Egypt executive director Eihab Leheita has refused to comment after a photo of star forward Mohamed Salah and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov caused a stir on social media late Sunday.
Salah was photographed locking hands with Kadyrov at Egypt’s Grozny, Russia, training camp on Sunday ahead of their World Cup opener against Uruguay later this week.
The episode sparked reactions on social media given the allegations of Kadryov’s human rights violations. His use of Salah, who is Muslim, was perceived as a public relations move.
Despite the optics, however, Leheita told the Associated Press he had “no regrets whatsoever” about the choice of Grozny as the all-Muslim squad’s base and refused to answer questions about the encounter between the two men, telling AP: “Ask FIFA for a comment.”
FIFA declined to comment and neither Salah nor the Egyptian FA has issued a statement.
Kadyrov, who sports the hallmark beard of the ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis, has enforced strict Islamic rules in Chechnya since assuming control in 2004, relying on his security forces to stifle any dissent. Moreover, his rule has been marred by numerous reports of extrajudicial killings and torture in the republic which saw two separatist wars in the 1990s.
The Egyptian government, meanwhile, shows zero tolerance for political Islam and has for years been fighting an insurgency led by Islamic militants.
FIFA’s approval of Grozny, the Chechen capital, as Egypt’s training base came under scrutiny back in February.
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Grozny was selected by Egypt from a list of 67 options presented to the World Cup finalists, and FIFA said at the time it would monitor the suitability of allowing a team to be based in the region.
“FIFA’s decision to use Grozny for a World Cup team camp is absolutely shocking and outrageous,” Human Rights Watch associate director Jane Buchanan told The Associated Press earlier this year. “FIFA should reverse their decision and move the training camp to another city.”
Egypt are making the country’s first World Cup appearance in 28 years at this summer’s tournament.
The 25-year-old Salah has not played since injuring his left shoulder in Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid last month and is considered a doubt for Friday’s match.
“Maybe he could start on the bench, but a final decision has not been made yet,” the Pharaohs’ team doctor, Mohamed Abouelela, told AP on Monday.
Salah jogged for about 30 minutes on Monday as his teammates trained on the same pitch in Grozny for the match in Ekaterinburg.
“He is doing [physiotherapy] sessions on his shoulder and working out in the gym,” Leheita said. “We hope he will be with us for the Uruguay match.”
Leheita said a physiotherapist from the medical staff of Salah’s Liverpool club was at Grozny to help, and denied the English club was pressuring the Egyptians not to play Salah before he is fully fit.
“We will not pressure Mohamed. At the end, he is our son,” Leheita said.
Information from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.