Quartz: US intelligence sees soccer as indicator of discontent

To locate the next Arab Spring revolution, look to the soccer stands

It’s been said that soccer tells us all we need to know about

Now a Singapore-based blogger says soccer can tell us which
Middle East or North African government will be the next to
blow. At the top of the list: Algeria and Saudi Arabia.

James M. Dorsey looks at soccer as a lens through which to
view the fault lines carving up the Middle East and North Africa.
In Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and other countries, he says, soccer
played a key role in allowing pent-up anger and frustration to
percolate into organized protest that forced transitions from
autocratic rule to more open societies.

In these countries, those engaging in public forms of dissent are
often tortured and “disappeared.” Soccer fans, in contrast, are
allowed to vent as much as they want, and in large numbers.
Stadiums become incubators of protest and insurrection. One only
has to watch the action off the pitch to accurately gauge the mood
of the people and see how close they are to erupting into mass protest,
Dorsey tells Quartz.

Dorsey, a former Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent, has
been writing his blog for three years. In February 2011, 
he focused on the role of the militant, highly politicized, and well
organized soccer fans, known as Ultras, in Egypt’s uprising.
Here’s a taste:

One catch: Often, especially in family-run monarchies, the
countries’ leaders own soccer clubs as a status symbol, so 
fans might just be mad at the government for the latest losing 
streak. That might have been the case recently in Saudi Arabia, 
where fans booed Prince Faisal bin Turki, the owner of Riyadh 
soccer club Al Nassr FC.

Saudi soccer fans booing and pelting a prince.http://www.Alhilal.com/The Turbulent World of
Middle East Soccer blog
Dorsey doesn’t think so, and contends the Saudis are in trouble.
Washington-based Saudi dissident Ali al-Ahmad agrees, based on the
increasingly militant behavior of young male soccer fans in the stands
as well as on Facebook and YouTube.

“It has reached a breaking point. They are calling for overthrow, and
using very similar chants to fans in Tunisia and elsewhere,’’ said
al-Ahmad, of the Institute for Gulf Affairs. “When they are all together,
they are not afraid anymore.”

Dorsey predicts the next revolt will be in Algeria. Soccer fans there are
increasingly voicing opposition to 76-year old president Abdelaziz
Bouteflika, who is recovering from a stroke in Paris. Recently, they
interrupted a moment of silence during a match to commemorate the
death of a former leader, chanting “Bouteflika is next.”

Dorsey says some very influential security types, as well as soccer officials,
follow his blog for hints as to what is to come. One US intelligence official
agrees with Dorsey’s premise. The official, who has spent decades in the
Middle East and North Africa, said CIA officers routinely attend matches
to glean clues as to where a country is headed.

Often, the official said, an autocratic regime would cover up burgeoning
dissent by blaming it on hooliganism. The CIA person on the ground would
mention that, too, in the cable back to headquarters: “They would take note
of it all, and put it in context. As soon as the prince shows up, everyone
starts booing. That sort of thing.’’


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