Salah meeting with Chechen leader raises red flags

GROZNY, Russia (AP) — Mohamed Salah was relaxing in his hotel room in Grozny when he was informed an important guest dropped in unexpectedly and was waiting for him in the lobby.

When the Egypt star forward went down, he found Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

The Moscow-backed former rebel had a favor to ask of Salah: Could he accompany him for the short drive to the stadium where the rest of Egypt’s World Cup squad was training and several thousand local fans were in attendance?

Salah obliged, and the two showed up at the stadium named after Kadyrov’s assassinated father to a standing ovation and loud cheers by the fans. Salah wore a white Egypt jersey, and his host was in a green-and-white tracksuit.

The Sunday evening episode sparked uproar on social media given the poor human rights record of the leader of Chechnya, and what was perceived as Kadyrov’s use of Salah to score a public relations boon.

Additionally, the episode may be well remembered for a long time as a textbook PR blunder on the part of the Egyptians.

“This is Kadyrov trying to capitalize on Chechnya being a team base to boost his own profile … it was 100 percent predictable,” said Rachel Denber, the Human Rights Watch deputy director for Europe and central Asia.

“He revels in the spotlight. He also has a ruthless grip on Chechnya. He has sought to obliterate any kind of political advocacy or human rights work.”