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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Syrian Crisis: Russian Policy Risks Wider Conflict



RSIS presents the following commentary The Syrian Crisis: Russian Policy Risks Wider
Conflict 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. 139/2012 dated 31 July 2012


The Syrian Crisis: Russian Policy Risks Wider Conflict 

By James M. Dorsey

Synopsis

Russian support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on anti-government
insurgents bodes ill for Moscow’s ability to prevent chaos and anarchy in Syria and risks
wider conflict in the Fertile Crescent and beyond.

Commentary

Russian policy towards the Syrian crisis is seen internationally as supporting president
Bashar al Assad’s brutal crackdown on anti-government insurgents and opposition
protestors. In Syria, where intense fighting has spread from Damascus to Aleppo, many
believe the international community has abandoned them and left to fend for themselves
against the superior firepower of the Syrian military. 

Russia’s pro-Assad policy bodes ill for Moscow’s ability to contribute to preventing a 
descent into chaos and anarchy by a post-Assad Syria. It also holds out little promise for
Russia’s ability to help prevent the Syrian crisis from spilling across borders into Lebanon,
Iraq, Jordan and Turkey. The risk for Russia is that its pro-Assad policy will produce the
very situation it is seeking to avoid: increased volatility and conflict across the Fertile
Crescent that could reinforce already restive population groups and Islamic militants in its
own Muslim republics. It also risks troubling its relations with post-revolt states in the Middle
East and North Africa where public opinion has little sympathy for the Assad regime and its
perceived backers.

Russia’s Islamist militants

Recent attacks on two prominent Muslim clerics in the Russian autonomous oil-rich republic
of Tartarstan on the Volga River, may help explain Russian support for the Assad regime.
Within minutes of each other in July, Tartarstan’s deputy mufti was assassinated and the
mufti wounded in two separate but carefully timed attacks.

The two men, Valilulla Yakupov and Idius Faizov, were known for their criticism of militant
Islam, and their support for Russian federal government efforts to isolate the militants and
their commercial interest in the lucrative business of pilgrimages to the holy city of Mecca.
To counter the militants, who are spreading out from their base in Chechnya and the
Caucasus, the two muftis had fired extremist clerics and banned the use of religious
textbooks from ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia. 

The influx of radical clerics was in response to a call by Chechen separatist leader Doku
Umarov, the self-described emir of an Islamic emirate in the Caucasus, for militants to
extend their area of operations from the Caucasus to lands that once were part of the
Golden Horde, a medieval Muslim state ruled by a Tartar-Mongol dynasty. Tartarstan,
with its oil wealth and 4 million residents of which half are Muslim, is for Umarov, a
logical target. He has claimed responsibility for last year’s attack on a Moscow airport
and a 2010 bombing in the city’s metro system that together killed 75 people.

A small price to pay

Umarov’s ideological and geographical ambitions go a long way in explaining Russia’s
otherwise incomprehensible support for a brutal regime in Syria that has proved incapable
of defeating an increasingly well-armed and effective insurgency. Russian support has
earned it the scorn of the West and the Arab world and bodes ill for the future of Russian
relations with a post-Assad Syria and others in the Arab world. Chambers of commerce in
Saudi Arabia have already refused to meet with Russian trade delegations and a Saudi
contractor has broken its commercial ties to its Russian counterparts in protest against
Russian policy.

That may be a relatively small price to pay from Russia’s perspective which views the
Middle East much like the United States did prior to the 9/11 attacks. Like pre-9/11
Washington, Moscow sees autocratic regimes in the region as pillars of stability, in a
world that otherwise would produce Islamists, as the only buffer against chaos and
anarchy.

The civil war in Syria where Islamists dominate the insurgency, the Islamist electoral
victories in Egypt and Tunisia, and the political uncertainty in Libya and Yemen reinforce
a view of the popular revolts sweeping the region as a development that is too close for
comfort to Russia’s soft underbelly in the Caucasus. It also strengthens Russian
perceptions of US and European support of the revolts as cynical hypocrisy that
ultimately could target autocratic rule in Russia itself.

Then president George W. Bush, in a rare recognition of the pitfalls of decades of US
policy in the Middle East and North Africa, acknowledged within weeks of the 9/11 attacks,
that support for autocratic regimes that squashed all expressions of dissent, had created
the feeding ground for jihadist groups focused on striking at Western targets. It is a lesson
that appears to have bypassed Russian decision and policy makers as they stubbornly
support a Syrian regime whose downfall is no longer a question of if but when.

Russian suspicions of Western sanctions against Syria and non-military support for the
rebels may not be totally unfounded, but Moscow has done little to give substance to its
calls for an end to the fighting and a political solution that would incorporate elements of
the Assad regime. In failing to do so, it has allowed the situation in Syria to go beyond the
point of no return and risks paying a heavy price in the longer term. As a result, the lessons
of 9/11 could yet come to haunt Moscow.

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
(RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.  He has been a journalist covering the Middle
East for over 30 years.


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Friday, July 27, 2012

Gut organisiert und fanatisch - der Kick und die Politik (JMD on German radio)


Gut organisiert und fanatisch - der Kick und die Politik

Tagung über die politische Rolle von Fußballfans

Von Jakob Epler

Für organisierte Fans ist Fußball mehr als nur ein Spiel. Das Stadion ist für sie auch ein Ort, um politische Ansichten lautstark kundzutun. Warum das so ist, wollte das Institut für Fankultur wissen - und fand in Ägypten ein Paradebeispiel für die Verquickung von Sport und Politik. 
Nach einem Fußballspiel Anfang Februar dieses Jahres starben im ägyptischen Port Said 74 Menschen. Der Verein Al Masry hatte Al Ahly aus Kairo empfangen und 3:1 gewonnen. Danach jagten Anhänger des Gastgebers Spieler und Fans von Al Ahly mit Messern und Schlagstöcken. Schnell gab es Gerüchte, die Gewalt sei gewollt und organisiert gewesen. Der Hintergrund: Die Ultrabewegung von Al Ahly ist ein politischer Faktor in Ägypten. Die Fans waren laut James M. Dorsey entscheidend am Sturz von Ex-Präsident Hosni Mubarak beteiligt. Dorsey ist Journalist und Fellow an der Nanyang Technological University in Singapur.

"Also es waren nicht nur die Ultras von Ahly, aber auch die von Zamalek und auch von anderen ägyptischen Klubs. Die haben eine sehr wichtige Rolle gespielt. Sie waren die einzige Gruppe, die wirklich erfahren war in Straßenkämpfen, als die Demonstrationen ausbrachen. Und dadurch spielten sie eine wichtige Rolle in den Kämpfen selbst. Aber auch im Abbrechen von der Angst von vielen Ägyptern, von der Mehrheit der Bevölkerung, zu protestieren. Und sie haben eine sehr wichtige Rolle gespielt seitdem im Widerstand gegen das, was das Militär als seine Rolle sieht in einem Post-Mubarak Ägypten."

Dorsey schätzt, dass 95 Prozent der Ägypter Fußballfans sind. 30.000 bis 40.000 von ihnen sollen zur Ultrabewegung gehören. Ultras sind besonders gut organisierte und fanatische Anhänger von Fußballvereinen. Die Kairoer Vereine Al Ahly und der rivalisierende Zamalek Sports Club sind die erfolgreichsten des Landes, sie haben die meisten Anhänger. Dass Fußballfans wichtig für den Umsturz waren, hat laut Dorsey mit der politischen und sozialen Struktur des Landes zu tun.

"Es ist so, weil wir über ein Land sprechen, wo es keinen unkontrollierten Platz gab. Es gab keinen Platz, um Frustration, um Wut, um Uneinigkeit auszudrücken. Das Stadion, neben der Moschee waren die einzigen zwei Plätze, wo man das tun konnte."

Demokratische Beteiligung in Parteien oder zivilgesellschaftlichen Organisationen war im autokratischen Ägypten praktisch unmöglich. Damit ist ägyptische Fankultur nicht mit der in West-Europa vergleichbar. Harald Lange zieht dennoch eine Parallele. Er leitet das Institut für Fankultur und ist Professor für Sportwissenschaft an der Universität Würzburg.

"Auf struktureller Ebene kann man sehr schön den Zusammenhang zwischen Fankultur und Politik in Ägypten auf der einen Seite aber auch in Westeuropa auf der anderen Seite nachvollziehen. Da sind halt die Inhalte jetzt andere, die Beweggründe unter Umständen andere, aber dass das Spannungsfeld ganz grundsätzlich zwischen Politik und Sport gegeben ist, zwischen Politik und Sport im Allgemeinen und zwischen Politik und Fußballfankultur im Besonderen: Das kam für mich sehr eindrücklich raus."

Fußball ist politisch. Zumindest wenn organisierte Fans ihn sich zu eigen machen. Das gilt in besonderem Maße für Ägypten, lässt sich aber auch in Deutschland beobachten. Peter Czoch forscht an der Berliner Humboldt Universität. Er meint, von Fußballfans könnten Impulse ausgehen, die für eine demokratische Gesellschaft wichtig seien.

"Fußball an sich ist eine politische Sache oder wird politisch auch genutzt, also um Präsenz zu zeigen genutzt, aber auch, um gewisse Inhalte zu kolportieren."

So feierte vor Kurzem die Initiative "Fußballfans gegen Homophobie" ihr einjähriges Bestehen. Sie schickte ab Sommer 2011 ein Banner gegen die Diskriminierung von Homosexuellen auf Reisen. Zu sehen war es bei Spielen von Klubs in unterschiedlichen Ligen. Fans halten also bestimmte Werte und Normen hoch. Für Czoch sind es aber nicht nur die Inhalte, die Teil gesellschaftlicher Willensbildung sein können. Fangruppen würden oft basisdemokratisch entscheiden, meint er. Hier lernten junge Menschen ihre Meinung zu vertreten, Kompromisse zu schließen und einen Konsens zu suchen. Allerdings sieht Czoch auch ein andere Seite der Fangruppen.

"Nur weil es eine aktive Fankultur gibt oder Jugendkultur, heißt es nicht, dass sie per se links oder emanzipatorisch sein muss. Es gibt auch rechtsradikale Gruppen, die letztlich auch auf dieser Basisorganisierung aufbauen, nur die Zielsetzung anders deuten oder anders umsetzen, als es dann linkere Gruppen machen würden."

Nicht nur beim Fußball geht es um politische Inhalte. Theoretisch ist das bei allen Sportarten, die begeisterte Anhänger haben, denkbar. Fußball hat jedoch zwei Charakteristika, die ihm ein besonderes politisches Potenzial geben. Erstens ist er eine Mannschaftssportart. Dadurch ist es leicht, sich zugehörig, als Teil eines Kollektivs zu fühlen. Das ist bei Individualsportarten schwieriger, da hier die Leistung eines Einzelnen im Vordergrund steht. Zweitens ist Fußball ein Massenphänomen. Harald Lange:

"Der Fußball ist deshalb ein Massenphänomen, weil er so attraktiv ist, weil er so spannend ist und weil er letztlich jedem auf der Straße einen Zugang ermöglicht. Man muss da gar nicht viel wissen, um zu verstehen, worum es im Fußball geht. Deshalb ist die Hürde, das zu verstehen, da mitzureden, da mitzudenken ganz niedrig und ich kann sofort teilhaben. Ich brauche ein Spiel, dann weiß ich, wie es läuft. Und das macht den Fußball und die Fußballfankultur auch offen für - wenn man so will - politische Instrumentalisierung aber auch für politische Agitation. Das heißt, aus diesen Fußballfangruppen heraus ist es sehr leicht möglich, politisch zu werden."

Die schiere Anzahl kann den Fans politisches Gewicht geben. Ägypten hat etwa so viele Einwohner wie Deutschland, nämlich rund 80 Millionen. Allein der Kairorer Club Al Ahly soll nach eigenen Angaben 50 Millionen Fans haben. Ob diese Zahl nun stimmt oder nicht. Die Ultras von Al Ahly könnten bald wieder auf der Straße sein. Sie fordern, dass lückenlos aufgeklärt wird, warum in Port Said 74 Menschen sterben mussten.

The Arab world in turmoil: Nasser’s legacy reprise


RSIS presents the following commentary The Arab world in turmoil: Nasser’s legacy reprise by James M. Dorsey and Mushahid Ali. 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. 136/2012 dated 26 July 2012

The Arab world in turmoil:
Nasser’s legacy reprise
 By James M. Dorsey and Mushahid Ali

      
Synopsis
A wave of anti-government protests in the Middle East and North Africa that is rewriting the region’s political map is sparking a reinterpretation of recent Arab history that could shape political attitudes of future generations.
Commentary
The rise of Islamist forces in Egypt and other nations in which popular uprisings have toppled autocratic leaders over the past 18 months constitutes the Middle East and North Africa’s latest attempt to take control of its own history. Islamist forces feed on their history of opposition to autocratic rule and a perception that nationalist, socialist and neo-liberal attempts at addressing the region’s national, social and economic issues failed. Newly independent Arab states were ruled either by men who had overthrown leaders who were leftovers of colonialism or claimed hereditary monarchical rights. 

Destroying carefully constructed myths

The popular revolts, in contrast to past changes of leadership brought about by military or palace coups or hereditary succession, have created unprecedented space for free and public debate that is questioning if not demolishing  carefully constructed myths, particularly those surrounding Arab nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. A colonel in the Egyptian army, Nasser’s toppling of the pro-British monarchy in 1952 in the Arab world’s most populous nation, positioned Egypt at the forefront of the struggle against Israel and post-colonial economic and social structures and for Arab independence.

Nasser embodied Arab nationalism, the quest for an independent and strong Arab world and the defence of the rights of the poor, despite being also the father of the repressive security state. He fortified his position with the 1956 nationalization of the Suez Canal, his leadership of the Non-Aligned movement, while playing off the United States against the Soviet Union, and his opposition to feudal monarchs in the Gulf, foremost among whom was the Al-Saud in Saudi Arabia. In doing so, he changed the region’s political map and influenced the Arab world’s first post-colonial generation. With Israel the lightning rod of the new generation of Arab leaders, anti-Israeli policies gave them political legitimacy, feeding on deep-rooted pro-Palestinian sentiment.

Nasser still embodies Arab nationalism for many who now voice criticism of his 16 years of autocratic rule and record of failed disastrous foreign, economic and social policies. In fact Nasser’s influence, considerably diminished by the disastrous six-day war of 1967 in which Arab militaries, including that of Egypt, were destroyed by Israel in a matter of days, is still evident 42 years after his death in 1970. In this year’s first democratic presidential elections a Nasserite candidate garnered a fifth of the vote. Nonetheless, Nasser’s legacy and that of autocrats who cloaked themselves in nationalism, is for the first time being openly debated in the media and political discourse. Fuelling the debate is criticism of 60 years of military rule in Egypt that started with the coup in which Nasser played a key role.

The debate is sharpened by the loss of appeal of Nasser’s pan-Arab philosophy in favour of an Arab world that increasingly perceives itself as a collection of individual states each with their own interests rather than a region in which common politics, culture and religion constitute the overriding unifier. In many ways it is the latest phase of efforts by Arabs to become actors in their own right after having failed to achieve their aspirations through various imported ideologies.

The future of Nasserism

The late Egyptian intellectual Mohamed Sid Ahmed, wrote 12 years ago: “The Nasserism of the future…will not entail the resurgence of a specific ideological platform, policies or a mode of rule. Rather, it will emerge as a refusal to bend to decisions dictated from abroad by agents inimical to Egypt's independence.”

Those words were never truer than today in both post-revolt Arab nations as well as those that have yet to experience political change but can no longer ignore public opinion. They put the onus on a crop of new primarily Islamist leaders that are emerging from the upheavals sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. Foremost among them is Mohammed Morsi, a leader of Nasser’s nemesis, the Muslim Brotherhood, elected president of Egypt in June just weeks before the 60th anniversary of Nasser’s coup.

Morsi’s challenge in a nation in which the military’s place as a modernizing force dates back to the 19th century, is complicated by the controversy over the role of the military in contemporary Egyptian politics. The Egyptian military, which last year toppled president Hosni Mubarak with a mandate to guide the country towards free and fair elections, effectively pre-empted the Brotherhood’s electoral victory by giving itself broad legislative and executive authority on the eve of Morsi’s election.

At stake in the ensuing convoluted tug of war between Morsi and the military is the quest for greater freedom and dignity that demands a change in the relationship between the state and the military, and which was the core driver of the popular revolts that have swept the Middle East and North Africa. Nasser embodied both sides of that divide.

Morsi is a representative of a group that despite operating underground for much of its 84-year old history, is marked by a quest for accommodation rather than confrontation. How he manages that divide will determine not only the ultimate success of the popular revolt that brought him to power but also perceptions of Nasser’s legacy and future interpretations of contemporary Arab history.

For its part the military appears bent on retaining that part of Nasser’s legacy that ascribes legitimacy to its role as protector of the Egyptian nation and enforcer of the security state, while allowing the Islamist parties to compete with the secular groups such as the Nasserites, for control of the civil administration. In reality the new dispensation in Egypt will be a hybrid militarist-Islamist-secularist reprise of Nasser’s legacy, while the turmoil continues in the Arab world.


The writers are Senior Fellows at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.


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FIFA suspension of Bin Hammam buys time



Collecting suspensions: Moahmmed Bin Hammam

By James M. Dorsey

World soccer body FIFA has suspended its ousted vice president, Mohammed Bin Hammam, from involvement in professional soccer for 90 days in the hope that an independent audit critical of the disgraced Qatari national’s financial management of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) will allow it to counter a court verdict that could force it to reinstate him.

FIFA said in a statement that its newly appointed anti-corruption team, former New York state attorney Michael J. Garcia and German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, would also use the suspension to assess prospects of building a more solid case against Mr. Bin Hammam in the wake of the court verdict.

The Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) earlier this month lifted a FIFA ban for life on Mr. Bin Hammam from involvement in soccer after finding him guilty of attempting to buy votes of Caribbean soccer officials for his challenge of FIFA boss Sepp Blatter in the soccer body’s presidential election. Mr. Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy days before the election after FIFA had opened its investigation of the bribery charges.

The CAS ruling left little doubt that the judges believed that Mr. Bin Hammam, a 63-year old Qatari national, was more likely than not guilty of the charges brought against him. The court nonetheless acquitted Mr. Bin Hammam on the grounds that FIFA's evidence did not meet its standard of "comfortable satisfaction." The court overturned the ban effectively arguing that FIFA’s case had been based on flimsy evidence, inconclusive investigations and witnesses whose credibility was in question.

FIFA’s use of the audit to temporarily suspend Mr. Bin Hammam comes after it unsuccessfully sought to delay the court’s verdict by introducing the report written by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The court rejected the report as unrelated to the allegations that Mr. Bin Hammam had bribed Caribbean soccer officials to secure their votes in his planned challenge of FIFA president Sepp Blatter in the soccer body’s presidential election last July.

The report alleges that Mr. Bin Hammam used AFC accounts for his own benefit as well as that of family, friends and soccer bodies across the globe. The report also raised questions about Mr. Bin Hammam’s management of a $1 billion master rights agreement (MRA) with Singapore-based World Sport Group (WSG) and a $300 million broadcasting rights contract with the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera television network as well as his financial relationship to parties with possible vested interests in those deals.

FIFA appears to be betting on the fact that even if it cannot build a stronger case to reopen its Caribbean bribery case, the fallout of the Asian report will provide it the grounds to maintain its ousting and banning of Mr. Bin Hammam.

The report commissioned by AFC prompted the Asian soccer body to suspend Mr. Bin Hammam for 30 days as its president pending a review of the report by its evaluation committee. The report provides the Kuala Lumpur-based AFC with the reasonable suspicion of a legal offence that it under Malaysian law is obliged to report to authorities. It also leaves the AFC with little choice but to launch a full-fledged investigation of its own.  The AFC, which has Malaysian nationals, including a member of a royal family on its executive committee, can extend Mr. Bin Hammam’s suspension only once for a maximum of another 20 days, ten of which must be used to prepare a case against him. It also has to report its finding to Malaysian authorities within that period.

The FIFA suspension constitutes an implicit recognition of the CAS criticism even if soccer body’s statement did not say so explicitly.  FIFA’s investigation of Mr. Bin Hammam is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. Wracked in recent years by a series of high-profile corruption scandals and persistent controversy over the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, FIFA’s investigation will inevitably broaden to review not only the Qatari’s involvement in the bid but the bid itself. That is also probably true for the expected AFC and Malaysian investigations.

Qatar has consistently downplayed Mr. Bin Hammam’s role in its bid. Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup at a December 2010 FIFA executive committee meeting which at the same time awarded Russia the 2018 tournament.

“Pretending that he was not involved is a smoke screen. Bin Hammam opposed awarding the two World Cups at the same time. He wanted to be the FIFA president who would award it to Qatar in 2016. He also feared that Qatar may not get it if the two tournaments were awarded simultaneously. He was right but lobbied executive committees unsuccessfully” to delay the vote on the 2022 World Cup, a former FIFA official said.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fink: Bin Hammam verdict raises questions (JMD quoted)


Fink: Bin Hammam verdict raises questions

ESPNSTAR.com columnist Jesse Fink believes questions should be asked of the FIFA ethics committee which dragged Mohamed Bin Hammam 'through the mud'.
Singapore-based academic James M. Dorsey, whose excellent blog The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer gets regular plugs in this column (do yourself a favour and read it), spells it out plainly in his latest post.
"The Court of Arbitration for Sport's dismissal of bribery charges against ousted FIFA vice-president Mohamed Bin Hammam paints a troubling picture of the status of good governance, accountability and transparency as well as ethical and moral standards in world soccer,"he writes. 
"It portrays FIFA's banning of Mr Bin Hammam for life from involvement in professional soccer as having effectively been based on flimsy evidence, inconclusive investigations and witnesses whose credibility is in question."
Or in the words of the CAS report itself: "FIFA's acceptance of ‘absolute discretion' and ‘personal convictions' as an evidentiary standard of proof is contrary to the standards of due process" and didn't go anywhere to meeting the "standard of proof" of "comfortable satisfaction" to be able to arrive at an adverse finding against the currently suspended president of the Asian Football Confederation.
In court, Bin Hammam's lawyers argued there was "lack of probative evidence showing that Mr Bin Hammam orchestrated cash gifts to influence voting".
The CAS agreed.
It was "not convinced" Bin Hammam "made monies available to delegates attending the CFU meeting held in Trinidad and Tobago on May 10 and 11, 2011, for the purposes of inducing them to vote for him in the election for the presidency of FIFA".
Which should have been plain enough when this lamentable saga started over a year ago. FIFA's own hopeless Code of Ethics, full of holes and escape hatches, was never going to be enough to collar Bin Hammam.
Section 11.1, the part dealing with bribery, stipulates: "Officials may not accept bribes; in other words, any gifts or other advantages that are offered, promised or sent to them to incite breach of duty or dishonest conduct for the benefit of a third party shall be refused."
How was it ever to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Bin Hammam intended "to incite breach of duty or dishonest conduct for the benefit of a third party"?
The Port of Spain incident that sparked these proceedings might have appeared iffy - and it still does; no one has categorically "cleared"
Bin Hammam and suspicions will remain - but appearances or simple hunches shouldn't have been sufficient to convince FIFA's ethics committee of his guilt and led to the ultimate sanction of a lifetime ban from football. The CAS was not persuaded to find him guilty. A "personal conviction" and a legal conviction are two different things.
Which now raises the question of what is going to be done about the people who banned Bin Hammam in the first place.
In my view, all members of the ethics committee that had a hand in Bin Hammam's ban should be stood down and grilled by new ethics committee chairmen Michael Garcia and Hans-Joachim Eckert before being allowed to take their places in either the committee's new investigatory chamber or adjudicatory chamber.
If they couldn't follow their own code to the letter, why are they being rewarded with new roles?
They are Petrus Damaseb of Namibia (investigatory chamber), Les Murray of Australia (investigatory chamber), Juan Pedro Damiani of Uruguay (adjudicatory chamber) and Robert Torres of Guam (adjudicatory chamber).
If FIFA wants to start with a clean slate, it's time for a full explanation on how Bin Hammam was dragged through the mud.

Court questions integrity of FIFA proceedings against Bin Hammam



By James M. Dorsey

A careful read of this month's Court of Arbitration of Sports dismissal of bribery charges against ousted FIFA vice president Mohammed Bin Hammam paints a troubling picture of the status of good governance, accountability and transparency as well as ethical and moral standards in world soccer.

CAS's ruling leaves little doubt that the judges believe that Mr. Bin Hammam, a 63-year old Qatari national, is more likely than not guilty of the charges brought against him. The court nonetheless acquitted Mr. Bin Hammam on the grounds that FIFA's evidence did not meet its standard of "comfortable satisfaction." The court left the door open to renewed prosecution of Mr. Bin Hammam if FIFA is able to shore up its evidence.

If Mr. Bin Hammam would be hard pressed to portray the ruling as evidence of his innocence, it is in many ways equally condemning of FIFA. It portrays FIFA’s banning of Mr. Bin Hammam for life from involvement in professional soccer as having effectively been based on flimsy evidence, inconclusive investigations and witnesses whose credibility is in question. It further suggests that rather than strengthening its evidence, FIFA unsuccessfully sought to delay the court’s decision by introducing evidence not directly related to its case, including an independent auditor’s report critical of Mr. Bin Hammam’s financial management of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC)

The ruling stopped short of suggesting that the proceedings against Mr. Bin Hammam were rushed to prevent him from challenging FIFA president Sepp Blatter in the soccer body’s presidential election last July. The proceedings nonetheless forced Mr. Bin Hamam to withdraw as Mr. Blatter’s only challenger after he was initially suspended by FIFA pending investigation of allegations that he had bribed Caribbean soccer officials to secure their votes.

FIFA’s conduct of the proceedings raises questions about the integrity of its judicial proceedings in general at a time that the soccer body is embroiled in the worst web of corruption scandals in its 108-year history.

Similarly, it further fuels controversy over the integrity of the controversial awarding to Qatar of the 2022 World Cup hosting rights. CAS’s portrayal of FIFA proceedings coupled with the AFC auditor’s report make it more likely that newly appointed FIFA prosecutor Michael J. Garcia will include Mr. Bin Hammam’s involvement in the Qatari bid in his expected investigations.

That is likely to also be part of expected Kuala Lumpur-based AFC and Malaysian government investigations of Mr. Bin Hammam as it relates to possible bribing of Asian football federations. Qatar has denied that Mr. Bin Hammam was associated with its bid.

Mr. Bin Hammam was initially suspended on the basis of a report by US lawyer John P. Collins that had been privately commissioned by FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer. The report concluded that Mr. Bin Hammam had offered Caribbean soccer officials some $1 million bribes in order to buy the votes of Caribbean Football Union (CFU) executives needed to win the FIFA election at a CFU gathering in Trinidad and Tobago convened to offer the Qatari a campaign platform.

The court asserted that FIFA had failed to establish that monies paid to CFU members came from Mr, Bin Hammam or that they were intended to buy votes. The court noted that CFU operated secret accounts and that the report “did not sufficiently investigate the existence of CFU accounts to check whether the CFU had ever had enough funds to provide the cash gifts, or whether there had been cash withdrawals from these accounts.”

It rejected a subsequent report by the Freeh Group owned by former FBI director Louis Freeh as consisting of little more than circumstantial evidence. The ruling quoted the Freeh report as saying both “there is compelling evidence…to suggest that the money did originate with Mr. Bin Hammam” and was distributed by Jack Warner, the former boss of North and Central American and Caribbean soccer. Mr. Warner resigned from FIFA to evade investigation as well as in its executive summary that “there is no direct evidence linking Mr. Bin Hammam to the offer or payment of money to the attendees of the Trinidad and Tobago meeting.” The court suggested that there was no reason for FIFA to end its investigation of Mr. Warner given his key role in the affair.

The ruling further questioned the credibility of key FIFA witnesses, including Mr. Warner and former CFU general secretary Angenie Kanhai. It said that the banning of Mr. Bin Hammam without the testimony of Mr. Warner was based on “extremely limited sources.”

The ruling concluded that “Mr. Warner appears to be prone to an economy with the truth. He has made numerous statements as to events that are contradicted by other persons, and his own actions are marked by manifest and frequent inconsistency.” The ruling was referring to Mr. Warner both confirming and denying that cash had been distributed at the CFU gathering despite the court being in possession of a video confirming the disbursements. “The majority of the Panel (the court) concludes that Mr. Warner is an unreliable witness, and anything he has said in relation to matters before the panel is to be treated with caution,” the ruling said.

Similarly, Ms. Kanhai, who handled a suitcase containing the monies distributed offered contradicting statements. She initially that she insisted that she was not advised who was the benefactor who had arranged for the monies., but later changed her statement to say that Mr. Warner had advised her that Mr. Bin Hammam was the source. The ruling noted that the change came at a time that Ms. Kanhai was unemployed after having resigned from CFU and that she was employed by FIFA two days after having altered a statement.

Mr. Blatter doesn’t fare much better in the ruling having first declared in advance of the Caribbean meeting that he was not advised by Mr. Warner about the source only to declare a day later in writing that the former soccer official had told him that Mr. Bin Hammam intended to hand out monies.

The court’s rejection of the FIFA case paints a picture of the world soccer body as well as Mr. Bin Hammam in which all parties are tainted. In many ways, the ruling raises more questions than answers. This is bad news for Qatar. Rather than taking Qatar off the hook, Mr. Bin Hammam’s acquittal appears to increase the need for a full investigation of its World Cup bid.

To be fair, Qatar could well emerge from such an enquiry relatively untainted. The enquiry will not only have to link Mr. Bin Hammam to the Gulf state’s bid but also show that it was aware of any potential wrongdoing. Moreover, many of the allegations involving Qatar’s bid strategy involve issues that appear to fall within the boundaries of FIFA’s bid rules that have sufficient grey areas to raise the question whether the world soccer body’s failure to tighten those rules in an effort to evade conflicts of interest is not part of a morally and ethically debateable culture.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Qatar and UAE hire fired AFC Bin Hammam associates


Mohammed Bin Hammam

By James M. Dorsey

Qatari and United Arab Emirates soccer bodies have provided employment for dismissed former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) senior staff implicated in an independent auditor’s report that questions the financial management of the group by its suspended president, Qatari national Mohammed Bin Hammam.

The fact that the Qatar and UAE soccer bodies agreed to hire personnel that AFC let go because of their relationship to Mr. Bin Hammam is likely to prompt further questions about his links to the Qatari royal  family and his potential involvement in Qatar’s controversial winning of the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

Mr. Bin Hammam is fighting charges of bribery and corruption and potentially allegations of money laundering, busting of US sanctions and tax evasion as a result of the auditor’s report as well as his ousting last year as vice president of world soccer body FIFA. Mr. Bin Hammam is at the center of a number of soccer corruption scandals that have rocked world soccer and FIFA in recent years.

Qatar has long downplayed Mr. Bin Hammam’s involvement in its World Cup bid despite his past close relationship to the Gulf state’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and key role in world soccer.

Mr. Bin Hammam has appealed against an AFC decision earlier this month to suspend him as president for 30 days pending review of the report by PriceWaterhouse Cooper (PWC) that alleges financial mismanagement of AFC accounts to his own benefit as well as that of family, friends and soccer bodies across the globe.

The report also raises questions about Mr. Bin Hammam’s management of a $1 billion master rights agreement (MRA) with Singapore-based World Sport Group (WSG) and a $300 million broadcasting rights contract with the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera television network as well as his financial relationship to parties with possible vested interests in those deals.

The report provides the Kuala Lumpur-based AFC with the reasonable suspicion of a legal offence that it under Malaysian law is obliged to report to authorities. It also leaves the AFC with little choice but to launch a full-fledged investigation of its own.  The AFC, which has Malaysian nationals, including a member of a royal family on its executive committee, can extend Mr. Bin Hammam’s suspension for a maximum of another 20 days, ten of which must be used to prepare a case against him. It also has to report its finding to Malaysian authorities within that period.

The report says former AFC assistant secretary general and director of finance Amelia Gan managed AFC accounts which Mr. Bin Hammam used “to facilitate personal transactions as if they were his personal bank accounts.” It also alleges that Ms. Gan was involved in negotiating AFC’s contract with WSG that is being questioned. Ms. Gan is currently employed as club licensing officer by Qatar Stars League, which is headed by a member of the Qatari royal family, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Ahmad Al Thani.

Similarly, the former director of Mr. Bin Hammam’s AFC office, Jenny Be, who like Ms. Gan and AFC’s director of Vision Asia, Michelle Chai, was let go last year after Mr. Bin Hamman became embroiled in the FIFA scandal, is also employed by Qatar Star League as club liaison officer. AFC assistant secretary general Carlo Nohra left voluntarily.

Mr. Nohra, a former WSG vice president for corporate strategy whose $19,767 car loan was paid by Mr. Bin Hammam according to the PWC report, “played a prominent role in negotiating the detailed clauses of the MRA,” PWC said. Mr. Nohra was chief executive officer of the UAE football league until January of this year. He has since become CEO of UAE soccer club Al Ain FC LLC. Ms. Chai is the UAE professional league’s director of club licensing and professional affairs.

The league is managed by the UAE Football Association headed by Yousef al-Serkal, an AFC executive committee member who is widely seen as close to Mr. Bin Hammam. Mr. Al-Serkal is campaigning to succeed Mr. Bin Hammam as AFC president. Ms. Chai, according to AFC sources, has accompanied Mr. Al-Serkal to AFC meetings.

Supporters of Mr. Bin Hammam who like some former AFC employees credit him for his turning around of Asian soccer and generosity describe him as a man who embraced new ideas, enjoyed trying out new concepts and was eager to adopt best practices. “But there’s also that baggage that is universal in world soccer. He’s just the one who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar,” said a former AFC employee. He said he like many others in AFC had been aware of Mr. Bin Hammam’s questionable financial management. The PWC report came to a similar conclusion.

It is nonetheless not clear if the allegations in the PWC report prove to be true why Mr. Bin Hammam used AFC accounts for questionable dealings that could have been done through accounts that would have been harder to trace. Similarly, it is not clear why a man of Mr. Bin Hammam’s global stature apparently openly flaunted international standards of conflict of interest and good governance even if some of those practices are endemic to post-oil wealth Gulf culture.

The former employee said Mr. Bin Hammam had promoted personnel to positions they would have unlikely been able to occupy otherwise. He said Ms. Gan had been a bookkeeper prior to becoming assistant secretary general and director of finance. Ms. Be, he said, was a secretary before being elevated to head of Mr. Bin Hammam’s office and Ms. Chai was a development officer before also being appointed assistant secretary general.

The employee said the WSG contract had enabled Mr. Bin Hammam “to live an extravagant life style” and shower his extravagance on AFC itself. He described “over the top” AFC functions at which personnel and guests were given jewelry.

He said Mr. Bin Hammam’s decision in 2008 to invite the heads of member associations of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to stop off in Kuala Lumpur for a shopping spree before continuing on to that year’s FIFA congress in Sydney instead of travelling to Australia together with other FIFA members had sparked irritation among Asian football bodies, particularly those of Japan and South Korea.

The employee as well as sources close to the AFC investigation of Mr. Bin Hammam said that the Japanese, South Korean, Jordanian and Kuwaiti soccer associations have long been unhappy with the WSG contract which they saw as unfavorable to the Asian confederation. More than half of the revenues derived from the contract are believed to originate in Japan and South Korea. “Everybody who had a look at the contract could see that it was completely in favor of WSG,” one of the sources said. “Japan fought it hard. A number of associations, including Jordan and Kuwait protested. Nothing however was taken into consideration at the 2009 AFC congress,” said another source.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bin Hammam audit opens Pandora’s Box


Mohammed Bin Hammam

By James M. Dorsey

An independent auditor's report into financial management of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) by its disgraced Qatari president has set the stage for major investigations by Malaysian judicial authorities and international soccer bodies into governance of world soccer and the awarding to Qatar of hosting rights of the 2022 World Cup, the world's biggest sporting event.

The report by PriceWaterhouse Cooper (PWC) of disgraced former FIFA vice president Mohammed Bin Hammam who was last week suspended for 30 days as head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) as a result of the report suggests cases of money laundering, tax invasion, bribery and busting of US sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

The report provides the Kuala Lumpur-based AFC with the reasonable suspicion of a legal offence that it under Malaysian law is obliged to report to authorities. It also leaves the AFC with little choice but to launch a full-fledged investigation of its own.  The AFC, which has Malaysian nationals, including a member of a royal family on its executive committee, can extend Mr. Bin Hammam’s for a maximum of another 20 days, ten of which must be used to prepare a case against him.

The report coincided with a verdict last week by the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) that acquitted Mr. Bin Hammam of charges that he had bought votes for his failed challenge last year of Mr. Blatter in the soccer body’s presidential election.  The court said FIFA had provided insufficient evidence but went out of its way to state that its verdict was not a declaration of innocence.  Suggesting that it believed that Mr. Hammam was guilty, the court effectively invited FIFA to retry Mr. Bin Hammam on the basis of enhanced evidence.

The PWC report, according to a source involved in AFC’s investigation of Mr. Bin Hammam, said that it raised questions about the timing of flows of monies in and out of AFC accounts linked to the charges that Mr. Bin Hammam had sought to buy votes of Caribbean soccer officials in his failed challenge to FIFA president Sepp Blatter in the soccer body’s presidential election last year. The charges formed the basis for Mr. Bin Hammam’s ousting from FIFA and for the CAS case.

“The report prompts questions about the flows of money from the AFC to other (soccer) confederations that were perhaps intended to influence matters like presidential elections or the World Cup. .. A direct link appears to exist between the inflow of just under $1 million into MBH’s (Mohammed Bin Hammam) sundry account and the payment in May of $1 million at a Caribbean Football Union meeting. That link is still a bit unclear,” the source said, adding that it would likely be subject to further investigation.

Feeding into imminent multiple investigations that could provide the monkey wrench to clean up scandal-ridden world soccer is FIFA’s appointment earlier this month of former US New York state attorney Michael J. Garcia as its anti-corruption prosecutor to look in to the awarding of the Qatar World Cup as well as multiple corruption scandals in recent years.

Qatar has over the past 16 months sought to put a distance between itself and Mr. Bin Hammam official, denying that he played a role in its bid. Sources close to the investigations of Mr. Bin Hammam believe that the inquiries could produce a different picture. 

Mr. Bin Hammam has consistently denied the allegations against him and vowed to keep fighting them. In a July 18 letter to the AFC executive committee written on AFC letterhead that was accompanied by a letter from his lawyers appealing his AFC suspension, Mr. Bin Hammam denounced the PWC report as “mere weak theories which are badly orchestrated exactly like the Chairman of Disciplinary Committee verdict… Is not this conspiracy and corruption???”

PWC was given a limited mandate and resources to do an initial, precursory investigation of specified accounts and dealings of Mr. Bin Hammam seven months after the AFC decided on a far-reaching restructuring designed to make the organization more democratic and transparent as well as rollback changes that effectively concentrated power in the Qatari’s hands. Allies of Mr. Bin Hammam in the AFC executive committee some of which according to the PWC report dated July 13, 2012 were beneficiaries of the Qatari’s dealings are believed to have delayed the commissioning of the audit.

PWC warns in the report that “it is our view that there is significant risk that: i. The AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder funds and that the funds have been credited to the former President (Bin Hammam) for an improper purpose (Money Laundering risk), ii. The AFC may have been used as a vehicle to launder the receipt and payment of bribes.” 

The report cites a slew of unjustified and at times questionable payments to AFC executive committee members and their families and Asian and African soccer officials and associations as well as to Jack Warner, the disgraced head of North and Central American and Caribbean soccer who resigned last year to escape investigation of his alleged role in Mr. Bin Hammam’s purported bribery of Caribbean Football Union executives. Representatives of various federations named as beneficiaries of Mr. Bin Hammam’s largesse denied knowledge of any payments or insisted the transactions were legitimate.

The report further questions a $1 billion master rights agreement (MRA) between the AFC and World Sport Group negotiated by Mr. Bin Hammam without putting it out to tender or financial due diligence. The agreement fails, according to PWC, to give AFC a right to audit WSG’s services or costs. “In comparison with similar-type agreements for other sports, it appears that the current MRA may be considerably undervalued,” the report said.

Similarly broadcast licensing agreements with Qatar-owned Al Jazeera valued at $300 million were not tendered. PWC, noting that the contract was for a relatively long period of eight years said there was “a risk this significant revenue stream could be well below market rates in later years.”

The report, a copy of which was obtained by this reporter, asserts that Mr. Bin Hammam:

  n  “used the AFC’s company bank accounts to facilitate personal transactions as if they were his personal bank accounts” with the knowledge of the soccer body’s finance committee and under the management of AFC finance director Amelia Gan who was fired last year after he was suspended;

  n  received in February 2008 $12 million from Al Baraka Investment and Development Co , believed to be owned by Saudi billionaire Sheikh Saleh Kamel. “We understand that the Al Baraka Group may have been a 20% beneficial owner of the WSG group” (World Sport Group) with which the AFC signed a $1 billion master rights agreement (MRA) in June 2009 negotiated by Mr. Bin Hammam;

  n  received $2 million from International Sports Events (ISE) in November 2008, “an entity which is currently a 10% shareholder of the WSG Group.” The report says that PWC’s “enquiries indicate that Mr Mohyedin Saleh Kamel, the Assistant Chief Executive Officer (Investments) of the Dallah Al-Baraka Group may have been (from 2005 –2009) the Managing Director of ISE;” It said that a significant portion of these funds were subsequently transferred to Mr Hammam’s personal and company bank accounts” in Jordan and Malaysia but that “no direct evidence has been identified to confirm a link between the payments purportedly for the benefit of Mr Hammam and the awarding of the MRA.”

  n  transferred $4.9 million to Kemco Real Eastate, part of Kemco Group that is allegedly owned by Mr.      Hammam
  
  n  made “significant and notable payments… in relation to individuals, Member Associations, and travel and accommodation for AFC and FIFA events” for which there “does not appear to be any clear purpose for a number of these transactions. That is, payments were made to entities and individuals with no corresponding explanation.”

  n  made cash payments to North Korea and Iran that could contradict international sanctions against those two countries;
  
  n  paid “certain fines and levies charged by the AFC to Member Associations (ie. Jordan, Syrian, Iraqi and Lebanese Football Associations) that were borne by Mr Hammam. This appears highly unusual. In these instances payments were not made to the individual Member Associations. Instead, fines were charged (debited) to the sundry debtors account as an amount due from Mr Hammam.”
      
        n  handed out some $700,000 to family and friends, including buying suits for himself and Confederation of African Football head Issa Hayatou who is likely to a target of the FIFA investigation of the Qatar bid, an aiirline ticket for AFC Vice President Ganesh Thapa’s wife and son; settling a $19,767 car loan belonging to former AFC assistant secretary general and WSG vice president for corporate security Carlo Nohra; purchasing for himself fitness equipment in Kuala Lumpur and Doha; a $10,000 Bulgari watch; paying $15,000 for unspecified cargo from Switzerland to Qatar, and shouldering the dentistry, evening gown, facial and saloon charges of his daughters and honey moon of his son; and transferring $100,000 to his wife with no justification.

"The arrangement with Mr Hammam's use of the sundry debtors account is, in our view, highly unusual and reflects poor governance. This use by Mr Hammam of the sundry debtors account continued even after the external auditor's recommended that it be stopped. Our review indicates that it was common belief that this account was for Mr Hammam personally and all funds flowing through it were his personal monies,” the report said.

"We question why Mr Hammam would conduct his personal financial transactions through the AFC's bank accounts when the documents we have seen indicate that he already has several personal bank accounts in various countries," the report said.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Egyptian military uses soccer ban to undermine ultras


Port Said continues to haunt the military and soccer

By James M. Dorsey

Egypt’s military rulers are employing a security-inspired sustained ban on professional soccer as a tool to undermine radical, highly-politicized and street battle-hardened soccer fans who have emerged as the North African country’s most militant opponents of the armed force’s grip on politics.

The military’s effort to sideline soccer as a national past time is in stark contrast to ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s use of the game to enhance his image and distract public attention from politics. If soccer overshadowed politics under Mr. Mubarak, politics dwarfs soccer under his successors.

So far the military supported by the interior ministry appears to be succeeding in its goal of isolating militant soccer fan groups. It is however a strategy that could backfire. For one, public focus on politics means closer scrutiny of public officials and enhanced pressure on both the military and Egypt’s newly elected president, Muslim Brother Mohammed Morsi, to perform in terms of rebuilding Egypt’s economy and moving the country further down the road towards democracy.

The military, the interior ministry, soccer officials and militant soccer fans have in recent days been locked into a complex dance focused on the authorities’ refusal to lift a five month ban on professional soccer and the aftermath of the death of 74 fans in February in a politically loaded brawl in the Suez Canal city of Port Said. It is a dance that in coming days could erupt into renewed street violence in what the security forces would hope is the final showdown and militants would seek to turn into a second revolution that forces the soldiers to return to their barracks.

The hardening of positions on both sides of the divide comes as Mr. Morsi despite having won Egypt’s first post-Mubarak presidential election with 52 per cent of the vote finds himself between a rock and a hard place. Egypt's military, which succeeded Mr. Mubarak with a mandate to guide the country towards free and fair elections effectively pre-empted the Brotherhood victory by giving itself broad legislative and executive authority on the eve of the election. The move has left Mr. Mors primarily dependent on public support in his tug of war with the military.

The interior ministry’s refusal to lift the ban on soccer imposed in the wake of the Port Said incident as long as enhanced security, including electronic gates, airport-style scanners and security cameras have not been installed in Egyptian stadiums is not unreasonable.

Yet, it ignores the fact that security forces stood aside during the brawl in Port Said in what was widely believed to be an effort that got out of hand to teach a lesson to the militant soccer fans for their continued opposition to the military. It also fails to take account of the fact that the military has refrained from reforming the interior ministry and its security forces who are Egypt’s most distrusted institutions because of their role as enforcers of the repressive Mubarak regime.

The military’s exploitation of increased post-Mubarak public focus on politics at the expense of soccer is aided by the poor performance of Egypt’s national team in recent African tournaments. Egypt last month failed to qualify for the Africa Cup finals in a crucial match against the Central African Republic just as Mr. Morsi was being sworn in as his country’s first democratically elected leader.

Media focus on Mr. Morsi rather than the soccer match was in stark contrast to an incident in 2006 when the Mubarak regime successfully focused the media on Egyptian soccer rather than on the sinking of a ferry in which 1,100 people died. Public sentiment at the time blamed government corruption for their deaths.

“The balance is being reset,” Egypt Independent quoted American University of Cairo political scientist Emad Shahin as saying.

In fact, the role of militant soccer fans in the overthrow of Mr. Mubarak and the vicious street battles with security forces in which hundreds were killed and thousands wounded since his downfall that culminated in the Port Said incident have transformed soccer from a debate about sports to one about politics.

That was reinforced by the government’s firing of the Mubarak era board of the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) in the wake of Port Said. Three competing lists – members of the Mubarak-era board, Islamist players and independent reformers – are campaigning for the EFA’s elections scheduled for late August.

“This was the first time in the history of Egyptian football that victims have fallen after a football match. This match has fanned the flames of conflict between revolutionaries and the SCAF,” the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, said Ayman Abou Ayed, head of state-owned Al Ahram newspaper’s sports department.

Public empathy for the militant soccer fans was already diminishing by the time Port Said happened. Many Egyptians have become protest weary and yearn for stability that would allow their country to return to a path of economic growth.  Mr. Ayed argues that the violence coupled with the suspension of the premier league and the banning of spectators from international matches reduced public interest in what had been a national passion.

The hardening of positions and the potential for renewed violence became evident earlier this week when a group of militant supporters of crowned Cairo club Al Ahly SC whose members died in the Port Said incident were attacked by unidentified men armed with shotguns, glass shards and rocks as they marched from their club’s headquarters to the Journalists’ Syndicate.

Militant supporters of Al Ahly arch rival Al Zamalek said days before the attack that they had suggested ways to reduce violence in the stadiums but had received no response from the authorities. In a statement, the militants warned that their approach towards upcoming matches would be determined by how the interior ministry justified its continued ban on spectators attending games. Zamalek and Al Ahly, whose derbies prior to Mr. Mubarak’s downfall were ranked among the world’s most violent, are scheduled to clash on Sunday in Cairo in an African club championship match.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer