Soccer and revolution

Interview with James M. Dorsey

Shunsuke Nakamura taking a free kick, during Japan's world cup qualifier against Bahrain on June 22, 2008(Photo: Neier)
Anchor Marco Werman explores the connections between soccer and the political upheavals in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world with journalist and blogger James Dorsey.
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Marco Werman:  Major League Soccer returns to Egypt tomorrow. The soccer season was suspended in January as political turmoil erupted there. The policemen who normally control rowdy fans in soccer stadiums were needed out on the streets and it turns out that the connections between soccer and Egypt’s revolution don’t end there. Journalist James Dorsey blogs at Mid East Soccer. He’s in Singapore right now. Let’s start by reminding listeners, James, just what was the role of soccer fans in the Egyptian revolution?
James Dorsey:  Essentially when the mass anti-government protests started in late January, what you had on Cairo’s Tahrir Square was a mass of people mobilized through Facebook pages, Twitter, but there was no physical organization. These people had no sense of logistics and they certainly had no experience in street battles. That’s where the soccer fans came in. These are highly organized militant, violence prone organizations that have had about four years of experience of weekly battles with the police in the soccer stadium at matches and that is the experience they brought to the square.
Werman:  So these soccer fans essentially became the foot soldiers of the revolution. Who are they though?
Dorsey:  They became the front line and, as you may recall, there’s been a lot of discussion about the breaking down of the barrier fear. The soccer fans were key in the breaking down of the fear as they stood in the front lines. They fall essentially into two groups — the original founders and their followers who are  committed anarchists. They are mostly from lower income families, upwardly mobile, highly educated, highly disciplined, and highly organized. They have a very clear perception of who they are and where they want to go. They also attracted a large number of what they themselves describe as hooligans.
Werman:  James, you say these soccer fans are highly motivated, they know what they want, but tell us — what do they want?
Dorsey:  I would divide it into two levels. They are soccer fans and they want to be players in the sense that they want to be a participant in the shaping of the future of the club. But over and beyond that, their agenda is one that goes beyond soccer. There three most immediate goals are an eradication of corruption, the removal of all associates of Mubarak within government and within public institutions and organizations, and a more pro-Palestinian Egyptian foreign policy.
Werman:  Do you think that this trend is unique to Egypt or do you find across the Mid East that the soccer stadium has kind of become a center of rage and dissent?
Dorsey:  If you look at the period prior to the eruption of the anti-government protests, there really were only two release valves for pent up anger and frustration in the Middle East. One was the Mosque and one was the soccer pitch and that is true across the region. Whether it relates to dissent against the regime; whether it relates to identity politics with other words, the identification of a minority ethnic, religious or otherwise, with a certain team in a certain region; or whether it relates to gender, with other words,  women’s rights, as driven through the development of women’s soccer.
Werman:  Journalist James Dorsey is the author of the blog Mid East Soccer. He is also a senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore. Thanks very much for speaking with us, James.
Dorsey:  Pleasure.
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