Richard Whittall:

“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

"Dorsey statement (on Egypt) proved prophetic."
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


Monday, July 16, 2012

How Al Ahly's Football Fans Defended Egypt's Revolution (JMD quoted)




Monday 16 July 2012
In the final part of his series on fan culture, Andrew McFadyen looks at the role of football - and in particular Cairo's Al Ahly club - in promoting and defending Egypt's 2011 revolution.
In the final part of his series on fan culture, Andrew McFadyen looks at the role of football - and in particular Cairo's Al Ahly club - in promoting and defending Egypt's 2011 revolution.
Al Ahly is the most successful football team in African history. The Cairo club 
has won the African Champions League a record six times and 35 Egyptian 
league titles.
One supporter described them to me as an "Egyptian treasure". When I 
asked what the club means, another fan replied with the simple one word 
answer: "life".
Across the world, football brings hope to people living hard lives in hard times.
But in the Middle East and north Africa, the game is also tied up with politics.
Al Ahly was founded at the beginning of the twentieth century as a club for 
Egyptian nationalists and those who opposed British colonial rule. The team's 
red strips were inspired by the colour of the old national flag.
Ahmed Ghaffar, better known as Heema, is a founding member of Ultras Ahlawy, 
the team's hardcore supporters. He told Channel 4 News that: "being an Ahly fan 
means you're someone full of revolution and love for this country."
Side by side
Ahly’s fierce local rivals, Zamalek, were the team of the Brits and the monarchy. 
The Cairo derby between these two sides is so volatile that it is played at a 
neutral venue and usually with a foreign referee.
t was Ahly and Zamalek Ultras who led marches into Tahrir Square and in some areas, where security forces had blocked exits, it was Ultras who would stand on roofs and threw down Molotov cocktails.James Dorsey
During the revolution, these historic differences were set aside and opponents on the pitch stood side-by-side at the mass protests in Tahrir Square.
James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, says that the region's autocratic rulers did not allow uncontrolled space.
"The only release valves in which people could express themselves were the Mosque and the football stadium."
"The Ultras, essentially because of their philosophy, challenged the control 
of the regime at soccer matches. You had four years of tough battles in the 
stadiums for control of that space."
Onto the streets
When uprising began against Egypt's former President, Hosni Mubarak, the 
fans took their desire for freedom onto the streets.
Ghaffar says, "We always say that our revolution started in 2007 not 2011. 
Most of the group was thinking freedom all the way. We went down to the 
streets to be part of the revolution as Egyptian citizens, not as Ultras."
The fans groups shared the demands of all Egyptians. The difference was 
that their experience of confronting the police at football matches meant 
they were battle hardened and did not run from trouble.
Dorsey explains that most of the great mass of humanity in Tahrir Square 
had never taken part in protests before.
"The Ultras had done this for four years and were fearless. They brought 
organisation, and were in a sense the shock troops of the revolution."
"It was Ahly and Zamalek Ultras who led marches into Tahrir Square and in 
some areas, where security forces had blocked exits, it was Ultras who 
would stand on roofs and threw down Molotov cocktails."
Al-Ahly protests
Paying a price
They bravely defended the 
protesters against attacks from 
the security forces and helped 
people to overcome the barrier 
of fear about confronting the regime.

Al Ahly paid a terrible price for their 
role in opposing the military when 74 
fans were killed in a riot in February 
during a match in the north eastern city of Port Said. The incident is the worst in 
Egyptian sporting history.
The incident prompted protests from Al-Ahly's fanswho demanded quick 
investigations into the deaths (pictured left).
At best the security forces were negligent in allowing weapons to be taken into 
the stadium and standing back when the violence erupted, but it is widely believed 
that they wanted to teach the Ultras a lesson.
'We blame the authorities'
Ghaffar, who was at the match, says that seconds after the game ended, opposing 
fans rushed onto the pitch from all sides while the police stood motionless.
"We blame the official authorities, the Ministry of Interior and the Military Council. 
As everyone knows they wanted revenge against anyone who took part in the 
January revolution."
The Ultras say they are waiting for the courts to decide things, but they won't stand 
silent with anything less than justice.
A few days ago, they forced their team to abandon a training session by invading the 
pitch in protest against the club's perceived failure to stand up for the rights of those 
who lost their lives in Port Said.
In the old Egypt, Al Ahly's success made them an icon of hope. In the new Egypt, the
 heroes are in the stands, not on the pitch.
You can follow Andrew McFadyen on Twitter @apmcfadyen

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