Showing posts from February, 2012

Lebanon employs soccer in bid to reduce threat of spill over of Syrian violence

Lebanon's national team trains for crucial game against the UAE (Source: The Daily Star) By James M. Dorsey Soccer is rallying divided Lebanon scarred by years of bitter civil war at a time that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s sectarian-tainted brutal crackdown threatens to spill into the streets of Lebanese cities. In a bid to build on Lebanese rallying around their flag in December after the Lebanese national soccer team defeated South Korea 2:1 in a 2014 World Cup qualifier, Education Minister Hassan Diab called this week on private and public schools to allow students to go home early on Wednesday so that they can cheer their squad as it plays the UAE in Abu Dhabi. A win against favourite UAE could guarantee Lebanon a spot in the fourth and final round of qualifiers for the Brazil World Cup. In a country where almost every facet of life is defined by sectarian fault lines, Lebanon’s defeat of South Korea in December brought tens of thousands of fans into the streets of

Egyptian striker Zidan highlights post-revolt transition problems by calling Mubarak father

By James M. Dorsey President Mubarak fetes a player (Source: Al Ahram) Egyptian soccer star Mohamed Zidan in controversial remarks in a television interview put his finger on the problem Egypt and other post-revolt Arab countries face in transition from an autocratic to a more open society and the battles to be fought on the soccer pitch. In an interview with satellite channel CBC Egypt, Mr. Zidan, a striker in the Egyptian national team and for Germany’s FSV Mainz 05, focused attention on the neo-patriarchal role of Arab autocrats as their nation’s father figure, the refusal of a majority of soccer players and managers to join the region’s anti-autocratic revolts and the deep-seated rivalry between crowned Cairo clubs Al Ahly SC and Al Zamalek SC despite the fact that militant soccer fans of both clubs stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the mass protests last year that forced president Hosni Mubarak out of office. “I kissed Mubarak’s hand when he honoured Egypt after the 2010 African

Likely cancellation of Egyptian league sparks violence debate and fears for club solvency

Al Ahli fans seek to escape the Port Said stadium (Source: Reuters) By James M. Dorsey The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) is likely to cancel this season’s suspended Premier League in a move designed to prevent further violence in the wake of this month’s riot in Port Said that left 74 militant soccer fans dead but threatens to put the country’s clubs in financial jeopardy. Concern that the league will be annuled has been fuelled by the cancellation of the Egyptian national team’s scheduled friendly matches against Uganda, Guinea and Niger and the postponement until June 30 of an African Cup of Nations qualifier against the Central African Republic on instructions of the interior ministry. Once new dates have been agreed, the qualifier may be played in Qatar to ensure security. The decision on the national team’s matches suggests that the interior ministry and the EFA have backed away from an earlier plan to allow resumption of league matches behind closed door on March 15 w

Revealing picture of Tunisian-German midfielder fuels debate about political Islam

Revealing pictures sparks journalist arrests and fuels debate on political Islam By James M. Dorsey This week’s arrest of three Tunisian journalists for publishing a revealing picture of a Tunisian soccer player with his girlfriend has deepened secular distrust of Tunisia’s Islamist-led post-revolt government and fueled debate in the Middle East and North Africa and beyond about the true intentions of Sunni Muslim Islamist parties that are emerging as victors from the Arab revolt. The three journalists, the first to be detained since mass demonstrations toppled President Zine el Abedine Ben Ali a year ago, were arrested on orders of the public prosecutor for publishing a picture of Tunisian-German Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira dressed in a tuxedo with his hands covering the breasts of his otherwise naked German model girlfriend, Lena Gercke. The three journalists – Attounisia newspaper publisher Nasreddine Ben Said, editor-in-chief Habib Guizani, and foreign editor Hedi Hid

Human Rights Watch condemns Saudi restriction of women's sports

Players of private King's United women's team train By James M. Dorsey International human rights group Human Rights Watch has accused Saudi Arabia of kowtowing to assertions by the country's powerful conservative Muslim clerics that female sports constitute "steps of the devil" that will encourage immorality and reduce women's chances of meeting the requirements for marriage. The Human Rights Watch charges contained in a new report entitled “’Steps of the Devil’ comes on the heels of the kingdom backtracking on a plan to build its first stadium especially designed to allow women who are currently barred from attending soccer matches because of the kingdom’s strict public gender segregation to watch games. The planned stadium was supposed to open in 2014. The report urged the International Olympic Committee to require Saudi Arabia to legalize women's sports as a condition for its participation in Olympic games. "The glaring absence of a Saudi fe

Crooning goalkeeper leads Homs protests

By James M. Dorsey Abdelbasset Saroot's promising future as a goalkeeper dims as Syrian forces encroach ever more on opposition strongholds in the battered city of Homs. A 20-year old player for Syria's national Under-23 team, soccer is for now the last thing on Mr. Saroot's mind. A singer of revolutionary folk songs and a leader of the 11-month old popular revolt in Homs Mr. Saroot leads the life of a marked man on the run. He often leads protests crooning but after having survived the bombing of his house, three attempts on his life and suffering the loss of his brother and some of his closest friends whose bodies were dumped on the streets of Homs and crushed by tanks, according to Al Jazeera , Mr. Saroot leads the life of a fugitive. Twelve people, including his brother were killed in the attack on his home. At the time, he held up for television cameras empty shells, which he described as the "Iranian heavy weapons" with which the protesters had been at

AFC presidential election bears risk of renewed embarrassment

Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa (Source: ESPN) By James M. Dorsey With campaigning started for the election of a new president of the Asian Football Confederation to succeed disgraced Qatari national Mohammed Bin Hammam, soccer officials are concerned that the candidacy of Bahrain Football Association president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa could prove to be another embarrassment. Sheikh Salman alongside former UAE soccer federation head Yousuf al Serkal have let it be known that they would be vying for the top Asian soccer job. Zhang Jilong of China who took over as acting head of the AFC after Mr. Bin Hammam was barred last July for life from involvement in professional soccer by world soccer body FIFA on charges of corruption is also believed to be vying for the job. "I am interested in becoming president permanently on the condition that I am recognised by all my friends and brothers on the executive committee, as well as the other 46 members' associat

Which way will China jump on Syria?

Eleanor Hall reported this story on  Monday, February 13, 2012  12:38:00 Listen to MP3 of this story ( minutes) ALTERNATE  WMA VERSION  |  MP3 DOWNLOAD ELEANOR HALL: As Syrian forces continue their bombardment of the city of Homs Arab countries are now calling for UN peacekeepers to be sent into the country. At today's meeting of the Arab League, senior delegates said they'll now put the option to the United Nations. Significantly, they've also called for negotiations and co-ordination with Russia and China to avoid any future opposition from the veto-wielding powers. James Dorsey is a senior fellow at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and has been following the Syrian situation closely. He says there has been disquiet within China since last week's veto and that the Chinese government may not necessarily exercise its veto this time around. James Dorsey spoke to me earlier from Singapore. JAMES

Ultras call for retaliation as parliament blames fans and security for Port Said deaths

Al Ahli fans seek to escape the Port Said stadium (Source: Reuters) By James M. Dorsey An Egyptian parliamentary inquiry into this month’s death of 74 soccer fans in the Suez Canal city of Port Said has blamed fans and lax security for the worst incident in the country’s sports history. The inquiry’s preliminary report also suggests without going into detail that unidentified thugs were involved in the violence that erupted at the end of a match between Port Said’s Al Masri SC and crowned Cairo club Al Ahli SC. The report is scheduled to be debated in parliament on Monday. It was drafted by a committee headed by Ashraf Thabet, the assembly’s first deputy speaker and a member of the Salafist Al-Nur Party, which is believed to enjoy backing from Saudi Arabia and advocates adherence to Islam in line with 7 th century practices at the time of the Prophet Mohammed. A controversial member of Al Nur, Salafist preacher Sheikh Abdel Moneim El-Shaha, was last week attempting to talk his wa

Port Said deaths send businessmen, politicians and clerics scrambling

A protester hurls a rock in post-Port Said protests (Source: Reuters) By James M. Dorsey The deaths of 74 militant soccer fans in a politically loaded soccer brawl in the Egyptian Suez Canal city of Port Said has political forces across the country’s political spectrum scrambling to score points and counter a tsunami of rumours as security forces appear to have gained the upper in days of clashes with ultras and youth groups near the interior ministry in downtown Cairo. With the military and security forces accused of at best negligence and at worst having deliberately instigated the violence that led to the death of the fans immediately after last week’s match between Port Said’s Al Masri SC and crowned Cairo club Al Ahli SC, businessmen associated with the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak and fundamentalist Salafi politicians who advocate Islamic practice as it was at the time of the Prophet Mohammed in the 7 th century are being drawn into the maelstrom. Yasser el-Mall