The Egyptian Paralympics team left to the London games last month with little public attention or anticipation. But after winning 15 medals for Egypt and breaking two world records, they returned as heroes.
On Monday night, hundreds received the returning Paralympians at the Cairo airport, who received less support from the state than Egypt’s Olympic team, which only won two medals.
As soon as the athletes were wheeled into the terminal wearing their medals, over 200 of their admirers rushed toward them with flowers and banners expressing their gratitude and admiration.
“You have taught us that there is no impossible,” declared one banner.
As they were reunited with their families, the athletes were surrounded by the crowd chanting their names and singing for them all the way to their cars.
Having suffered from lack of attention and appreciation for years, the athletes were overwhelmed by the welcome.
“This is the first time we feel that we are receiving the attention that corresponds to the effort that we make,” said weightlifter Mohamed Sobhy, sporting his silver medal.
“With this beautiful sight we are motivated to never disappoint these people,” he added, maneuvering his way around the group circling him in celebration.
The families of the athletes were overjoyed to find that for the first time, they were not the only ones welcoming them home.
As they awaited him in the airport, the family of weightlifter Mohamed Thabet, who came in 6th place, hoped that the team’s achievements will motivate the state to give athletes with special needs more attention in the future.
Thabet’s family complained of the lack of support that the special needs athletes struggle with. They said he has had to fund his entire athletic preparation, including paying for his own medical expenses following injuries.
“They ought to treat them as equal to other athletes. They are not less than them — they defy their disability and deliver even better results,” said Soheir Abdallah, Thabet’s mother.
Also welcoming the athletes were people who were inspired by their accomplishments.
“I felt that it was me playing and winning. We are better, we did better; I thank them very much,” said Shaimaa Abdel Fatah, member of the Front to Save the Revolution, consisting only of people with disabilities.
Many expressed hopes that the achievements of the Paralympians will shed light on the potential that people with special needs have and the contributions that they can make to society if their needs are met.
“We can give so much, even more than other people, with the right support. I want to give to my country but in order to do my duties, I have to have my rights,” said Abdel Fatah.
People with disabilities have been complaining of their lack of fair representation in government and rejected the new national council that was announced for them, saying that it consists of the same people who have been using people with special needs to make profits, rather than serving them, for years.
In the airport, the athletes said that the attention that the new government is giving them is promising and hoped for President Morsy to keep his promise to give them a reward equal to what other athletes receive for every medal.
Morsy met with the Paralympics team before they traveled to London and his sports minister welcomed them in the airport.
With parties using every chance they have for publicity in preparation for the parliamentary elections expected by the end of the year, competition was evident between members of different parties who were in the crowd.
Parties and groups including the Constitution Party, the Wasat Party, the Popular Current, the April 6 Youth Movement, and the yet to be registered Strong Egypt Party showed up wearing their entities’ slogans, holding their flags and incorporating their names into the chants. At one point, the competition between the parties for more visibility during the event reached minor physical confrontations between Constitution and Wasat party members.
“We are here to share their happiness with their families and to learn from them about the determination that would empower us to build the country,” said Mohamed al-Sheshtawy, a member of the Wasat Party as he raised his party’s flag.