“Over the decades that have marked the tenure of Egypt’s “President for Life” Hosni Mubarak, there has been one consistent nexus for anger, organization, and practical experience in the ancient art of street fighting: the country’s soccer clubs. Over the past week, the most organized, militant fan clubs, also known as the “ultras,” have put those years of experience to ample use.
Last Thursday, the Egyptian Soccer Federation announced that they would be suspending all league games throughout the country in an effort to keep the soccer clubs from congregating. Clearly this was a case of too little, too late. Even without games, the football fan associations have been front and center organizing everything from the neighborhood committees that have been providing security for residents, to direct confrontation with the state police. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Alaa Abd El Fattah, a prominent Egyptian blogger said, “The ultras — have played a more significant role than any political group on the ground at this moment.” Alaa then joked, “Maybe we should get the ultras to rule the country.”
The involvement of the clubs has signaled more than just the intervention of sports fans. The soccer clubs’ entry into the political struggle also means the entry of the poor, the disenfranchised, and the mass of young people in Egypt for whom soccer was their only outlet.”
Incidentally, I was telling one of my colleagues today that if I were Gadhafi, I’d be worried. Well:
“As soccer writer James Dorsey wrote this week, “The involvement of organized soccer fans in Egypt’s anti-government protests constitutes every Arab government’s worst nightmare. Soccer, alongside Islam, offers a rare platform in the Middle East, a region populated by authoritarian regimes that control all public spaces, for the venting of pent-up anger and frustration.”
Dorsey’s statement proved prophetic on Sunday when it was announced that Libya’s government had instructed the Libyan Football Federation to ban soccer matches for the foreseeable future. Sources in the government said that this was done to head off the mere possibility that Egypt’s demonstrations could spill over the border. The fear was that soccer could be the artery that would connect the challenge to Mubarak to a challenge to former U.S. foe turned ally Moammar Gadhafi.”
And speaking of sports and politics, I just bought this brand new documentary by Dave Zirin, from the excellent Media Education Foundation: