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Soccer & Society

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From football riot to revolution. The

political role of football in the Arab
Dag Tuastad
Center for Islamic and Middle East Studies, University of Oslo,
Oslo, Norway
Version of record first published: 04 Feb 2013.

To cite this article: Dag Tuastad (2013): From football riot to revolution. The political role of
football in the Arab world, Soccer & Society, DOI:10.1080/14660970.2012.753541

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Soccer & Society, 2013

From football riot to revolution. The political role of football in

the Arab world
Dag Tuastad*

Center for Islamic and Middle East Studies, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

In the Arab world, ideological resistance of supporters during football matches

have coalesced with another rebellion, of youth breaking the chains of patriar-
chal power. The political implication of this social process is tremendous. As
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youth have experienced that they have had to yield to the will of parents and
grandparents at home, and to the old dictators in the public eld, nding a
social arena where one could liberate one-selves from the former implicated a
congruent dissolution of authority ties also towards the latter. As football is a
primary medium through which youth autonomy could be experienced, football
has a seismic political potential. The role of ultras supporters in the Egyptian
revolution and the political role of nationalist supporters in Jordan in killing
political taboos are cases where supporters represent more than simply a barom-
eter of political trends. The supporters have initiated struggles crucially affecting
political developments in their countries.

As the most popular sport, and the form of popular culture with greatest world wide
appeal, football has been referred to as weapons of mass distraction. But this
bread and circuses thesis, comment Gilchrist and Holen,1 has been challenged by
historians studying progressive struggle in and through sport. Popular culture is not
epiphenomenal or marginal, argues Whannel, it remains a central element in the
political process.2 Football is, Sugden argues, like all collective human endeav-
ours, a social construction which is malleable according to the social forces that sur-
rounds it.3 Sport, writes Delgado, is located at the centre of culture, and certainly
ideology.4 Only the uncertainty and passion of football competition, Strauken
notes, referring to Faure and Suadu, prevent it from perfectly reecting social
mechanisms.5 Similarly, Gilchrist and Holen relate, just as sports can reect the
dominant ideas of our society, they can also reect struggle.6
More than simply a reection of political struggle, I will argue that in given cir-
cumstances football supporters might be at the heart of political struggle crucially
affecting political developments. In authoritarian regimes with a suppressed or lar-
gely absent civil society, football has remained one of the few if not the only arena
open for exposure of social and political identities, and the football arenas are
where political messages are rst communicated and struggle with authorities initi-
ated. I will argue this mainly through a discussion of two empirical cases, on the
political role of football in Jordan and Egypt.

*Email: d.h.tuastad@ikos.uio.no

2013 Taylor & Francis

2 D. Tuastad

In Egypt, when 79 football fans were killed in Port Said in February 2012, this
was not the result of panic and stamping from the unfortunate closing of gates. Al-
Ahli fans were deliberately killed, stuck by knives and machetes, or thrown down
from the terraces to the asphalt below and crushed to death. Newly elected Parlia-
ment members saw the violence as payback time from contra-revolutionaries. It
resulted from the fact that role of Al-Ahli football supporters in the revolution could
hardly be overestimated. There were two groups that were crucial for the Egyptian
revolution to succeed, The Muslim Brotherhood and the Al-Ahlawi ultras,7 said
the French expert on political Islam, Stphane Lacroix. The ultras were the most

Football and violence in the Egyptian revolution

On the 25 January 2012, the anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution,
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Egypts emergency law originally imposed after the 1967 war with Israel, was lifted
by the newly elected parliament. When Al-Ahli played Al-Masri in Port Said on
the rst of February, this was the day before a second, concomitant anniversary, the
battle of the camels on Tahrir Square the place where the main protests against
the Mubarak-regime took place. The battle of the camels refers to the attack by
hundreds of horse and camel riders at Tahrir Square, wielding clubs and horse
whips against the revolutionaries, accompanied by thousands of Mubarak supporters
pelting demonstrators with stones and Molotov cocktails from roof tops surrounding
the square, while the state television urged the protestors to leave the square. Three
demonstrators died, about 600 were injured at the attack. The protest organizers
after the attack thanked the ultras of Al-Ahli for their role in forcing back the mobs
of the Mubarak supporters.9
The ultras of Al-Ahli, Al-Ahlawi, were founded in 2007. In 2009, during a
match with their main rival, Zamalek, the supporters released banners and chanted
slogans in support of the Palestinians in Gaza. Interpreting the incident as an illegal
demonstration solidarity demonstrations with the Palestinians were banned during
the Mubarak regime, fearing for their relations with Western sponsors and that dem-
onstrations could go out of hand the police cracked down on both supporters
groups, arresting scores of ultras. The incident marked the beginning of the animos-
ity between the ultras and the Egyptian police forces according to the blog of one
of the Ahlawi-ultras.10 Also in 2009, Mohamed Aboutrika, a star player of Al-Ahli,
removed his jersey during a televised match, showing his T-shirt reading Sympa-
thize with Gaza as a protest against the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Although About-
rika faced repercussions he later conrmed his stand in an interview with Al-
Jazeera. He was later crowned the African football player of the year by the BBC,
receiving more votes from listeners than more international famous players like
Didier Drogba and Samuel Etoo. In Gaza, youth would wear the red shirt number
22 of Aboutrika whenever Al Ahli was playing, singing Palestine loves Aboutrika;
and Gaza wont forget you.11
The essential role of football in political life of Egypt goes more than a hundred
year back, to the anti-colonial struggle in the beginning of the last millennium.
When Al-Ahli sport club was founded in 1907 it was as a cover for political activ-
ists ghting against British colonial rule. Student unions formed a core of the anti-
colonial struggle, but their unions needed premises where they could congregate
and plan activities. For this purpose, Al-Ahli, meaning national in Arabic, was
Soccer & Society 3

founded. The club came to embody the rebellion against colonization. At the time
of its founding Al-Ahli was the only club where local Egyptians could be members.
Following Egyptian independence in 1952 Al Ahli became tremendously popular
not only in Egypt but all over Africa and the Arab world.12 The symbolizing of the
struggle for liberation was paired with tremendous success in football. Today Al-
Ahli is the most winning team in Egypt and Africa, and the club has also qualied
an unprecedented three times for Fifas World Cup for club teams.
Al-Ahlis success in Egypt has only been rivalled by the other Cairo club,
Zamalek, and the derby between these two clubs has evolved into the main sport
event of the whole Arab world. The day the two clubs meet at the 80,000 sold out
Cairo Stadium is one of the rare moments where no people can be found out in the
streets, be it in Cairo or Gaza.
Since the 2009 incident with the demonstration of solidarity with Gaza and sub-
sequent police crackdown in the Al-Ahli Zamalek match, ultras and police would
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ght every time Al-Ahli played. This proved to be a training ground for the crucial
days of struggle during the Egyptian revolution. The main struggle of the revolution
was for control over the highly symbolic space of the Tahrir Square in Cairo. Tahrir
means liberation, and Tahrir Square, where the Egyptian protestors rst gathered, is
the major public town square at the heart of downtown Cairo, centred around the
statue of the historic national hero Omar Makram who fought against Napoleons
invasion to Egypt in 1798. It has since been the main site of all popular uprisings
in Egypt, and controlling Tahrir Square was the immediate aim of the revolutionar-
ies. As long as the protestors liberated and defended this space, it meant that the
symbolic territorial heart of the country was theirs.
The tens of thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets on 25 January 2011
increased to hundreds of thousands the next days. At the Tahrir Square a rare social
mix of men and women, lower class and middle class, most young but some old, in
suits, galabiyas (the traditional Egyptian garment), kefyehs (the traditional Arab
headdress), and jeans, some bearded, some fully veiled women, (munaqqabat),
some bareheaded, stayed at the liberated zone to claim democratic change.13 Cru-
cially, in order to stay at the Tahrir Square a frontline had to protect them. This
frontline was organized by and mainly manned by the Al-Ahlawi ultras. The years
of confronting the police had made the ultras the optimal guards of the revolution.
They knew how to act collectively, to hit and run, to survive and escape prolonged
exposure to tear gas, to change their front ghters so as to rest them periodically, to
bang the drums to warn of police attacks, to identify provocateurs, to cheer and
whistle when in need of tactical withdraws, to avoid collective running knowing the
danger of stampings and panics, to regroup, and return reworks, to suffer and
endure pain as many having been subject to mistreatments and even torture at the
police stations.14
Without this frontline the defence of the Tahrir Square had fallen. If this defence
had fallen, the protests that eventually brought down the Mubarak-regime could
have failed. The outcome of the revolution might actually have been different was
it not for the sacrices of those ghting in the frontline, the Ahlawi football ultras.
It has been suggested that organized Al-Masri supporters were Mubarak-support-
ers.15 Thus, when Al-Ahli and al Al-Masri met in Port Said on the rst of February
2012 the Al-Ahli supporters knew, having been on the frontline at Tahrir Square to
protect the protesters, that their struggle against the police had a prize. They knew
that in spite of the revolution the newly elected Egyptian leaders could not in a
4 D. Tuastad

quick x change or substitute the police apparatus, and that the blood feud would
Survivors have told that they were attacked by people aiming to kill them. Fif-
teen year old Hossan Mohsen saw his friend Anas Hohieddin being thrown to death
down from the tenth level of stadium terraces. Then they came for me. I begged
the nearest one not to throw me onto the concrete, as this would kill me. He
laughed and said that that was the idea. Unlike his friend Mohsen survived with a
broken leg and twisted arm.17 The attackers had surged onto the eld immediately
after the game ended, armed with knives and machetes, chasing the Al-Ahli sup-
porters. For this match, for the rst time in memory, the police had not searched
the spectators entering the stadium. I was holding a black plastic bag containing
water and food. No one searched it, said Mohamed Helmi, an Al-Masri fan, some-
thing he had never before experienced.18 At the exact moment of the mayhem, the
stadium oodlight was suddenly turned off, and the gate of escape remained closed.
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As the police stood by people were slaughtered by knives and machetes, and
thrown down from the terraces.
Adding to suspicions that the ambush had been orchestrated by former regime
elements was the fact that after the camel attack the previous year, a fact-nding
committee found that two deputies from Mubaraks party, the National Democratic
Party, owning ranches for horses and camels, had paid camel and horse riders to
attack the demonstrators, and having coordinated the attack with police forces.19
The ambush in Port Said had similar elements in terms of orchestration and destruc-
tive determination. Essam Al-Eriam is a lawmaker and vice chairman of the politi-
cal party of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. He is the head of the largest party
in the Egyptian parliament, controlling a majority of seats along with allied parties.
It was a deliberate neglect said Al-Eriam, from the Muslim Brotherhood, referring
to the lack of security at the stadium and lack of police interference to stop the
attack. It was a plot against democratic transition, a revenge.20

Supporter resistance and the clash of generations

Notably, the Al-Ahlawi ultras in Cairo reportedly had allied with another group in
their struggle against the Egyptian security forces. Along with the Egyptian ultras
homeless youth and children, from 9 to 15 living outside under the bridges at Tahrir
Square, participated. This group, referred to as wilad sis are socially marginalized
young men and youth, unemployed or doing day work, operating in unrecognized
neighbourhoods of Cairo, ashwai. In November 2011 al wilad sis and Al-Ahlawi
ultras moved to attack the premises of the Egyptian internal ministry, adjacent to
Tahrir Square. The confrontation, which has been referred to as the second Egyptian
revolution, led to as many as forty people being killed and more than 600 injured,
mostly ultras and wilad sis.21
A distinctive feature of the wilad sis and the ultras is that they are both autono-
mous youth groups struggling to preserve a newfound autonomy and identity. To
protect and display their autonomy they occasionally end up getting involved in
street ghts. This points to a commonality between ultras aggression and the Arab
uprisings as both challenge forms of patriarchal power, at the political arena as well
as at the football stadiums.
One dimension of patriarchal power is the power of elderly men over the young.
Demographers have pointed out how political violent unrest correlates strongly with
Soccer & Society 5

large youth bulges of the population. The larger proportion of youth, the larger the
probability of social and political unrest.22 Youth bulge studies nds that behind
political violence and uprisings there is a clash of generations. Where there are
youth bulges, political violence is more likely. Education and lack of democracy
strengthens the effect, the greater the expansion of higher education, and the more
autocratic a country, the stronger the effect of youth bulges on political violence .23
Today 60% of the population in the Arab world, the most autocratic region in
the world, are less than 25 years old. The population growth is 2.0%, double the
world average.24 A distinctive feature of the youth generation in the Arab world is
that it is much more educated than the parent and grandparent generation. The edu-
cation system has the last decades been considerably expanded. While the genera-
tion born during the rst half of the last century was largely illiterate, mass
schooling spread in the second half. Now a radically higher proportion of youth n-
ishes higher education, a phenomenon Fargues refers to as the monopoly of knowl-
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edge of the young. Tension derives from the fact that their education is not
converted into employment. Today youth unemployment in countries in the Arab
world is up to 45%.25 The young have the education, the old the jobs. As long as
the number of youth entering the labour marked exceeds those parting, this situation
will persist, which means at least until 2025 according to demographic projections.
Patriarchal power is vanishing as legitimate authority, challenged by authority based
on knowledge from schools.26 When social tension generated from this situation
spills over to the political eld, this leads to social unrest and uprisings.
A symptom if not a cause for how patriarchal ties have been weakened, have
been observed at the football arenas where youth have congregated on their own.
As young football fans start going to the football stadiums with people of their own
age rather than their fathers, they experience a new autonomy from parental tute-
lage.27 Football matches today constitute the most substantial form of patriarch-
independent, autonomous youth gathering.
The phenomenon of age group bonding through football has been referred to as
ordered segmentation, based on studies of social organization and community in
urban areas, where age, sex, ethnicity and territoriality are constituents of a larger
structure. Inside lower class urban communities strong age segregation has been
observed, where children are sent into the streets to play, unsupervised by adults, at
an early age. The age groups defend and control territories within their commu-
nity and at the football stadiums. When involved in conict with external groups,
largely independent segments within youth communities unite. A so-called Bedouin
factor marks socio-political organization of these groups, where the friend of a
friend is a friend; the enemy of an enemy is a friend; the friend of an enemy is an
enemy; the enemy of a friend is an enemy.28
This is relevant in order to understand the instrumental role of football support-
ers in the struggle to topple the autocratic Mubarak-regime. Whereas Al-Ahlawi
allied with the pro-democratization forces, their opponents in Port Said, football
supporters of the Al-Masri home team, appeared to be contra-revolutionary foot sol-
diers of the previous regime. The resistance of some supporters thus does not indi-
cate a shared political consciousness among Egyptian football supporters. What
appears to be a common feature though, is that the opposition against the enemy
side at the football arena reappears at the political eld. A kind of negative class-
consciousness, rather than an anti-regime democratic ideology as such, could be
6 D. Tuastad

seen as distinguishing the football supporters. A revealing case in this regard is the
changing political role football has had in the Arab Hashemite monarchy of Jordan.

Football and politics in Jordan

In April 2011 Wihdat, from a Palestinian refugee camp in Amman, played against
Al-Ramtha, a Jordanian town from a tribal area north-east of the Jordanian capital.
Wihdat could win the title this league round. The political circumstances surround-
ing the match were of political unrest in Jordan. For each week since the popular
uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt started in January 2011, more and more democracy
activists had gathered also in Jordan. On the 24 March, the reform movement estab-
lished a tent camp in Ammans Jamal Amdel Nasser roundabout, a square smaller
than the Tahrir Square in Cairo, but that could nevertheless be likened to it in terms
of activists taking physical control over a space symbolizing a liberated zone. The
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protesters at the roundabout stated that they would continue their campaign until
their calls for democratic reforms was met. However, on Friday 25 March the tent
camp of a couple of thousand protesters was attacked by riot police and some 200
civilians identied as government supporters. One of the reform demonstrators was
killed and 160 people injured.29 The reform movement had been desperate to
emphasize that their struggle was not related to the Palestinian Jordanian issue,
but to a shared political goal of having democratic reform. Nevertheless, the waving
of the Jordanian ag became a symbol for the opposing anti-democracy activists as
if the reform movement represented a Palestinian threat to the Jordanian nation.
At the Wihdat and Ramthe football match a striking feature was that the Pales-
tinian symbols and chants which had been so dominant during the 1970s and 1980s
were now totally absent. Most Palestinian refugees outside Palestine live in Jordan
where they have been granted Jordanian citizenship. In 1970 Palestinian guerrillas
challenged the Jordanian monarchy, and when the guerrillas were crushed thousands
were killed. Expressions of Palestinian national identity in Jordan was subsequently
heavily suppressed, save at the football arena where in particular the matches
between Wihdat, the camp symbolizing Palestinian nationalism, and Faisali, the
club close to the monarchy and of Jordanian elite forces, were marked by a startling
display of communal identities. Wihdat-supporters wore the colours of the Palestin-
ian, forbidden, ag, and a special horn-honk from cars came to be associated with
Wihdat support,30 while at stadium the Faisali supporters chanted All the people of
Wihdat sell tomatoes, referring to the large tomato market in the camp and the low
economic status of camp residents. Shabab Wihdat, kolluhum fedayyi Wihdat
youth are all guerrillas and Ma biddna hiin wa la sardine, bidna anabil we do
not want wheat, or sardines, we want bombs, Wihdat supporters answered, as a ref-
erence to being receivers of UN-aid. Fights and brawls inevitably accompanied the
Faisali and Wihdat derbies, which occasionally led to injuries and death.31
However, at the April 2011 Wihdat Ramthe match symbolism of Palestinian-
ness was suspiciously absent. We are Jordanians, Palestinian Jordanians, said the
Club Director of Wihdat, Muhammad Assaf, as we saw Wihdat securing their vic-
tory. Their team had two Palestinians, he said. That meant players being bought
from teams in Gaza and the West Bank. Also, there were even Jordanians on the
team, he said.32 As the game nished and Wihdat had won, the celebrating support-
ers unfolded a huge ag the Jordanian ag. The expression of Palestinian identity,
so strongly symbolized two decades earlier, was all gone.
Soccer & Society 7

While Palestinian nationalism had left the eld, Jordanian nationalism had
entered. In July 2009 the Faisali team, supported by ethnic Jordanians, played Wih-
dat in Zarka, out of Amman in an attempt by sports authorities to better control
spectator violence. We dont want to see any Palestinians, chanted thousands of
Faisali supporters, and Wahid, itnen, talagha ya Abu Hussein One, two, divorce
her Abu Hussein, they chanted. The queen of Jordan, Rania, is of Palestinian des-
cent, so Al-Faisali supporters implied to have the Jordanian King (Abu Hussein)
divorce her, and by implication to have Jordan separate from the Palestinians.33
Divorce her you father of Hussein, and well marry you to two of ours, Faisali
supporters went on. Bottles were thrown at the Wihdat players and their fans from
some of the Faisali fans, sparking a violent reaction. The coaches of the teams
ordered their players off the eld, fearing for their safety. Anti-riot police had to
interfere to stop Al-Faisali supporters from lynching Wihdat team members and
their fans. One and a half year later, as political unrest broke out in Tunisia, the
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two teams met again. As the police escorted the Faisali supporters, having lost, off
the stadium after the match, stones were hurled at the Wihdat-fans guarded by
police inside the stadium. This created panic, unrest and clashes with the police
who tried to control the crowd. Fights erupted, with stone throwing, cars set on re
and property being damaged. Two hundred and fty people were injured. The Jor-
danian Minister of Interior, Saad Hayel Sror, came with a warning after the game:
Those who tried to take advantage of the incident, raising provocative statements
should have instead sought to ease the tension and restore calm. Their statements
pose a threat to Jordans rule of law and its integral unity.34 Apparently the Minis-
ter had Wihdat leaders in mind. The president of the Wihdat club, Tareq Khouri,
was at the stadium, and witnessed the violence. After the match Khouri said that
the police had deliberately attacked Wihdat fans, and incited the Palestinians.
According to a report from American Embassy in Jordan the Wihdat fans were
knowingly locked up inside the stadium and then mercilessly attacked by the police.
Allegedly, Jordanian nationalists and the police had allied against the Jordanian Pal-
Curiously it was the same kind of alliance, of Jordanian nationalists and security
forces, that had attacked the democracy activists on 25 March 2011. Whether Fai-
sali supporters had been part of the attack or not, one thing was clear; the chants of
Faisali-supporters from when their team played Wihdat had been transcended into
nationalist public discourse in Jordan. What had been political taboos only a few
years ago had rst been heard at the football stadiums, and were now repeated by
Jordanian nationalists in public. Thus, in February 2011 a letter signed by members
of the largest Jordanian tribes of unprecedented criticism of queen Rania, and by
implication the Jordanian royal house was published, an offence punishable by three
years of imprisonment in Jordan.36 Queen Rania stood accused of corruption, as the
tribe leaders called on the king to return to the treasury land and farms given to
the Yassin [Queen Ranias] family. The queen is building centers to boost her
power and serve her interests, against the will of Jordanians and Hashemites, the
tribal leaders wrote, comparing her to the wife of the deposed Ben Ali in Tunisia.37
Moreover, another powerful Jordanian nationalist initiative, The National Com-
mittee of Retired Servicemen, based on retired military ofcers, with 140,000 mem-
bers organized in various regional districts, entered the political stage. The
sensitive relations between the Jordanians and the Palestinians could lead to civil
war, said its leader, General Ali Habashneh.38
8 D. Tuastad

We insist not to change anything relating to the [election system]. If we accepted this,
it would lead to the Palestinians constituting a majority, and the Jordanians a minority.
Especially now that we have 1.2 million Palestinians here in Jordan, with Jordanian
passports. They should have civil rights, but not political rights!

What was previously contained at the football stadiums is now loose in public. By
challenging the throne the Faisali supporters had paved the ground for making
unlawful criticism of the throne part of public political Jordanian discourse. The
message of Faisali-supporters, and of the nationalist camp, has been to purify the
monarchy and preserve the unity between the King and the tribes. This has made
Palestinians fearful that their citizenships could be revoked, and with the different
categories of citizenship in Jordan and previous revoking of some of Palestinians
citizenships, there is experienced substance to this fear.39
Football has thus been an arena for the killing of political taboos in Jordan.
Communal instigation initiated at the terraces has led to communal violence, threat-
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ening the relative harmony Jordan has experienced since the 1970 civil war. The
calls for democratization in Jordan has generated a reaction from nationalist Jorda-
nians who fear democratization as it could imply that Palestinians, a majority in the
country, gain political control over the country, marginalizing currently privileged
ethnic Jordanians. To know where Jordan is heading, from status quo to democrati-
zation or civil war, the next Faisali Wihdat derby should be closely observed.
Whereas the Al-Ahlawi ultras in Egypt were instrumental in the democratic
uprising, Faisali supporters in Jordan are instrumental in blocking attempts at demo-
cratic transition. Football constitutes an arena for both kind of expressions, as
aggrieved youth express political sentiments and identities in both cases, albeit with
opposite political messages. To explain such political ambivalence a distinctive fea-
ture of football fan consciousness might be discerned. Such consciousness is by nat-
ure oppositional, as fan political orientation evolves from who one opposes at the

The negative class-consciousness of football supporters

Each team works together to try and occupy as much of the territory of the other
as it can, culminating in attempts symbolically to conquer the other sides strong-
hold by kicking the ball into the goal, Cheabi observes.40 What is symbolic at the
football ground is real at some of the terraces where physical control over stadium
space has come to dene the specic supporter culture of supporter groups like the
ultras. In certain circumstances there is a further connection from this competition
at the terraces, and competition between communities, towns, ethnic or religious
groups at large. Barner and Shirlow have argued, based on studies from Northern
Ireland, that in a divided society the football ground is more than a physical space
defended by fans, it represents a metaphor for a wider landscape also perceived as
in need of protection.41 Supporting certain football teams means not only to defend
their home territory; it means to preserve their religion, people, their own ways of
being against a perceived enemy.
There are a few additional incidents in the Arab world that could be interpreted
in this way. In Syria in 2004 in Qamishli, a Syrian town near the border to Turkey
and Iraq with a majority of Kurdish inhabitants, the Kurdish supporters of the Kur-
dish al Jihad club waved Kurdish ags and pictures of George Bush who had called
Soccer & Society 9

for the Syrian President to stop supporting Saddam Hussein. This resulted in the
police shooting into the crowd, killing nine Kurdish spectators. The killings led to
spontaneous demonstrations in Qamishli, and soon also to surrounding villages and
even to Damascus and beyond the borders of Syria to embassies in Europe. Tens of
more Kurdish protesters were killed in Syria before the rioting was crushed.42
In Lebanon the football league have been played without supporters being
allowed to enter the stadiums because the communal tensions at the stadiums were
about to spread to society at large, forcing the authorities simply to forbid spectators
to enter the stadiums when matches are played.43
It could then be argued that in the Arab world where lack of channels for free
political expression has been a distinctive feature of the political system, organized
support for football clubs have been a way through which youth could break patri-
archal chains, and that the autonomy and opposition experienced at the football are-
nas have in numerous cases been transcended into society at large.
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However, the political struggle of ultras and other hard-core supporters during
the Arab spring is not necessarily connected to an interest in the democratic strug-
gle per se. As Scott has outlined, there is a difference between a riot and a revolu-
tion, related to the political consciousness of the insurgents.44 Ranajit Guha, a
leading scholar of the Subaltern Studies group, writing on anti-colonial peasant
rebellion in India found that defending the territory of the caste, the tribe or the vil-
lage against intruders historically represented the core of the struggle against the
British empire. It was not a nationalist political struggle initially, but eventually the
struggle of rural subalterns merged with the struggle of the Indian nationalist lead-
ers. Hence the anti-colonial resistance gained the momentum needed to end colonial
rule. Guha observed that the self-awareness of the subaltern anti-colonial insurgents
resulted from a series of negations, where the initial denition of class described
their enemies rather than themselves. This political consciousness Guha termed a
negative class consciousness, as it was based on enemy perceptions rather than
ideological insight and conviction.45
Congruently there is no common political or ideological denominator of sup-
porters political orientation, it might be left or right wing, secular or Islamist, pro-
regime or anti-regime. But crucially, in the political volatile situation of the Arab
world with the youth struggling for breaking patriarchal ties and the socio-politi-
cal arenas for participation largely lacking save for football coalescing the street
power of the football fans with the organization of revolutionaries (or contra-revolu-
tionaries) might be just what it takes to bring down a regime or start a civil war.

Rather than weapons of mass distraction, football in the Arab world have served
as a kind of weapons of the weak, to borrow Scotts term referring to the resistance
of marginalized groups.46 At the football stadium suppressed political identities and
opinions might be openly expressed, although in a disguised form where the masses
preserve anonymity. The safe distance and ability to operate collectively reduces the
danger of individual persecution. This make the football arena a location for those
rare moments of political electricity when, often for the rst time in memory, the
hidden transcript is spoken directly and publicly in the teeth of power, to borrow
Scotts formulation.47
10 D. Tuastad

In the Arab world such ideological resistance have coalesced with another rebel-
lion, of youth breaking the chains of patriarchal power. The political implication of
this social process is tremendous. As youth have experienced that they have had to
yield to the will of parents and grandparents at home, and to the old dictators in the
public eld, nding a social arena where one could liberate one-selves from the for-
mer implicated a congruent dissolution of authority ties also towards the latter. As
football is a primary medium through which youth autonomy could be experienced,
football has a seismic political potential.
Massive suppressed political energy of youth has been released by the Arab
spring. In the political uprisings the ideological resistance of football supporters
have been transcended into active, street ghting political participation. However,
the nature of football supporters opposition is intrinsically incoherent as the basic
feature of solidarity is age congregation, while ideologically the distinctive feature
is negation related to ones enemy perception of the opponent. Therefore, in an
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ethnic divided political context, groups might ally with the regimes security forces
as these are the enemies of ones enemy. Ideologically multifaceted though, in the
Arab world today the youth is an engine for regime change, as the rst steps taken
to open resist the autocrats are largely originating from aggrieved youth.
When football supporters with their passionate energy allies with larger congre-
gations of the youth segments, as the Muslim Brotherhood youth and Al-Ahlawi in
Egypt, and the momentum spreads to the society at large, the lesson from the Arab
spring is that football in given circumstances might spark riots and even political

1. Gilchrist and Holden, Introduction, 152.
2. Whannel quoted in Gilchrist and Holen: 152.
3. Sugden, Critical Left-realism and Sport Interventions in Divided Societies, 262.
4. Delgado, Sport and Politics. Major League Soccer, Constitution, and (The) Latino Audi-
ence(s), 41.
5. Stroeken, Why the World Loves Watching Football (and the Americans dont), 10.
6. Gilchrist and Holden, Introduction, 152.
7. Ultras refers to football fans renowned for fanatical and elaborate display of support.
Ultras have occasionally been involved in football violence.
8. Personal conversation, March 2012.
9. Kirkpatrick, Egyptian Soccer Riot Kills More Than 70, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/
10. Shawky, The Ultras Book. Ethnography of an Unusual Crowd, http://www.almasryal-
11. Kenyon, Aboutrika Triumphs in BBC Poll, http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/
12. Al Ahly: Spirit of Success, http://www.fa.com/classicfootball/news/newsid=1031856.
13. Ryzova, The Battle of Cairos, http://www.culanth.org/?q=node/489.
14. Ibid.
15. Montague, How Egypts Revolution Descended into Tragedy on Night of Violence in
Port Said, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/news/9058104/How-Egypts-revolu-
16. Ryzova, The Battle of Cairos.
17. Reem, Stolen Lives.
18. Morsy, Port Said on the Defensive.
Soccer & Society 11

19. Phelps and King, Hosni Mubarak Supporters Attack Protesters, http://articles.latimes.
20. Kirkpatrick, Egyptian Soccer Riot.
21. Ryzova, The Battle of Cairos.
22. Fargues, Demographic Explosion or Social Upheaval?.
23. Urdal, A Clash of Generations? Youth Bulges and Political Violence.
24. Arab Human Development Report 2009. United Nations Development Programme.
Regional Bureau for Arab States.
25. Ibid.
26. Fargues, Changing Hierarchies of Gender and Generation in the Arab World.
27. This is similar to what have been referred to elsewhere. In Spain, following the end of
the Franco-rule, youth supporters headed towards a generational clash, confronting
patriarchal ties, paving the way for the organization of ultras, writes Spaaij and Vins
(Passion, Politics and Violence: A Socio-historical Analysis of Spanish Ultras, 83).
Also when the ultras culture emerged in Italy in the late 1960s it was as an arena for the
construction of youth bonding, the football stadium constituting the ideal arena for this,
writes De Biasi and Lanfranchi (99) (The Importance of Difference: Football Identities
Downloaded by [RMIT University] at 16:26 15 February 2013

in Italy). In Europe, the average age of Ultras is 20, with most members being 16 to 25
years (Pilz and Wlki-Schumacher, Overview of the Ultra Culture Phenomenon in the
Council of Europe Member States in 2009, 6).
28. Dunning, Murphy and Williams, Spectator Violence at Football Matches: Towards a
Sociological Explanation.
29. Jordan king urges unity after unrest, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/
30. Brand, Palestinians in the Arab World.
31. Tuastad, The Political Role of Football for Palestinians in Jordan.
32. Conversation during football match, Amman, April 2011.
33. Montague, When Friday Comes.
34. Omari, Probe continues into Friday football-related violence, http://www.jordantimes.
35. Jordanian Football Game Halted Amidst Anti-regime Chants, Hooliganism Towards Pal-
estinians, http://wikileaksupdates.blogspot.com/2010/12/jordanian-soccer-game-halted-
36. Jordan, http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/jordan/
37. Habib, Jordan Tribes Break Taboo by Targeting Queen, http://www.google.com/hosted-
38. Interview Amman April 2011.
39. In the summer of 2009 Jordan started revoking thousands of Palestinans citizenships
(Abu Toameh, Amman revoking Palestinians citizenship, http://www.jpost.com/Mid-
40. Chehabi, The Politics of Football in Iran, 233.
41. Bairner and Shirlow, Loyalism, Lineld and the Territorial Politics of Soccer Fandom
in Northern Ireland, 173.
42. Macleod, Football Fans Fight Causes a Three-day Riot in Syria, http://www.indepen-
43. Montague, When Friday Comes.
44. Scott, Weapons of the Weak.
45. Guha, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India.
46. Scott, Weapons of the Weak.
47. Scott, Dominance and the Art of Resistance.

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