EgyptAir is the official airline for the 32nd African Cup of Nations billed to hold in Egypt from June 21 to July 19. In this exclusive interview, Completesports.com’s SULAIMAN ALAO speaks with the airline’s Country Manager, MUHARRAM ABDULRAHMAN who shares with us the exciting times and fascinating tourists attractions awaiting football fans and travelers to the land of the Pharaoh all through the tournament…
Complete Sports: Can we meet you, please?
My name is Muharram Abdulrahman. I am currently EgyptAir Country Manager in Nigeria. Previously, I held the post of the Office Manager of Abuja between 2009 to 2016. You know, on economic terms, Nigeria is number two in Africa and it is the hub of West Africa economically, while Egypt as number three, is the hub for the North-East Africa. So, my office gave me the opportunity to enhance and strengthen aviation relationship between Nigeria and Egypt which is vital to the economic and overall relationship between both countries.
Also, tell us a bit about EgyptAir?
EgyptAir was established in 1932 and it is the first airline in Africa and the Middle East while it is seventh in the world. We started from a humble beginning but have clocked 87 years and grown to become one of Africa’s leading airlines and a force to reckon with in the world. EgyptAir is also a member of the Star Alliance which gives us the ability to provide variety of services to our esteemed customers in Nigeria and the rest of the world. EgyptAir flies into 79 destinations in 53 countries worldwide with safety, hospitality and reliability as our watchword. In addition, we have become a holding company with nine subsidiaries in the area of Tourism, Hospital, Catering, and Engineering Services among others. EgyptAir has completed 60 years of flying to Lagos as well.
What is the role of EgyptAir as it affects Egypt as hosts of the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations?
EgyptAir is the official host airline for the tournament and we are offering specially reduced fares to our passengers travelling to, from and within Egypt for the competition that will be played across various cities in Egypt. We have also deployed state-of-the-art equipment on all our routes to enhance comfort as well as provide in-flight entertainment to make flying a pleasure for our visitors.
You must be excited that Egypt will be hosting the AFCON which was initially scheduled to hold in Cameroon which lost the hosting rights?
Without disrespect to Cameroon, we are very happy to be hosting the Africa Cup of Nations again because every time we have hosted it, we win (laughter). We lost to Cameroon in the last finals so, this year, we hope the Cup won’t be taken out of Egypt, (more laughter). Besides, it is good to welcome our African brothers who will be coming to Egypt not only for this great football festival but also to enjoy Egyptian hospitality and other attractions that go with it. It is going to be a carnival all through and the competition will help to further bind African countries together for peaceful, economic and social co-existence.
Talking about hosting to win, how important do you think is Mohammed Salah who is the African Footballer of the Year to the Egyptian team?
Yeah, you can say we are blessed to have a quality player like Mohammed Salah in the Egyptian national team. He is the first Egyptian to win the African Footballer of the Year award which he has done two times consecutively now. He has achieved that playing football abroad – for Liverpool in England – and I believe his experience will no doubt be a plus for the Egyptian team. But I think the biggest strength of our team is that we don’t depend too much on individual players, but we focus more on playing as a team. Most of our players play their club football in Egypt and I can say that countries like Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana have more players playing professional football in Europe more than Egypt.
Salah helped Liverpool to win the Champions League recently after losing in the final where he got injured last year. Do you see this as a good omen for Egypt to win this AFCON after losing in the final last time?
First, I say congratulations to Salah for the Champions League success and for being a good ambassador of Egypt. He has done very well for Liverpool and we hope he can replicate that for the Egyptian national team at the AFCON. His success could be a good omen to further motivate our team, but Salah himself will be a marked-man for defenders. Egypt must first play as a unit to make the brilliance and quality of Salah count.
Candidly, who are you tipping to win the trophy?
Of course I will tip my country to win the trophy (laughter). We are the host, we have a good team and we have players like Sallah which should give us some advantage. I know there are other good teams like Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, but I think with the support of the home fans, the Pharaohs can win it.
You mean you don’t want Nigeria to win it? You should be kind to Nigeria who will be your guest?
(General laughter) Everyone will be rooting for their country. You want Nigeria to win, I want Egypt to win so it’s 50-50. (More laughter).
You talk about the quality of other teams. How well do you know the Nigerian team and what do you think of the Super Eagles’ chances?
I think Nigeria has a good team. The Super Eagles beat us 1-0 in Asaba a few months back…
(Cuts in) But that was not the full-strength Egyptian team?
Yes, and same goes for Nigeria too in that game. Nigeria has a strong team made up of good players who are mostly playing club football abroad. I remember the Nigerian team that won the AFCON and Olympics in the mid 90’s. Most Egyptians still have fond memories of players like Rashidi Yekini, Nwankwo Kanu, Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amuneke, Jay Jay Okocha and others.
Egypt and Nigeria are similar in many things. Egypt is the hub in North Africa and has the biggest population while Nigeria is the hub in West Africa and has the biggest population. Both countries are cosmopolitan and they love football. I am familiar with the current Nigerian team and I think they are good enough to get to the final and possibly play against Egypt. That will be very interesting if it happens. (general laughter).
What other attractions should people look forward to in Egypt?
Egypt is a country well endowed with natural and man-made tourist attractions where travelers can visit. The Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx, Hurghada at the Red Sea, the Sahara Desert, Karnak Temple, Sinai mountain regions, the Museum, Abu Simbel temples, Sham El-Sheikh, Aswan, the Nile river and several more fascinating sites and cities.
What sport or game do you personally take part in presently or in the past?
I love and used to play football but in actual fact, I am much better in volleyball.
Your final message to your numerous customers?
EgyptAir is welcoming everybody to Egypt for the Nations Cup. We are ready to take them there and we believe the pleasant memories will remain with visitors for years to come.
Thank you for speaking with us.
It’s my pleasure.