CAIRO -- After aerial bombing and rent control, I suppose one of the worst things that can happen to a city is acute mania for national sports. This week, Egypt went mad for soccer, as the Egyptian team played Algeria for the Arabs' only place in the 2010 World Cup. They beat Algeria in Cairo Saturday, scoring the decisive goal with seconds to go in stoppage time, then lost to Algeria in the tiebreaker game Wednesday night in Khartoum. I was present for the orgy of celebratory rioting and pyromania after the first match. This morning, after a citywide depressive episode following the loss in the second match, mobs have congregated around the Algerian embassy, and the thrown stones of the morning have the makings of a diplomatic incident by evening.
After and during the Saturday victory, fans set me on fire twice. They were harmless conflagrations, but they reminded me what a blessing it is, in so many ways, not to be the type who wears polyester and flammable hairspray. A man ignited a sparkler next to me, in an area packed so tight we were pressed together, chest to back. By the time he realized his folly, sparks had sizzled through my shirt and lightly scorched my skin. At Tahrir Square, which is Cairo's Times Square, fans shut the place down to traffic and began lighting aerosol cans ablaze. One burnt off the fringe of my hair. Here are photos: