids and next to the tomb of Seshem Nefer Theti - one can see how much Mo Salah means to the modern Egyptians.
As a tourist struggling to communicate in the local language, especially with the maniac cab drivers, a single utterance of “Mo Salah” will elicit a big smile and an unsolicited hug to acquaint strangers.
And then a thought came to my mind: Salah is so famous in Egypt that el-Sisi will one day soon fear the repeat of the 2011 Arab Spring as 250,000 gather at Tahrir Square, only to find out that it is the famous footballer taking a stroll down the street with his fans in tow.