By Nick Butler

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi attended the Opening Ceremony, in what was hailed as a major boost for disabled sport in Egypt ©SpecialOlympicsMENAEgyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has opened the Special Olympics Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Regional Games in Cairo, in what is seen as a major boost for disabled sport in the African nation. 

The Games, which features athletes with intellectual disabilities, consists of competitors from 15 different countries competing across a total of 16 different sports. 

Sisi, the former chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces who was sworn in as President in June, was urged to attend by a called to a television show he was speaking on.

After accepting the invitation, he hailed the participants and thousands of people attending the inauguration in the Air Defence stadium in Cairo.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi and Minister of Sports Khalid Abdel Aziz were also in attendance, as well as various high-level representatives from the other participating nations. 

"It is a great honour for Egypt to host such an event," Abdel-Aziz said afterwards.

"His Excellency issued directives that all the needs of the Egyptian intellectually disabled team should be met in addition to removing all obstacles facing the delegation.

"These players are part of the Egyptian society and they have equal rights that should be taken care of."

The Saudi Arabian delegation pose at the Opening Ceremony, one of 15 nations participating in the Games along with Egypt ©FacebookThe Saudi Arabian delegation pose at the Opening Ceremony ©Facebook

The inaugural Special Olympics MENA Games were held in Cairo in 1999, with Tunisia, Rabat, Dubai and Syrian capital Damascus among other previous hosts.

It is hoped the Games will continue to facilitate regional improvement at the Paralympic Games, with Egypt winning four gold medals at London 2012, where Morocco, Tunisia, Algieria, Iraq and United Arab Emirates also featured on the medals table.

But this year's event is also symbolic for political reasons, due to the disorder and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa in recent years, with the event as example of sport helping to bring a war-torn region together.  

The Games will last until Wednesday (December 10) with competition taking place in athletics, swimming, cycling, table tennis, floor tennis, boccia, bowling, equestrian, volleyball, handball, basketball, badminton, skiing, weightlifting, soccer and gymnastics. .

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