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Sunday, July 5, 2015

FIFA’s Blatter unwittingly pinpoints soccer governance’s prime issues

By James M. Dorsey

Embattled FIFA president Sepp Blatter unwittingly put his finger on two fundamental issues that underlie a corruption scandal that has rocked world soccer governance, the worst crisis in the sport’s history: the fiction that sports and politics are separate and hypocrisy that distorts legitimate debate about Qatar’s successful but controversial World Cup bid.

Speaking to German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag, Mr. Blatter asserted that the governments of France and Germany had pressured their national soccer federations to vote in favour of the Qatari bid. His self-serving remarks were likely intended to deflect responsibility as authorities investigate his controversial stewardship of FIFA.

Nonetheless, in doing so, Mr. Blatter implicitly admitted that the notion of international sports federations, including FIFA, that sports and politics was fiction – a fiction that has allowed the federations to play politics with impunity.

Mr. Blatter further hypocritically disavowed responsibility for sub-standard conditions of migrant workers in Qatar despite FIFA’s self-declared “humanitarian values” and mission “to improve the lives of young people and their surrounding communities, to reduce the negative impact of our activities and to make the most we can of the positives.”

Mr. Blatter noted that German companies had employed migrant labour in Qatar on the same terms that have become a major issue since the awarding of the World Cup long before the Gulf state had moved into the firing line of human rights and trade union activists as well as Western critics of the FIFA decision.

“Look at the German companies! Deutsche Bahn, Hochtief and many more had projects in Qatar even before the World Cup was awarded,” Mr. Blatter said referring to German railways and a major construction company.

In effect, Mr. Blatter was laying bare an attitude expressed explicitly by his equally embattled general secretary, Jerome Valcke that FIFA prefers to work with dictatorships. "I will say something which is crazy, but less democracy is sometimes better for organising a World Cup,” Mr. Valcke told the BBC in 2013. He added that FIFA expected to have far less problems with the 2018 tournament in Russia than it had with last year’s competition in Brazil that sparked mass protests.

Mr. Blatter’s comments have implications both for Swiss and US investigations into soccer corruption that involve the Qatari World Cup bid as well as the debate about Qatar.  Western criticism of Qatar’s labour regime that puts employees at the mercy of their employers is justified, but only gained momentum once opponents of the Qatari bid jumped on the bandwagon.

Fact of the matter is that human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch alongside Western media that have long albeit intermittently reported for decades on abominable labour conditions in Qatar and other Gulf states were effectively voices lost in the wind until Qatar won its bid.

That does not absolve Mr. Blatter or FIFA of its responsibilities to adhere to its values, particularly at a time that international sports associations are paying increased lip service to human rights. Nor does it give Qatar wiggle room to escape making good on promises to substantially reform, if not abolish, its notorious labour kafala or sponsorship system.

What it does do is put the burden of responsibility for an onerous system that has indebted and indentured generations of migrant worker as much on Western governments and corporations as it does on Qatar. It also highlights the need to distinguish in the debate about Qatar between legitimate criticism and opportunistic attacks that are driven by ulterior motives.

Mr. Blatter’s acknowledgement of the German and French pressure highlights the need for international sports to acknowledge that their ties to politics are intrinsic and need to be embedded in a structure that monitors and governs that relationship.

It also underlines the fact that soccer governance’s corruption problems are twofold: financial, the focus of the Swiss and US investigations, and political – a problem that is as much the preserve of democracies as it is of autocracies.

France’s interference was documented two years ago in a lengthy expose in France Football. The magazine detailed a meeting engineered by then French president Nikolas Sarkozy between Michel Platini, a former French star who heads European soccer body UEFA; then Qatari crown prince Sheikh Tamim bin Haman Al-Thani, who has since become his country’s ruler; and a representative of French premier league club, Paris Saint-Germain.

The three-way deal cut at that meeting involved Mr. Platini agreeing to vote for the Qatari bid in exchange for Qatar acquiring the French club, creating a French sports channel and investing in France.

Mr. Platini, a potential candidate to succeed Mr. Blatter, who has resigned and is acting as a caretaker until FIFA holds presidential elections sometime between December of this year and March of next year, has been haunted since by his decision to switch his vote from the United States to Qatar in the crucial World Cup vote.

In a separate interview with Die Welt am Sonntag, Mr. Platini suggested that he would not stand as a candidate in the upcoming election.

German newspaper Die Zeit disclosed last month that Germany had lifted an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia and sold the kingdom arms to persuade the Gulf state to vote for its successful bid to host the 2006 World Cup. The government also persuaded German corporations to invest in Thailand and South Korea as part of its World Cup bid.

“Germany’s action may have been legal but it did not quite live up to what is believed to be the spirit of sports,” the newspaper said.

Its understated comment is true for all aspects of the crisis engulfing soccer governance and serves as a yardstick for what it will take to put soccer’s house in order.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Egyptian soccer player criticizes Sisi in reflection of mounting discontent

By James M. Dorsey

Criticism this week by soccer player Ahmed al-Merghani of general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al Sisi’s hard-handed repression of dissent and failure to defeat a mushrooming insurgency in the Sinai peninsula signals mounting discontent in Egypt.

Mr. Al-Merghani’s comments on his Facebook page are indicative because they suggested the degree to which Mr. Al Sisi’s cult-like popularity has diminished barely two years after he toppled elected president Mohammed Morsi in a military coup and a year after the former general was voted into office.

Soccer frequently serves as a barometer of political trends in the Middle East and North Africa. US intelligence officials have said that they routinely attended soccer matches in the region to glean clues as to where a country is headed.

One official predicted developments in Egypt when he told Quartz in 2013 that autocratic regimes frequently cover up burgeoning dissent by blaming it on hooliganism.

Addressing Mr. Al Sisi, Mr. Al-Marghani said: "You told the people come out and let me to fight terrorism. The people filled the streets even though (fighting terrorism) should've been your job in the first place. Ever since then everyone is dying, civilians, soldiers and policemen and where are you? All we ever get from you is words."

The player described Mr. Al Sisi as a “failure” and asked “Is a state of mourning not going to be declared for them and the television soaps cancelled? Or are they not as important as the state prosecutor?”

Mr. Al Merghani’s remarks came days after jihadist insurgents took their fight to a new level with coordinated attacks in the Sinai in which at least 30 Egyptian soldiers were killed; the assassination of prosecutor general Hisham Barakat, the most senior official to have been killed in Egypt in a quarter of a century; and a police operation against a gathering of leaders of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood members who allegedly were abused and executed.

Mr. Al Merghani was fired for his comments by Wadi Degla, the only privately owned club in Egypt’s premier league.

The significance of Mr. Al-Merghani’s comments reminiscent of political expressions of retired star Mohammed Aboutreika, is that they broke with a tradition in which Egyptian players often saw the country’s strongman as a father figure and refrained from associating themselves with any form of dissent.

Authorities earlier this year froze Mr. Aboutreika’s assets in a travel agency that was suspected of having had links to the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organization immediately after Mr. Al Sisi’s ascent to power. Mr. Aboutreika has long been believed to have Islamist sympathies.

A groundswell of support for Mr. Aboutreika emerged on social media immediately after the asset freeze. A number of soccer players, in another rare brake with players’ reluctance to endanger their status, were among those who expressed solidarity with the former player.

Mr. Al Merghani’s comments further reflected Mr. Al Sisi’s inability, unlike his predecessors, to employ soccer as a tool to cement his popularity and divert attention from popular grievances. Mr. Al-Sisi’s failure to do so is closely linked to the deteriorating security situation in Egypt.

Concern that soccer stadia like in the waning years of President Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in a 2011 popular revolt in which militant fans played a key role, would become venues of protest persuaded Mr. Al-Sisi to keep stadia closed to the public during matches. A Cairo court last month banned militant soccer fan groups as terrorist organizations.

Mr. Al-Sisi’s one attempt to reopen stadia in February was immediately shelved after 20 fans were killed by security forces at a stadium in Cairo during the first match for which a limited number of tickets were made available.

In a reflection of Mr. Al-Sisi’s refusal to hold accountable police and security forces notorious for their brutality and introduce security sector reform, authorities charged 16 fans with having provoked the second worst incident in Egyptian sporting history in cohorts with the Brotherhood.  

Relatives of some of the defendants and their lawyers charged that at least some of the fans had confessed as a result of torture. After five days' of searching, Mahmoud Hemdan said he found his 21-year old brother Ashraf and teenage nephew Ali "beaten and tortured" at a Cairo police station.

"Ashraf is innocent. He told me he was beaten and tortured with electric shocks to private parts of his body," Mr. Hemdan told Agence France Presse.

Ali's mother, Nagat, said she was shocked when she saw her 14-year-old son Ali in jail. "I couldn't hug him -- his body was covered in bruises and marks from electric shocks," she said.

Yasser Othman, another defendant, told a judge in a video posted online that he was “hung from my arms and given electric shocks several times. They even threatened to rape my wife.”

Mounir Mokhtar, a lawyer for some of the 13 defendants in custody asserted that "all were tortured to extract confessions." Police have denied using torture. Some of the confessions, including that of Ashraf Hemdan, were broadcast on Egyptian television.

Mr. Al Merghani’s criticism of Mr. Al Sisi’s failure to restore stability to Egypt reflects growing frustration among politicized youth, many of whom are soccer fans who played a key role in protests on university campuses and in popular neighbourhoods since the former general seized power.

Amnesty International, in a recently published report entitled ‘Generation Jail: Egypt's youth go from protest to prison,’ said “a generation of young Egyptian activists that came to the fore around the ousting of repressive ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011 is today languishing behind bars.” It said that the  “mass protests have given way to mass arrests, as 2011’s ‘Generation Protest’ has become 2015’s ‘Generation Jail.’”

Militant soccer fans have warned that the Sisi regime’s repression is radicalizing youth who feel they no longer have anything to lose. A host of shadowy, hitherto unknown groups have emerged in recent months claiming responsibility for acts of political violence.

“This is a new generation. It’s a generation that can’t be controlled. They don’t read. They believe in action and experience. They have balls. When the opportunity arises they will do something bigger than we ever did,” said a founder of one of Egypt’s foremost militant fan groups or ultras.
Added another original ultra: “Things will eventually burst. When and where nobody knows. But the writing is on the wall.”

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Pitfalls of Turkish-Chinese relations in a microcosm

Source: Sabah

By James M. Dorsey

Turkish soccer player Alpaslan Ozturk’s decision to risk fame and wealth by expressing support for the embattled Turkic Uighur minority in Xinjiang reflects pressures in China’s ties to Turkey, its most complex relationship in the Muslim world and a key node on the Silk Road  that Beijing hopes to revive with massive investment in infrastructure across the Eurasian land mass.

In Mr. Ozturk’s case, two Chinese clubs could simply penalize the player for his remarks by calling off plans to hire him after he demanded that ten percent of his future salary be donated to Uighurs in ‘East Turkestan.’ By using the term employed by nationalist Uighurs rather than Xinjiang, the Chinese reference to the region, Mr. Ozturk poured fuel on the fire.

In a Facebook posting quoted by Turkish media, Mr. Ozturk, a 22 year-old Belgian-Turkish national, said that “it is not right for me to breath in a country that skins our Muslim brothers alive. I thought so and I decided so. We see it on the television and in newspapers every day. Uighur Turks are being slaughtered since they are fasting (during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan)."

Mr. Ozturk said his statement was his way of rejecting the Chinese offers.” I condemn a country that slaughters people for being Muslims and fasting. I wasn't thinking of going to China when I received offers. Since I wasn't willing to live there, I laid down these conditions and thus the transfer was cancelled," he said.

Mr. Ozturk’s statement may not have been appreciated in Beijing, but it resonated with Turks, including the government, whose affinity to the Uighurs is based on both ethnicity and religion. Turkey is also a major gathering point for Uighur exiles and opposition groups that have long complained about discrimination and restrictions on following their Muslim faith.

As many as 28 people were killed last month in a clash in the city of Kashgar when police stopped a car at a checkpoint. It was the latest in a series of incidents involving protests as well as political violence in recent years.

“While Mr. Ozturk’s decision may of course be his own personal preference, it is hard to separate the footballer from the politics in this case,” said John Konuk Blasing, who first highlighted the soccer player’s action on his blog,

Mr. Ozturk’s statement provided grist on the mill of Turkish nationalists as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought to forge a coalition government in the wake of last month’s parliamentary election that failed to produce an absolute majority for his ruling Justice and Democracy Party (AKP). If successful, discussions to form a coalition with Turkey’s ultra-nationalist, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) which traces its roots to pan-Turkism could complicate relations with China.

Politicking over Xinjiang was evident in recent reporting in pro-government media of a visit to Beijing by the left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which dashed the AKP’s hopes in the election and became the first pro-Kurdish party to be represented in parliament. An AKP-MHP coalition could also deal a death knell to a Turkish-Kurdish peace process that would end violence in south-eastern Turkey and grant Kurds greater rights.

To sully the HDP, a pro-AKP newspaper published a bloodied image of Xinjiang saying that a HDP delegation was visiting Beijing “despite the East Turkestan torture.” An opposition newspaper, meanwhile, published time a statement by actors and academics calling for Uighur independence in Xinjiang.

Despite broad-based Turkish support for the Uighurs, China has to be more circumspect with Turkey than its clubs were with Mr. Ozturk given Turkey’s status as a regional power in Central Asia and the Middle East and its geographic location at the western end of the One Belt, One Road (Silk Road) initiative that has become a cornerstone of Chinese policy.

Turkey dropped official support for Uighur separatist groups following a 2010 visit by then Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during which China upgraded relations to strategic. The two countries hoped that the emphasis on cultural and economic rights backed up by Turkish investment in Xinjiang would help dampen nationalist sentiment. At the same time, China favours Turkey over Egypt or Saudi Arabia for the education of its imams.

The Turkish-Chinese strategy has yet to pay off. Global Times, a Communist Party newspaper, estimates that some 300 Chinese nationals have joined Islamic State (IS), the jihadist group that controls a swath of Syria and Iraq.

An IS video with Chinese subtitles portrayed in October 2014 "a Chinese brother before he did a martyrdom operation (suicide bomb attack)” in the town of Suleiman. Months earlier, Chinese police aided by satellite images detected dozens of cross-border tunnels in northwest Xinjiang that could facilitate the infiltration of operatives of Uighur separatist groups. 

Fears of the IS’s potential impact on Xinjiang, has prompted some Chinese analysts to call on their government to join the US-led coalition in Iraq. “China lacks military capabilities to join anti-terror operations…. China can instead provide funding, equipment and goods for the allies. It can also help by providing training local army and police personnel, an area in which China is experienced,” said prominent Chinese Middle East scholar Ma Xiaolin in a posting on his blog. He noted that China was already sharing intelligence with coalition partners. 

Chinese concerns were bolstered when IS identified East Turkistan as one of its target areas and the group’s caliph, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi listed the People’s Republic at the top of his list of countries that violate Muslim rights in his declaration of the caliphate. Maps circulating at the time on Twitter purporting to highlight IS’s expansion plans included substantial parts of Xinjiang.

Mr. Ozturk is not known as an IS supporter even if the group may emerge on the ground in Xinjiang as one of Uighur nationalism’s foremost promoters as a result of Chinese policies that choke of more moderate expressions.

"I said what I said. It is not a message bearing the intention of showing off. I just posted a message on my Facebook profile to my friends who follow and love me. I never thought this would come to this point. I said what I said and it was obvious,” Mr. Ozturk said.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Countering political violence: Tackle the root causes

RSIS Commentary is a platform to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy-relevant commentary and analysis of topical issues and contemporary developments. The views of the authors are their own and do not represent the official position of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU. These commentaries may be reproduced electronically or in print with prior permission from RSIS and due recognition to the author(s) and RSIS. Please email: for feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentary, Yang Razali Kassim. 

No. 145/2015 dated 29 June 2015
Countering political violence:
Tackle the root causes
By James M. Dorsey


Nations across Europe, North Africa and Middle East have responded to recent attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait with lofty condemnations of violent extremism and kneejerk security measures that in isolation are unlikely to solve what is becoming a festering problem. To drain the swamps of radicalization, governments will have to embed security measures in policies that give disaffected youth a stake in society.


EUROPEAN OFFICIALS, describing recruitment efforts by the Islamic State in Bosnia Herzegovina, mired in a toxic mix of economic malaise and ethnic tension, reportedly fear they may regret having failed to tackle the country’s structural problems in the two decades since the end of the Yugoslav wars.

The regret could apply to any number of failures to tackle root problems that have prompted lone wolves to strike fear in major European cities, at tourist attractions in North Africa, and in Shiite mosques in the Gulf. They also persuaded thousands of Europeans, Arabs and others to join the Islamic State as foreign fighters; and tens of thousands to seek refuge in Europe from civil war, brutal repression, and economic despair.

Band-aid solutions, knee jerk responses

Across the board, democracies and autocracies alike are experiencing the blowback of decades of Band-Aid solutions, policies that failed to give youth prospects for a future with a stake in society, and repression largely unchallenged by Western governments that pay lip service to adherence to political pluralism, inclusiveness, and human and minority rights in various parts of the world, particularly the Middle East and North Africa.

In the latest examples of kneejerk responses, Tunisia is deploying 1,000 armed policemen to tourist sites even as tourists leave the country en masse, and closing 80 mosques suspected of hosting radical clerics that is likely to push militants further underground. Kuwait, which displayed a remarkable degree of inclusivity with Sunnis and Shias joining hands in their condemnation of the bombing of a Shiite mosque that left 27 people dead and more than 200 others wounded, is mulling adoption of a stringent anti-terrorism law while France is passing legislation that would authorise sweeping surveillance.

None of these measure address the sense of hopelessness that pervades predominantly Muslim minorities in Europe and is reinforced by increased prejudice sparked by violence and brutality perpetrated by Muslim extremists. That hopelessness is matched by despair and existential fears among youth, minorities, and alienated sects in the Middle East and North Africa.

In an article in the London Review of Books, Patrick Cockburn quoted a 29-year old Syrian who fights for the Islamic State as saying: “We are fighting because both the regime and the opposition failed us, so we need an armed organisation to fight for our rights.” His words could just as well have been spoken by a European or a fighter from anywhere else in the Arab world.

A display of cynicism

Rather than reducing political violence, more than a decade of war on terrorism has produced ever more virulent forms of extremism and flows of refugees. The WOT had framed efforts to counter radicalization and persuaded Western governments to revert to support of Middle Eastern and North African autocrats in the name of ensuring stability.

In a display of cynicism, Western governments have exploited their support of autocracy to secure lucrative arms deals while failing to ensure levels of aid that would credibly address social and economic malaise in a country like Tunisia that is struggling with the transition from autocracy to democracy.

The result of exclusively security-focussed approaches coupled with the exploitation of economic opportunity, is an increasingly insecure world in which Western and regional powers have proven incapable of defeating non-state actors like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), multiple militant militias in Libya, Islamist insurgents in Egypt’s Sinai, and rebel Houthis in Yemen.

Said an Egyptian militant whose non-violent anti-government activism is as much aimed at opposing the regime of general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al Sisi as it is designed to persuade increasingly frustrated youth that there are alternatives to nihilistic violence: “The strategy of brutality, repression and restricting freedom has failed to impose subservience. It hasn’t produced solutions. Governments need to give people space. They need to prove that they are capable of addressing the problems of a youth that has lost hope. We have nothing to lose if they don’t”.

Shouldering responsibility

Meanwhile, European nations are struggling to cope with an onslaught of refugees forced in part to flee their homelands by the policies of the very autocracies the West supports. At the same time, those autocracies refused to absorb some of those fleeing conflicts in for example Syria, Yemen and Iraq that they have helped fuel.

Obviously, Western governments have a responsibility to put their own homes in order by matching lofty words of inclusiveness with actions that address high youth unemployment in migrant communities, lack of equal opportunity, and ensure that minorities are embraced as full-fledged members of society rather than perceived as a fifth column.

At the same time, Western governments would have to take a lead in pushing Middle Eastern and North African autocrats to change or drop policies that fuel radicalization and take measures that would address widespread grievances. Such measures would include:

• A halt to the global propagation of intolerant ideologies by some Middle Eastern governments and state-sponsored groups such as Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of Wahhabism that contrasts starkly with that of Qatar, the world’s only other Wahhabi state;

• Abolition of sectarianism in state rhetoric;

• Recognition of minority rights;

• Reform of brutal police and security forces that are widely feared and despised;

• Granting of greater freedoms to ensure the existence of release valves for pent-up anger and frustration and the unfettered voicing of grievances;

• A crackdown on corruption;

• Reform of education systems that produce a mismatch between market demand and graduates’ skills.

To be sure, there is no magic wand that will overnight turn the tide or definitively eradicate extremism. But there are a host of steps that governments could take that go beyond desperately needed social and economic policies that would create jobs and give youth a prospect for the future. Such measures would start addressing root causes of extremism in a bid to persuade those segments of society susceptible to radicalisation that they have a stake in working within the system.

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg, Germany.

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Soccer's global corruption crackdown: should the AFC worry? (JMD in South China Morning Post)

Soccer's global corruption crackdown: should the AFC worry?

The continent's governing body will not escape scrutiny, with the resignation of general secretary Alex Soosay the tip of the iceberg, says one observer
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 June, 2015, 11:39pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 June, 2015, 2:16am
The Asian Football Confederation is used to putting on a show. The draw ceremonies this month for the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup at the Grand Millenium in Kuala Lumpur were no exception, broadcast live on the AFC website and proceeding without a hitch.
There were positive vibes all round and no hint of the chaos and fear gripping its parent body, Fifa, in the wake of corruption investigations by American and Swiss authorities.
Indeed, Asia appears impervious to what is happening thousands of kilometres away in Zurich, the headquarters of Fifa.
First of all, no confederation can escape what is happening. The two most vulnerable confederations are Asia and Africa
Political correctness ruled, but that is the crux of the problem, according to James M Dorsey, an academic, writer and expert on Middle East and Asian football.
Dorsey says the AFC's political climate helps to create a cesspit of corruption that is ripe for dismantling.
"I'll put it very bluntly. The s*** is hitting the fan in AFC," said Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University and co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg.
"First of all, no confederation can escape what is happening. The two most vulnerable confederations are Asia and Africa," said Dorsey, whose revelations in his blog, "The turbulent world of Middle East Soccer", played a part in the suspension last month and then resignation of former AFC general secretary Alex Soosay.
"[Soosay] was the tip of the iceberg," he said.
"One thing you have to realise is that this is not only about financial corruption. The legal cases focus on financial corruption because that's obviously where most of the infrastructure is focused on.
"But the political corruption, which is endemic in the AFC, I would argue is far more important. And it enables financial corruption.
"If I was with the AFC today, and others engaged with it, I would be very worried."
Problems in the AFC first came to light during the reign of former president Mohamed Bin Hammam, who challenged Sepp Blatter for the presidency in 2011 but abruptly pulled out on the eve of the vote when it emerged he had given money to members of the Americas confederation (Concacaf) while campaigning.
Although the Court of Arbitration for Sport annulled the ban because of insufficient evidence, a report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers - requested by AFC - unveiled a raft of financial deals involving millions of dollars under Hammam's tenure. The Qatari later quit football before being given another life ban by Fifa for "conflicts of interest" during his AFC tenure.
The PwC report in 2012 made seven recommendations to the AFC, including seeking legal advice on pursuing possible criminal proceedings. However, it is not known how many of those recommendations the AFC has acted upon.
Banking compliance expert Chrisol Correia, director, Global AML, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, said banks were expected to expand their security networks to include the monitoring of sporting bodies in the wake of the Fifa probe.
We fully expect that the Fifa scandal is going to spur further investigations and put many sporting authorities in the cross-hairs
"We fully expect that the Fifa scandal is going to spur further investigations and put many sporting authorities in the cross-hairs," said Correia.
"For example, international cricket and Olympic authorities have had their own share of problems in recent years, so perhaps we could expect more regulatory scrutiny of some of these organisations' affairs.
"This reality is why it is imperative for banks to reassess their risk polices and profiles so that screening technologies are configured to find and report on risks connected to sport."
Dorsey says Soosay's suspension, for allegedly trying to hide the fact that he signed off on suspect transactions, is the only real action AFC has taken. And that only because it came out in the media.
When asked about the PwC recommendations, the AFC sidestepped the issue by saying it had formed a special task force aimed at overseeing reform.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter has resigned from his post in the wake of the corruption scandal.
"The AFC has created a Governance Reform Task Force which has worked throughout the past year in order to look at governance reform and will present its recommendations to the AFC executive committee once completed," the AFC explained.
"As a general principle, it goes without saying that the AFC would normally always take legal advice where its interests, or the interests of its members, could be prejudiced in any way."
On whether the body knows of any investigation by outside parties, it said: "The AFC is not currently aware of any investigation by international and/or local authorities into AFC affairs."
Dorsey, however, says any in-house attempt by AFC to make reforms will only be cosmetic.
He wants to see the end of the "patronage system" by which almost all confederations are run and which involves smaller associations feeling indebted to bodies such as AFC and Fifa for their generous funding.
"Where you have the two [political corruption and financial corruption] come together, one of the points is a patronage system," he said. "Also, the fiction that sports administrators and politics are separate needs to be dealt with.
"They are intertwined at the hip and several months ago, [Thomas] Bach, president of the IOC [International Olympic Committee], admitted as much.
"[So], the two structural reforms needed are the destruction of the patronage system and the realisation that sports and politics go together."
Dorsey suggests taking the distribution of development funds and subsidies to member associations out of the hands of Fifa and AFC and instead entrusting the task to independent institutions.
Dealing with politics within sport was another matter altogether, he said.
"Politics in sports are two sides of one coin. It's there whether your like it or not," he said.
"We need somehow to govern, oversee and monitor the code of conduct of norms that is the yardstick of that relationship.
"The relationship needs to be regulated. Denying it exists is giving everybody a blank cheque."
Dorsey says he is dumbfounded as to how AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa is able to hold on to his position given his political background and allegations by rights groups that, as head of the Bahrain FA, he was party to the detention and torture of anti-government protesters during the Arab Spring.
"Sheikh Salman is a member of the ruling family. He has never answered to well-founded allegations that he was involved in the arrest of 150 sportsmen and officials, including members of the national soccer team, some who were tortured.
"How can someone even with that suspicion be a head of an organisation."
AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa faces allegations of human rights abuses.
Shiekh Salman denied the accusations, saying after being elected AFC president in 2013 that "if anybody has proof the Bahrain Football Association has violated the statues of Fifa or AFC let them present it, otherwise we move to the next question".
Dorsey said there are other top football figures in the AFC from United Arab Emirates and Iran who hold influential government posts as well.
He said Sheikh Salman had so far buried the PwC report.
"After the audit of the AFC finances, in any other institution, the results would have far-reaching consequences," he said. "It is about massive corruption and it has been buried."
Organisations such as Fifa and the AFC have in the past been protected by their own non-interference laws. Both act swiftly when a government is perceived to have interfered in the workings of a member association.
Indonesia's football body, for example, has been suspended because the government tried to tell PSSI how to run the game in the country. It means Indonesian players, clubs and national teams are banned from taking part in any Fifa or AFC activities.
By putting a political wall between their own governance and national governments, the likes of Fifa have largely got away with whatever it is they have been doing for decades. That was until authorities from the United States and Switzerland acted last month.
American authorities indicted 14 officials over allegations of racketeering and corruption involving more than US$150 million over two decades. Seven were arrested by Swiss police in Zurich.
Switzerland also launched a separate investigation into how Russia and Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments respectively.
Dorsey says a key element of the US investigation is the role of sports marketing companies. The PwC report highlighted the AFC's relationship with World Sports Group, which in 2009 signed a US$1 billion deal to promote the body's events from 2013 to 2020. The report questioned how WSG won the AFC contract and the fact that there was no tender process

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Study in Contrasts: Militaries in Political Transitions in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa

By James M. Dorsey

The Economist recently highlighted the contrast between post-revolt Asian societies and Middle Eastern and North African societies in the woes of a pro-longed, messy and bloody transition that is pockmarked by revolt and counter-revolt, sectarianism, the redrawing of post-colonial borders, and the rise of retrograde groups as revolutionary forces.

Almost 30 years after they brutally crushed pro-democracy student protests, Korean police are projecting themselves as K-cops, the counterpart of K-pop, South Korea’s most popular cultural export and successful soft power tool. Korean police are largely today everything Middle Eastern and North African security forces are not.

Restructuring Korean police and ensuring that its legitimacy and credibility was publicly accepted was no mean task. Much like Middle Eastern and North African security forces, Korean police emerged from regime change as the distrusted and despised enforcer of repression that had brutally suppressed dissent, killed hundreds if not thousands, and tortured regime critics. 

It took almost, a decade for the Korean police to launch deep-seated structural reform that gave substance to a public relations campaign designed to recast the force’s image and engender public trust. By contrast, transition in the Middle East and North Africa is in its infancy and given state and institutional resistance will likely take far longer than it did in Korea and Southeast Asia.

Even so, there are lessons to be learnt from the Asian experience in political transition that has progressed to the point where Korea is projecting its K-cops internationally as models of professionalism in crowd control and the management of protest. The Korean police force has ditched the use of tear gas in favour of the lipstick line, unarmed female officers deployed as a front line defense to defuse tensions with protesters. Big-eared cartoon mascots are ubiquitous on all the police’s insignia, including traffic signs. 

The message underlying the approach to policing as well as the marketing campaign is as much driven by a desire to capitalize commercially on Korea’s success as it is by a desire to enhance the country’s prestige is the notion that policing in line with standards of freedom of expression, protest and dissent and adherence to human rights is more likely to ensure public order than brute force. Despite the fact that regimes in the Middle East and North Africa largely see heavy-handed repression of dissent as key to their survival, some like the United Arab Emirates and Oman, have engaged the Koreans’ advisory services in a bid to put a better face on what remain autocratic regimes.

The appeal to autocracies is that smarter policing reduces the risk of repression boomeranging with resentment of security forces becoming a driver of protest as it did for youth groups in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. By the same token, the risk for activists is that failure to reform security forces in the immediate aftermath of the toppling of an autocrat by a popular revolt, could create the circumstances conducive to a reversal of hard-won political change. Early stage security sector reform would also help enhance the credibility of a post-revolt government and confidence in its sincerity and willingness to initiate structural changes aimed at breaking with the autocratic past.

Failure to reform security forces in Egypt was at the heart of the reversal of the gains of anti-government protests in Egypt in 2011 that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. The police and security forces two years later played a major role in persuading the military to overthrow Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president, and introduce a dictatorship even more repressive than that of Mr. Mubarak.

Political scientist Terence Lee in his recently published study of military responses to popular protests in authoritarian Asia used the examples of the brutal repression of protest in Korea in 1987, Burma in 1998 and a year later on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to argue that the military is the ultimate arbiter of whether a popular revolt will succeeds. In doing so, Mr. Lee appears to assume that the role of the role of the military and security forces is interchangeable. That may be true for Asian countries like China and Myanmar where police, security forces and armed forces are effectively branches of the military.

In the Middle East and North Africa where the military and law enforcement are separate entities with different vested interests, protesters need to play one against the other and adopt different post-revolt strategies towards each of them. The need for differentiation is reinforced by the fact that Middle Eastern and North African leaders irrespective of whether they hail from a dynasty or the military distrust their armed forces.

To maintain control, Middle Eastern and North African rulers have adopted strategies towards their militaries ranging from emasculation; provision of economic perks; reliance on elite units populated by members of the ruler’s tribe, clan or family; hiring of mercenary forces; to the creation of parallel armed forces that keep each other in check. Ironically, if Myanmar were in the Middle East or North Africa it would have been in category of its own as the only autocracy ruled directly by the military in uniform.

The flip side of the rulers’ different strategies is that not all Middle Eastern militaries are likely to act as monolithic units in case of a popular challenge to the regime as was the case in Tunisia and Egypt -- and Myanmar in the case of Southeast Asia -- or contain a reformist faction strong enough to swing the balance against an autocrat like happened in the Philippines and Indonesia  or Syria, Yemen, and Libya, Arab countries where the military was built around tribe, sect and clan, have in the wake of mass protests descended into civil war or anarchy.

For protesters, forging an alliance with the military is a double-edged sword particularly in the aftermath of the toppling of an autocrat when the interests of demonstrators and soldiers diverge. Protesters run the risk of being marginalized because they are ill-equipped and don’t have the time and wherewithal to make the transition from contentious street politics to power and backroom electoral politics.

In a perverse way, Tunisians owe the fact that their country emerged from the wave of Middle Eastern and North African protests several years ago as the only relative successful democratic transition to their ousted ruler, Zine El Abdeine Ben Ali. Under Mr. Bin Al, who rose from the ranks of the security forces, the military saw its budget significantly reduced, its manpower downsized and its top leadership side lined, if not physically eliminated.

As a result, the interests of the militaries in Tunisia and Myanmar were not dissimilar. In Tunisia, marginalization meant that the military had a vested interest in a change of regime that would dismantle the security force state. In Myanmar, liberalization albeit with retention of some degree of behind-the-scenes control was needed to eliminate the cost of international isolation for the nation and the ruling generals themselves.

In Egypt, Mubarak’s effort to create a dynasty of his own by grooming his eldest son as his successor posed a threat to the military. Not only was he a man who had not risen in the ranks of the military, he was a neo-liberal that threatened the statist interests of the military, the largest force in the Egyptian economy.

Alliances in political transition between militaries and activists tend to be short-term and short-lived. That is evident from the transitions in both Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa. The interests of the two diverge as soon as an autocrat has been toppled.

For the militaries in for example Myanmar and Egypt, change was not about the ideals of the revolt, but about restructuring an autocratic system in ways that ensured that their vested interests were protected. Myanmar appears to be a process of two steps forward, one step backwards. Egypt has been one of regression that led it from military rule to the election of the country’s first democratically chosen president to a military coup against him and the rise of a repressive regime that makes the Mubarak era look benign.

There are no easy solutions to the management of post-revolt diverging interests. Popular forces do not have the time or the experience to make a quick and effective transition from contentious street politics to the backroom dealings of power or electoral politics. That is true even if layers of civil society that had developed over time in countries like Myanmar played a key role in forming an opportunistic alliance with the military. It is certainly true in the Middle East and North Africa where the main drivers of the revolt often were not the usual suspects – workers and trade unions or political groupings and parties—but what sociologist Asef Bayat called social non-movements like for example soccer fans.

Acknowledging the post-revolt divergence of interests however does not answer the question why countries like the Philippines and Indonesia were relatively successful in making a political transition towards democracy irrespective of how imperfect those democracies may be. Lee boils the answer down to what he calls increased personalism of the autocrat as well as within the Philippine and Indonesian militaries.

In Lee’s view the popular revolts provided an opportunity for some senior officers unhappy with the emergence of military personalities and the personalization of their country’s autocracy to hitch their political ambitions to those of the protesters. That may indeed be true for the individual motivations of dissenting officers. It explains dissatisfaction within the military with Marcos’ interference in appointments and promotions. Lee is also right in his observation that in Asia the militaries remained loyal to the autocratic regime like in Burma in 2007 and on Tiananmen Square because there was an absence of personalism.

Yet, the aspirations and gripes of individual officers can only be part of the picture and not all autocrats interfered with military appointments. In fact, a majority of autocrats in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa did or do not.

Similarly, the fact that Marcos failed to build institutions that would have fortified autocracy fails to provide a satisfactory answer. Neither does the fact that senior military officers close to General Suharto enjoyed political and economic perks that others in the command did not. Libya’s Colonel Moammar Qaddafi and Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh also avoided embedding their authority in institutionalized power sharing.

By the same token, Suharto’s tactic of divide and rule resembles those Arab militaries that were organized around a core of elite units bound by tribe, clan or family as was the case in Syria, Libya and Yemen. The difference was that the disenfranchised in those militaries were not members of the tribal, clan or family elite that uniformly benefitted from the autocrat’s perks but the military’s rank and file. As a result, the interests of the military’s command and key units and those of the regime remained in sync in times of domestic political crisis. The defection of senior officers or even key units in Syria and Yemen during the recent uprisings and subsequent violence do not fundamentally question that notion.

The cases of the Philippines and Egypt demonstrate moreover that the military’s relationship with its US counterpart plays an important role. In both the Philippines and Egypt, a US decision to drop Washington’s support of the autocrat influenced military thinking, The relationship with the US was important to the Egyptian military given that it was independent of and not supervised by the Mubarak government. The military relied on annual US aid to the tune of $1.3 billion and arms deals that satisfied its appetite for arms and equipment and underwrote the armed forces’ military industry.

As a result, the notion of personalism as an impetus for militaries to embrace political change leaves unanswered the question why personalism that characterizes Middle Eastern and North African autocracies has not played a role in attitudes of the military or key segments of Middle Eastern and North African militaries.

One difference between Asia and the Middle East and North Africa is the concept of neo-patriarchy developed by the late Palestinian-American scholar Hisham Sharabi that serves to popularize autocratic personality cults. In Sharabi’s analysis, Middle Eastern and North African autocrats unlike their Asian counterparts with North Korea as an exception positioned themselves as authoritarian father figures who franchise their authoritarianism throughout the society. The autocrat is the father of the nation who sits on top of a pyramid of authoritarian fathers such as the head of government, the provincial governor, the village head and the paternalistic head of the nuclear family.

In characterizing Asian autocracies, Lee draws a distinction between two kinds of autocracies: ones that are built around the person of the autocrat and ones that are built around a sharing of power by underlying institutions. In Lee’s view, autocrats who build their power around themselves like in the case of Marcos and Suharto are more prone to the risk of the military siding with protesters.

That theory seems to be invalid in the Middle East and North Africa where except for perhaps in the case of Iran power sharing is not the norm. More frequently there is deliberate competition between institutions like in the case of Syria’s multiple security services that is designed to keep various forces in check.

Attempting to develop a conceptual framework that enhances frameworks developed in recent decades and explains why, when and how militaries turn against the autocratic status quo and opt for political change is important not only as a key to understanding developments in the Middle East and North Africa and predicting of the role of militaries in popular revolts but also to deepening knowledge about civil-military relations.

The contrast in the analysis of Asia as opposed to the Middle East and North Africa is stark.
Intellectuals and scholars accepted until the eruption of popular revolts in 2011 the notion that the Middle East and North Africa were exceptional in their autocratic resilience and stability.

“Academics directed their attention toward explaining the mechanisms that Arab states had developed to weather popular dissent… We in the academic community made assumptions that, as valid as they might have been in the past, turned out to be wrong in 2011… Academic specialists on Arab politics, such as myself, have quite a bit of rethinking to do… Explaining the stability of Arab authoritarians was an important analytic task, but it led some of us to underestimate the forces for change that were bubbling below, and at times above, the surface of Arab politics,” wrote political scientist and Gulf scholar F. Gregory Gause III.

By contrast, Asia became the hand maiden of contemporary concepts of protest with the Philippines in 1968 coining the phrase, people power.

Other factors that influence the attitudes of militaries towards popular revolts and highlight differences between Asia and the Middle East and North Africa are national identity, the role of regional powers, and donor support of civil society in autocratic societies.

As a summary outline, national identity in the Middle East and North Africa has proven to be far more fragile and contentious than in Southeast Asia. That has raised the spectre of a redrawing of borders in the Middle East and North Africa and the emergence of new states based on ethnicity or sect.

That is not to say that national identity is not a factor in Asia. Yet, Singapore traumatized by its departure from Malaysia has successfully managed communal relations while identity politics remain prominent in Malaysia itself as well as in Myanmar and southern Thailand. Nonetheless, unlike the Middle East and North Africa, Southeast Asian nations are not looking any time soon at a redrawal of their borders.

Similarly, transition in Southeast Asia benefited from the absence of regional powers like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, all of which sought and seek to impose their will on other countries in the region.

Finally, Arab autocrats with Egypt in the lead successfully restricted donor aid to civil society organizations in ways that their Southeast Asian counterparts appear not to have.

All of this, amounts to a first tentative stab at developing an agenda for research that would enhance scholarly and policy understanding of the why, when and how of the role of militaries in processes of political change. Southeast Asia and Korea have the benefit of hindsight. The Middle East and North Africa is a messy and bloody work in progress.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Advisory Council rejects labour reform as Qatar stiffens its back

By James M. Dorsey

Revived controversy over the integrity of Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup and persistent criticism of the conditions of migrant labour in the Gulf state appear to have stiffened Qatar’s back as it responds to attacks on multiple fronts, including judicial inquiries in Switzerland and the United States, the media, and United Nations and human rights organizations as well as trade unions.

Qatar’s hardening stance threatens to roll back its successful effort since winning the right to host the World Cup four years to convince its critics that it was serious about reform of its notorious kafala or sponsorship system that puts employees at the mercy of their employers.

In the latest indication that Qatar refuses to be seen as caving in to external pressure, Qatar’s Shura or Consultative Assembly that nominally serves as the country’s legislature raised objections to the government’s draft law that would introduce changes to the kafala system. The council took issue with provisions that deal with the entry, exit and residency of migrant workers and said the law needed further study, according to The Peninsula, a Qatari newspaper.

Underlining Qatar’s refusal to be seen to be bullied, Al Sharq, a Qatari news portal, quoted council chairman Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khulaifi as saying that there was no need to rush the draft law.

Activists noted that the council recommendations backtracked on proposals put forward by law firm DLA Piper in a report commissioned by the government as well as suggestions made by the ILO.

The proposal also contradicted submissions made by Qatar to the ILO in January. 

Qatar told the ILO that “the draft law which relates to the annulment of the kafala system and its replacement by a contract system has been explicitly announced. In addition, the term employer’ replaced the former term used which was master of work...’  The draft law also provides for an amendment to the provisions relating to the ‘release permit’ (to be released from employment), which will allow a worker to request a ‘release permit’ from the competent government body without going back to the employer.

The council’s criticism and proposals do little to alter the dependent status of workers or modify, if not eradicate, the exit visa or release permit system that has caused numerous problems for foreign employees in violation of international standards.

It is likely to cast further doubt on Qatar’s sincerity, provoke harsh criticism from activists as well as the International Labour Organization (ILO), and perpetuate an emerging vicious cycle of increased criticism of the Gulf state and declining Qatari willingness to work with its critics.
The council demanded, according to The Peninsula, that:

  • A migrant worker who deliberately creates problems for his employer and by failing to comply his labour contract forces his employer to terminate the contract be banned from changing jobs even if he runs away. As punishment, the council called for forcing the worker to remain employed by his employer for twice the time of the duration of the original contract;

  • migrant workers be banned from obtaining a new work and residence visa for a period of two years 

  • after their departure from Qatar;

  • new visas be granted to workers who completed their contract and left Qatar only with the approval of their former employer;

  • allow migrant workers to change jobs at most twice;

  • allow workers with open-ended contracts to change jobs only after having been employed  for a period of ten years by their original employer and with approval by government authorities;

  • domestic workers, the most vulnerable group among migrants, be excluded from the new law;

  • the exit visa system be maintained.

“The tone of the Advisory Council continues to be employer-centric, giving little or no consideration to the plight of over 1.5 million migrant workers in the country, most of whom are of low-income,” said

The Doha-based and government-funded International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) was meanwhile expected to detail its efforts to boost transparency in bidding processes for major sporting events and combat financial malpractice in professional sport at a news conference in Washington.
The media effort was designed to position Qatar at the forefront of the battle to force FIFA and its regional confederations to become more transparent in the wake of the multiple corruption scandals.

“ICSS encourages and supports any proactive action that targets corruption in sport governing bodies by law enforcement agencies and / or governments,” the group said in response to last month’s arrest by Swiss police at the behest of the US Department of Justice of a number of senior officials of FIFA and its regional federations in the Americas on corruption-related charges.

Like he promises for labour reform, the ICSS effort is likely to ring hollow as long as Qatar refuses to be publicly transparent about its bid and willing to confront in detail numerous allegations detailed among others in disclosures in The Sunday Times based on millions of documents allegedly obtained from a server of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), a bastion of non-transparency.

Foreign contractors report meanwhile delays and mothballing of some of the projects included in Qatar’s $200 billion investment in infrastructure. Not all of the planned investment is World Cup-related. Among projects delayed are according to Reuters a $12 billion bridge and underwater tunnel, a chemicals plant and the Doha Grand Park.

It was not clear if the downsizing was exclusively the result of reduced income as a result of lower oil prices as Qatar braces itself for its first budget deficit in 15 years or whether it was reflected uncertainty over the status of the soccer tournament in light of judicial investigations in the United States and Switzerland.

The investigations involve probing of the integrity of the Gulf state’s successful but controversial bid. The investigations stem from the worst corruption scandal in soccer history that prompted FIFA president Sepp Blatter to resign earlier this month.

Qatar nonetheless is signalling that it is determined by hook or by crook to successfully implement its sport strategy that is designed to turn the Gulf state into a global hub even if the soft power aspect of the strategy fails as a result of the multiple controversies.

Forbes quoted an unidentified sport manager as saying that Qatar Sports Investment, a subsidiary of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund that owns top French soccer club Paris Saint Germain, was part of a joint venture negotiating to acquire effective control of Formula One at a cost of at least $7 billion. The bid follows a veto by Bahrain, an FI race host, against Qatar also hosting the world’s most-watched annual sports series.

Viewer numbers are important given Qatar’s concerted effort to occupy a central space in the hearts and minds of sports fans through BelN, the sports channel of the Gulf state’s Al Jazeera television network. News reports said Qatar was bidding up to $1.5 billion for Digiturk that has 3.3 million subscribers and owns the broadcast rights of the Turkish Football League.

Sports broadcasting is unlikely to be able to compensate for the uncountable number of hearts and minds Qatar has lost as a result of its handling of the corruption allegations and its failure to follow its labour-related words with deeds.

Qatar at this point may not care. A sense of having been dealt an unfair hand by the media and others and that criticism by some is levelled to score points has hardened Qatari attitudes against a backdrop of a minority citizenry fearful that reforms risk loss of control of its culture, society and state.

“Qatar may lose the public relations war but it will do what it takes to keep the World Cup hosting rights. It will cut whatever deals necessary and use beholden business and investment lobbies to keep the World Cup in Qatar. The emir cannot afford to lose it,” said a long-standing observer of Qatari society and politics.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.