Showing posts from March, 2013

Turkey gears up to give Gulf states a run for their money

By James M. Dorsey
The Gulf states dominate headlines with Qatar’s controversial hosting of a World Cup and the high profile acquisition of European soccer teams, but they may be meeting their match in an emerging competition for being the Middle East and North Africa’s prime sports, transportation and economic hub.
Turkey may not have the Gulf’s financial muscle, but on virtually every other front it brings assets to the table that smaller oil-rich states lack: geographic and demographic depth; a soccer-crazy population that fills stadium; storied, internationally accomplished and recognized clubs; a respectable international track record in a variety of other sports, including basketball and volleyball; ethnic, cultural and ex-colonial links across a swath of land stretching from China to the Atlantic coast of Africa; a functioning democracy with all its warts that many see as a model for the Muslim world; a highly developed educational sector; one of the world’s largest standing a…

Qatar broaches sensitive demography through soccer

By James M. Dorsey
Qatar's soccer league, in a break with a reluctance among Gulf states to give their largely expatriate majorities a sense of belonging, is next month organizing the region's first cup for foreign workers' teams.
The cup, involving up to 24 teams formed by foreign workers primarily from Asia who account for the bulk of Qatar's 1.5 million expatriates, is part of an effort to improve working and living conditions as well as a bid to fend off international trade union demands to meet global labor standards.
Meeting those standards would involve abolishing the widely criticied sponsorship system common to various Gulf states that effectively gives employees full control of their employees; allowing the creation of independent trade unions; and adopting the principle of collective bargaining – changes Qatar until now has shown no inclination to entertain.
The cup further fits into Qatar's sports strategy that aims to make sports part of the country&…

Egyptian crackdown on soccer fans likely to unite militants

Members of the Black Bloc, a secretive group of black-clad soccer fans 
By James M. Dorsey
Egypt’s judiciary and security forces appear posed to crack down on militant, highly politicised and street battle-hardened soccer fans in a bid to exploit internal differences among them.
The crackdown however could boomerang by uniting rather than further dividing the fans in their opposition to the security forces, Egypt’s most hated institution because of its role in enforcing the repression of the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
The security forces and the judiciary hope to capitalize on cracks among the fans, one of Egypt’s largest civic groups, that have emerged beyond their traditional rivalries over who was responsible for the death last year of 74 supporters of crowned Cairo club Al Ahli SC in a politically loaded brawl in the Suez Canal city of Port Said and how to respond to recent sentences handed down by a court against those responsible.
The crackdown would likely reinf…

International sanctions: Iran feels the psychological impact

By James M. Dorsey
Struggling to maintain its place in Asia’s top tier, Iranian soccer is a reflection of a country laboring under the burden of a repressive political regime and not only the economic but increasingly also the psychological effect of international isolation and punishing sanctions.
The psychological wear and tear is universally visible. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a soccer fan who has unsuccessfully tried to tie football to his waning political bandwagon in part because of his encouragement of political interference in the game and his failure to invest in grassroots development and modernization, last October chided the national team for lowering its ambitions.
“If you think that you are only good enough for Asia, then that is what you will be and will remain. It is my firm opinion that Iran belongs to the world class elite as we have the talents and skills to be there,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said.
The politics of soccer were further highlighted last month when…

Rioting ultras and striking police officers may ease security reform

Ultras set Cairo police club on fire
By James M. Dorsey
The fall-out of last year’s death of 72 soccer fans in a politically-loaded stadium brawl has brought the need for reform of Egypt’s Mubarak-era law enforcement and judiciary to a head with football supporters in Egyptian cities protesting the verdict in the trial of those accused of responsibility for the incident and security officials striking against being made a scapegoat in the country’s political crisis.
Protests sparked by this weekend’s confirmation of the death sentences of 21 Port Said soccer supporters, conviction of only two out of nine police officers accused of responsibility for the worst incident in Egyptian sport history, and aquittal of 28 of the in total 73 defendants reflect intensified public anger rooted in widespread distrust of the security forces as well as the judiciary’s failure to hold accountable officers and officials responsible for the death of more than 900 protesters since former president Hosni…

Persian Gulf Futures (on Global Brief)

Persian Gulf Futures JAMES M. DORSEY FEATURES | March 5, 2013       | Send to a friend Shaky monarchies, strategic pressures, and threats to energy and shipping The failure to date by oil- and gas-rich Persian Gulf states to respond seriously to the demands for governance reforms sweeping the Middle East and North Africa poses, alongside potential hostilities with Iran, the most immediate threat to the security of the region’s energy production and international shipping. It raises the question of when – rather than if – revolts that have already driven the autocratic leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen from office, pushed Syria into civil war, and are simmering in Jordan and Algeria, will disrupt domestic politics in the Gulf and, consequently, oil and gas production in the region. With US and other policy-makers focussed on terrorist threats and region-wide trends, rather than intra-state, domestic threats – not least because they realize that they have little influence in shapin…

Civil war in Syria: The Spillover Threat

By James M. Dorsey
Water tankers line the unpaved road outside a pre-fab United Nations meeting room in Za’atari, the Syrian refugee camp in a desert just south of the Jordanian-Syrian border that is home to 110,000 escapees from the brutal war between Bashar al-Assad and his opponents or just about a quarter of the total number of Syrians in the country. Inside the meeting room, different perspectives on resource conservation and entitlement spill into the open.
A young Jordanian aid worker complains that Syrians despite years of drought have little concept of water conservation, a sensitive issue in one of the world’s more water-starved nations that has seen its population grow by an approximate eight percent as a result of the refugee crisis. Jordanian and United Nations estimates suggest that Jordan’s Syrian population could increase to 600,000 by April and up to a million by the end of the year.
In response to the Jordanian’s plea for greater care, a Syrian soccer coach counters…

Soccer protests highlight Egyptian president Morsi’s fragile ties to the military

Port Said protesters help an injured solider (Source: Al Ahram)
By James M. Dorsey
A series of soccer protests in the past week in anticipation of a March 9 ruling in the politically loaded case of last year’s brawl in a Port Said stadium in which 74 fans died has focussed attention on the unaltered practices of the country’s Mubarak-era security forces as well as President Mohammed Morsi’s fragile relationship with the powerful military.
In a telltale statement on Facebook on Sunday, military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Ali denied reports that troops had clashed with police units in the Suez Canal city of Port Said on a day on which a demonstrator and a security officer were killed and more than 400 people injured in five week-old protests. Soccer protests in Cairo meanwhile blocked the road to the city’s international airport forcing visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry to delay his departure by two hours.
Colonel Ali said military units in Port Said where the protests expanded two…