Egyptian football star Mohamed Salah is at the center of a controversy after accepting honorary citizenship from Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia.
The Chechen Republic's leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been accused of numerous human rights violations, granted Salah the citizenship at a banquet held on Friday.
Footage of the event has been making the rounds online and drawing heavy criticism against Salah and Egyptian authorities, who have been accused of using their player as a political pawn.
Since then, there have been reports suggesting Salah is quitting the national team over the incident but Egypt's football federation has denied such claims.
According to The Independent, Chechnya has been hosting the now-eliminated Egyptian team's World Cup training camp.
Earlier this month, Salah was captured posing for photos with Kadyrov during a training session.
According to media reports, Salah was initially absent from the session and was instead resting at the hotel due to his shoulder injury. Kadyrov had reportedly driven to the hotel and asked Salah to accompany him back to the stadium to take photos.
On Friday, Kadyrov granted the Egyptian player honorary citizenship, offering him a badge and a copy of the decree.
"I signed a decree conferring this high award on the great footballer and member of the Egypt and Liverpool teams," Kadyrov wrote on Telegram, as quoted by The Independent.
"He has a ruthless grip on Chechnya"
Backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kadyrov has enforced strict Islamic rules and has been accused of a wide array of human rights breaches, such as abduction, torture, extrajudicial killings as well as crimes against members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Kadyrov's attitude towards the Egyptian team has thus been deemed as an attempt to polish his republic's international image.
"This is Kadyrov trying to capitalize on Chechnya being a team base to boost his own profile," said Rachel Denber, the Human Rights Watch deputy director for Europe and central Asia, according to The Telegraph.
"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," she added.
Is Salah quitting the national team?
A source close to Salah told CNN the Egyptian star was thinking about quitting the national team "due to his unhappiness over what has happened in Chechnya."
Meanwhile, according to the Egyptian Football Federation, the 26-year-old has been training well and has not expressed any intentions to leave the team.
Salah has not yet publicly commented on the matter.
Egypt is set for its final match at the 2018 FIFA World Cup versus Saudi Arabia on Monday afternoon.
The teams have both been eliminated from the tournament, having lost their two matches in the group stage. Whether or not Salah takes part in the match remains to be seen.