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From saving goals to setting them

sports Updated: Dec 16, 2011 00:08 IST

Egypt's longtime national goalkeeper Nader el-Sayed had never been interested in politics. But when in January he joined hundreds of thousands in Cairo's Tahrir Square to demand regime change, he knew a new career was in the making.

The veteran player, who won more than 100 caps and was twice voted best goalkeeper in the African Cup of Nations, is standing for parliament in the first elections since a popular uprising ousted Hosni Mubarak after three decades of rule.

Sayed, 38, is lending his star power to the Al-Wasat party - a moderate Islamist group which is an offshoot of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and which he joined three months ago.

Egyptians are voting in the second phase of a parliamentary election that is set to shape the political landscape of the Arab world's most populous nation, with Islamists emerging as front-runners.

Al-Wasat is one of a kaleidoscope of rival Islamist parties, often mistaken for one homogeneous group.

"I wanted to join a political party, not a religious movement," said Sayed, slamming the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Salafi movement - which both have political parties competing in the election - for mixing religion with politics.

Longtime goalkeeper for premier league Cairo side Zamalek, Sayed had never been interested in politics.

But he says he watched as corruption and social injustice ate away at the Arab world's cutural capital, and the government tried to use football to distract the population from the country's political and economic woes.

Many remember the image of Sayed draped in an Egyptian flag being carried by protesters in Tahrir Square, his fists pumping in the air and his voice breaking as he shouted the Arab Spring's signature chant: "The people want the downfall of the regime."

Ten months later, posters of a breezy-looking Sayed, arms crossed and wearing a crisp white T-shirt - as if in a team photo - are plastered on walls, hanging from trees and fixed to lamp posts as he now says "It's time to clean up the sport, and the country."