Egyptian footballer Mohamed Salah is being criticised after suggesting a team-mate accused of sexual harassment should be given a “second chance”.
The Liverpool superstar, who told Time magazine in April that the Middle East needed to change how it treats women, defended Amr Warda on Thursday in a tweet.
After women came forward with allegations of harassment, the Egyptian Football Federation (EFA) excluded Warda from playing in the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) which Egypt are currently hosting.
The midfielder initially denied the allegations but on Thursday he apologised in a video on Twitter and promised not to repeat the incidents.
The EFA then reversed its decision, saying Warda – who plays for Greek team PAOK – can compete in the tournament.
The allegations first emerged when Egyptian model Merhan Keller posted pictures on Instagram of inappropriate messages she says she received from Warda.
Other social media users also shared pictures of conversations and videos purporting to show Warda harassing them or other women online.
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Shortly after Egypt beat the Democratic of Congo to reach the final 16 of Afcon on Wednesday, Mo Salah tweeted that his colleague “should not be sent to the guillotine”.
“‘No’ means ‘no'”, he wrote, before adding, “many who make mistakes can change for the better and shouldn’t be sent straight to the guillotine”.
In a second tweet, Salah commented: “We need to believe in second chances… we need to guide and educate. Shunning is not the answer.”
The tweets, which both received almost 5,000 comments, were met with angry reactions online.
“[Your] courage is in the wrong place [to defend] a harasser and a dirty man,” replied prominent Egyptian journalist Islam Akel.
Activist Mona Seif wrote: “You give someone a second chance when they are showing remorse for what they did! When they are willing to take responsibility and apologise to their victims, the women who had to endure his sexual harassment. But what you just did right now is enable a repeat sex offender.”
“Justifying such an outrageous act like this is absolutely disgraceful,” another user @Eng_RaMo replied.
“Public figures, too, should be held accountable. It’s time to end this impunity, public figures are no longer untouchable,” commented user Mariam.
Many users pointed out this was not the first time that Warda had been accused of sexual harassment, saying he had already had his second chance.
Warda previously faced accusations of harassing the wives of two team-mates in 2017 while on a short-lived loan to the Portuguese team CD Feirense.
Team-mates support Warda
However, several teammates joined Salah in showing support for Warda, either on the pitch or on Twitter.
Ahmed Hegazi asked people to “forgive” Warda, and Walid Soliman tweeted a Quranic verse that “Allah forgives all sins”.
After he scored in Wednesday’s game, team captain Ahmed Elmohamady – who plays for English club Aston Villa – displayed Warda’s shirt number, 22, with his fingers, in a show of support.
And several players raised Warda’s shirt during their celebrations of the two goals Egypt scored on Wednesday.