The Globalist's Top Ten Books in 2016: The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer
“The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer has helped me immensely with great information and perspective.”
Bob Bradley, former US and Egyptian national coach
"James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle Eastern Soccer (has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture."
Alon Raab in The International Journal of the History of Sport
“Dorsey’s blog is a goldmine of information.”Play the Game"Your expertise is clearly superior when it comes to Middle Eastern soccer."
Andrew Das, The New York Times soccer blog Goal."No one is better at this kind of work than James Dorsey"David Zirin, Sports Illustrated
"Essential Reading"Change FIFA"A fantastic new blog'Richard Whitall of A More Splendid Life"James combines his intimate knowledge of the region with a great passion for soccer"Christopher Ahl, Play the Game"An excellent Middle East Football blog"James Corbett, Inside World Football
Thursday, January 31, 2013
There will be more deaths to come, as Morsi seems determined to crush and not heed the opposition. The great tragedy is that clearly, as long as there is no justice there won’t be peace, stresses Dave Zirin.
If you want to understand why Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has declared a "state of emergency" or if you want to understand why the country’s defense minister warned Tuesday of "the collapse of the state,” you first need to understand the soccer fan clubs in Egypt -- otherwise known as the "ultras" -- and the role they played in the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Under Mubarak’s three decade kleptocratic rule, the hyper-intense ultras -- made up almost entirely of young Egyptian men -- were given near-free reign to march in the streets, battle the police and, of course, fight each other. This has been a common practice in autocracies across the world: don’t allow political dissent but for the young, male masses allow violent soccer clubs to exist as a safety valve to release the steam.
Mubarak, surely to his eternal regret, underestimated what could happen when steam gets channeled into powering a full-scale revolt. After revolution in Tunisia spurred the Egyptian uprising, the ultras transformed themselves in the moment and played a critical role in securing Tahrir Square, setting up checkpoints, and fighting off the police. This is not to say it was seamless. As one Egyptian revolutionary said to me, “In those first days, the Ultras were indispensable. But the hardest thing, it felt like at times, was to keep them all focused on the goal [of removing Mubarak] and keep them from killing each other.”
Distinguished by their uniform of skinny jeans and hoodies, they quickly became objects of admiration in Tahrir Square. "They stayed there in the square almost through 100 hours of fighting," said protester Mosa'ab Elshamy. "It’s easy to notice them because of their use of Molotov cocktails, their extreme courage and recklessness, their chants. They became a common sight."
Their strength as a coherent and durable political force was seen after Mubarak was removed and a military junta assumed power. The ultras didn’t dissipate but remained on the front lines pushing for changes that would go beyond the cosmetic.
Then came Port Said. One year ago, 74 people died in clashes that followed a soccer game between visiting Al-Ahly and Port Said’s Al-Masri. People were stabbed and beaten when Al-Masri fans rushed the field after their team's 3-1 victory. The majority of deaths, however, took place because of asphyxiation as Al-Ahly fans were crushed against locked stadium doors.
There is ample video evidence that shows the military and security forces complicit in these deaths, either through inaction or worse. As James Dorsey of the Middle Eastern Soccer Blog wrote, “The incident is widely seen as an attempt that got out of hand by the then military rulers of the country and the police and security forces to cut militant, highly politicized, street battle-hardened soccer fans or ultras down to size.”
This tragedy, however, immediately took on a political, anti-regime dimension. Instead of one ultra group pledging death to the other, they blamed the junta and their hated police. Diaa Salah of the Egyptian Football Federation said, “The government is getting back at the ultras. They are saying, ‘You protest against us, you want democracy and freedom. Here is a taste of your democracy and freedom.'”
The current crisis stems from that moment. Last week, the verdicts came down in the Port Said “soccer riot” and twenty-one people were sentenced to hang. Not one of the twenty-one was from the state and security forces. The message was clear. Even though Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were now in charge, this government would be no different: protecting and defending their state at the expense of justice. It is true that the Al-Ahly fan club initially praised the verdict for providing closure for the families who lost loved ones, but this quickly soured into frustration. There was nothing to celebrate as the people in Port Said rose violently first in opposition to the verdict, then in opposition to the brutal state repression ordered by Morsi, and now in opposition to the regime itself.
As Dorsey wrote, “Neither the ruling nor government policy to date addresses an equally fundamental demand that both Al-Masri and Al-Ahly fans share: the need for a thorough reform of the police and security forces. The riots in the wake of the court verdict constitute the peak of an iceberg of growing discontent in Egypt with the government’s failure to hold accountable police and security forces believed to be responsible for the death of more than 800 protesters since mass demonstrations erupted two years ago against the Mubarak regime and to address the country’s economic decline as well as Mr. Morsi’s rushing through of a controversial new constitution.”
The days of Morsi’s reign are now being challenged in Cairo where on Monday demonstrators battled police in street fights that lasted for hours. In Suez, thousands left their homes and marched at 9pm in violation of curfew laws. And at Ground Zero, in Port Said, demonstrators declared their own state while thousands chanted, “LEAVE! LEAVE!” to Morsi, the same rallying cry used in the last days of Mubarak. The future for Morsi is unclear but what is clear is that the ultra clubs aren’t leaving the stage of Egypt’s history until there is justice and those in the state and military apparatus are held accountable not only for what took place in Port Said, but for all the hundreds who’ve been killed protesting over the last two years. Since this latest eruption, 60 more are now confirmed dead including Tamer al-Fahla, former goalkeeper of the al-Masri team, and Mohammad al-Dadhwi who played for Port Said’s al-Mareekh team. There will be more deaths to come, as Morsi seems determined to crush and not heed the opposition. The great tragedy is that clearly, as long as there is no justice there won’t be peace.
Dave Zirin is the author of Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love (Scribner)
Copyright © 2013 The Nation -- distributed by Agence Global.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
RSIS presents the following commentary Qatar’s Challenge to Saudi Arabia: An
alternative view of Wahhabism by James M. Dorsey. It is also available online at this link.
(To print it, click on this link.). Kindly forward any comments or feedback to the Editor
RSIS Commentaries, at RSISPublication@ntu.edu.sg
No. 017/2013 dated 30 January 2013
Qatar’s Challenge to Saudi Arabia:
An alternative view of Wahhabism
By James M. Dorsey
Qatar, whose native population adheres to the Wahhabi creed, poses a major
challenge to the puritanical interpretation of Islam of Saudi Arabia, which seeks
to make itself impervious to the push for greater freedom, transparency and
accountability sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.
THE GULF STATE of Qatar, despite its conservatism is hardly a mirror image of
Saudi Arabia, with its stark way of life, absolute gender segregation, total ban on
alcohol and refusal to accommodate alternative lifestyles or religious practices.
Qatar’s encouragement of women’s advancement in society, less strict separation
of genders, allowing non-Muslims to consume alcohol and pork, sponsorship of
Western arts like the Tribeca Film Festival, and hosting of the 2022 World Cup with
its expected influx of Western fans with their un-Islamic ways, offers young Saudis a
vision of a conservative Wahhabi society that is less constrained and permits
individuals irrespective of gender greater control over their lives.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia’s diverging world views have manifested themselves in
differing policies towards the popular revolts and protests sweeping the region. While
Saudi Arabia has adjusted to regional change incrementally Qatar has sought to
embrace it as long as it is not at home. Like Saudi Arabia, it seeks to maintain the
status quo in its immediate neighborhood, witness the life sentence handed a Qatari
poet for criticising the royal family.
At the core of the regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar are fundamentally
different strategies of self-preservation. While the royal families of both have sought
to buffer themselves by lavish social spending, Saudi Arabia has opted for maintenance
of the status quo where possible and limited engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood
in Egypt and Syria, toward which it harbours deep-seated distrust.
In contrast Qatar seeks to be on the cutting edge of history and has exercised a
sophisticated soft diplomacy with its winning bid to host the World Cup, positioning
itself as global hub by developing a comprehensive sports sector, creation of world
class museums and sponsorship of the arts. In effect, Qatari support for the Muslim
Brotherhood and popular revolts in the region constitutes an integral part of its foreign
and defence policy, designed to embed itself in the international community so as to
enhance the chances that other nations will come to its aid in time of need.
That policy is based on Qatar’s realisation that no matter what quantity of
sophisticated weaponry it purchases or foreigners it recruits into its military force,
it will not be able to truly defend itself. It also stems from uncertainty over how reliable
the United States is as the guarantor of last resort of its security. That concern has
been reinforced by the United States’ economic problems, its reluctance to engage
militarily post-Iraq and Afghanistan and its likely emergence by the end of this decade
as the world’s largest oil exporter.
At loggerheads with Saudis
Qatar’s strategy effectively puts it at loggerheads with Saudi Arabia. Whether the
Saudi-Qatari rivalry will precipitate change in the kingdom or reinforce monarchical
autocracy in the region is likely to be decided in Qatar itself rather than elsewhere in
the region. Qatar has already a foretaste of potential battles to come with Saudi-backed
conservatives who also enjoy support of some Qatari royals. They have twice boycotted
major state-owned companies, and voiced opposition to the sale of alcohol and pork in
the country and questioning the emir’s authority to rule by decree.
Qatar’s strategy of embracing the Muslim Brotherhood and putting itself at the cutting
edge of change elsewhere in the region as well as it soft diplomacy contain risks that
Saudi Arabia is likely to exploit. Fault lines in Egypt have deepened and hardened as it
teeters on the brink under President Mohammed Morsi, making Muslim Brothers in Arab
nations in the throes of change reluctant to assume sole government responsibility.
Jordan’s Brotherhood-related Islamic Action Front (IAF) boycotted parliamentary elections
in January 2013 official because of alleged gerrymandering. Privately, the IAF, with an eye
on Egypt is believed to have shied away from getting too big a share of the pie for their taste.
Opening a Pandora’s Box
Similarly, Qatar’s winning of the right to host the 2022 World Cup may have opened a
Pandora’s Box of change that could reverberate throughout the Gulf starting with the
status of foreign workers who constitute a majority in some of the smaller Gulf states
serving as the monkey wrench. Under increasing pressure from international trade unions
who have the clout to come through on a threat to boycott the Gulf state, Qatar has
suggested it would allow the formation of independent unions created to engage in
If Qatar proves true to its word, it raises the spectre of foreigners gaining greater rights and
having a greater stake in countries that have sought to protect their national identity and the
rights of local nationals by ensuring that foreigners do not sink roots. That effort even goes as
far as soccer clubs opting for near empty stadiums because there are not enough locals to fill
them rather than offering the population at large something that could even remotely give them
a sense of belonging.
At first glance Qatar’s foreign, sports and culture policy seems forward looking despite
conservative opposition at home and appears to put the tiny Gulf state in a category of its own.
Yet, the challenge it poses to Saudi Arabia ultimately could prove a challenge to itself. It buys
Qatar time but in the final analysis fails to address fundamental issues underlying the wave of
protests as well as demographic issues looming in the Gulf.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies,
co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Wuerzburg and the author of
The Turbulent blog.
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