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Showing posts from June, 2013

Planned mass protests in Egypt echo Cairo’s Tahrir Square uprising

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Ultras play cat and mouse
By James M. Dorsey
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and militant, street battle-hardened soccer fans, in a replay of the run-up to mass protests two years ago that ousted Hosni Mubarak are positioning themselves for planned watershed mass demonstrations for and against the government this weekend.
In a statement almost identical to the one they issued on January 24, 2011, the eve of 18 days of protests that toppled Mr. Mubarak, Ultras Ahlawy, the militant support group of crowned Cairo club Al Ahli SC that played a key role in the former president’s overthrow, said this week that as an organization it would not participate in the demonstrations on the anniversary of Mr. Morsi’s ascendancy as Egypt’s first freely elected president, but that its members were free to do so.
The statement insisted that that Ultras Ahlawy was a group of soccer fans “that has nothing to do with politics.” It said the group had decided “not to get involved in politics again after …

Transition in Qatar: Will he or won’t he?

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By James M. Dorsey
Conventional wisdom predicts that 33-year old Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani will adhere to his father’s use of sports as a key foreign, defense and security policy tool to embed Qatar in the international community. Experts and pundits suggest that Sheikh Tamim at best will nibble at the fringe of his father’s at times bold policies by expanding the government’s focus on domestic issues.
No doubt, Sheikh Tamim has demonstrated his interest in sports as head of the Qatar Olympic Committee and by creating Qatar National Sports Day, a popular annual event on February 14. That move coupled with his chairing of the Supreme Education Council lies at the core of the suggestion that he will focus not only on the emirate’s regional and global projection but also on his country’s domestic affairs.
As always, the devil is in the detail. No doubt, outgoing emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani will be remembered as a visionary who put his tiny country on the world map, chan…

Egyptian soccer matches foreshadow mass anti-government protest

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By James M. Dorsey
Controversial soccer matches this weekend constitute a potential walk-up to a watershed mass anti-government demonstration on June 30 that has Egyptians of all political stripes bracing themselves for political violence and increased uncertainty
The soccer matches and mounting tension in advance of the protest are likely to be seen by militant, highly politicized, violence-prone and street battle-hardened soccer fans as an opportunity to demonstrate their sustained mettle and resolve. The fans, one of Egypt’s largest civic groups, played a key role in the toppling two years ago of President Hosni Mubarak 2.5 years ago and opposition to the military and the Muslim Brotherhood-led government since.
Concern about clashes at the matches and the protest has also sparked debate within the security forces and the military, who are widely held responsible for the deaths of some 900 protesters since the ousting of Mr. Mubarak, on how to deal with potential soccer-related vi…

Iran’s New President: Averting a Popular Revolt

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RSIS presents the following commentary Iran’s New President: Averting a Popular Revolt by James M. Dorsey. It is also available online at this link. (To print it, click on this link). Kindly forward any comments or feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentaries, at  RSISPublication@ntu.edu.sg ________________________________________
       No. 109/2013 dated 18 June 2013

Iran’s New President: Averting a Popular Revolt
By James M. Dorsey
Synopsis

The election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran's new president signals a possible change in direction in Iran’s foreign policy. It also underscores Supreme Leader Sayed Ali Khamenei’s apparent move to avert a popular uprising.
Commentary
THE ELECTION by a clear majority of cleric Hassan Rouhani as Iran's new president on 15 June 2013 has secured for Supreme Leader Sayed Ali Khamenei the most moderate of candidates. Rouhani’s landslide victory, his endorsement by reformist leaders barred from running, and the high voter turnout, all signalled th…

Egypt’s Morsi turns to Syria and soccer to polish his tarnished image

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President Morsi announces rupture with Syria in Cairo stadium
By James M. Dorsey
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his flailing Muslim Brotherhood have turned to foreign policy and soccer to improve their battered image in advance of a planned mass anti-government protest at the end of this month and mounting calls for his resignation.
In a bid to distract attention from his domestic woes, curry favor with the United States and Gulf countries and restore Egypt to a leadership position in the Middle East and North Africa, Mr. Morsi chose a Cairo stadium to announce to his rallied supporters that he was cutting diplomatic ties with the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The president’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood at the same time said it would field candidates for the board elections of storied Cairo soccer club Al Zamalek SC and other major football teams. The move is an effort to gain control of clubs in a soccer-crazy country whose huge fan base played a key poli…

Soccer threaten to spark protests as Iran goes to the polls

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President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits Iranian national team
By James M. Dorsey
With four days left in the run-up to Iran’ presidential election, Supreme Leader Sayed Ali Khamenei has more to worry about than ensuring that a sufficiently malleable candidate emerges as winner. A crucial victory on Tuesday in Iran’s 2014 World Cup qualifier could bring thousands into the streets in celebrations that have in the past turned into anti-government protests.
The risks mount if none of the eight presidential candidates wins 50 percent. A second round on June 21 would follow on the heels of the Iranian national team’s final qualifier against South Korea on June 18. An Iranian victory in that game would provide Iranians two opportunities to celebrate: on match day and when the victorious team returns to Tehran shortly thereafter.
If the past is any yardstick, World Cup soccer victories are volatile moments in Iran. This time round, a soccer victory could prove to be particularly volatile. Discont…

Mega sports events: A double-edged sword

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By James M. Dorsey
There is a lesson to be learnt from this year’s Formula One public relations disaster in Bahrain, trade union pressure on Qatar, controversy over Israel’s hosting of the FIFA Under-21  finals, last year’s successful International Olympic Committee (IOC) campaign that forced three reluctant Muslim nations to field for the first time women athletes at a global sporting event and the recent election of a Bahraini soccer executive as president of the troubled Asian Football Confederation : mega-events and campaigning for office in international sports associations empower activists and put nations at risk of reputational damage.
Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone acknowledged as much saying in April that Bahrain had been “stupid” to allow the Grand Prix to go ahead because it gave a platform to thousands demonstrating against perceived autocratic rule and lack of rights. Mr. Ecclestone’s criticism didn’t stop him however from expressing willingness to extend his contra…

Tahrir’s lesson for Taksim: Police brutality unites battle-hardened fans

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By James M. Dorsey
If there is one lesson Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan should have drawn from the popular revolts that toppled four Arab leaders and sparked civil war in Syria in the last two years, it is that police brutality strengthens protesters’ resolve and particualrly that of militant, street battle-hardened soccer fans.
As police on Friday unleashed tear gas and water cannons on demonstrators opposed to the planned destruction of a historic park on Istanbul’s Taksim Square, thousands of fans from rival clubs, united for the first time in decades, arrived to protect the protesters and raise morale.
In a replay of events on Cairo’s Tahrir Square that toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, thousands of fans took up positions, erected barricades, counterattacked the police and threw tear gas cannisters straight back into the ranks of law enforcement.
“It was a critical moment. Supporters of all the big teams united for the first time against police violence. Th…

Taksim is not (yet) Tahrir

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Thousands of soccer fans march towards Taksim
By James M. Dorsey

Almost a week of countrywide protests in Turkey have left an indelible mark on the country’s political landscape: broad discontent with the policies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies and increasing haughtiness bubbled to the surface; militant soccer fans thousands of whom joined the Taksim Square protests united and were politicized; and the role police force plays in solidifying opposition groups and resolve was highlighted.
Mr. Erdogan’s intransigence and hard-handed police attempts to suppress the protest with tear gas and water cannons swelled the ranks of the demonstrators and turned a demand for perseverance of a 75-year old Istanbul park into a massive call for the prime minister’s resignation. Thousands of militant fans of Istanbul’s three rival soccer clubs led by the left-wing, most politicized of the support groups Carsi, the ultras’ of Besiktas JK, joined forces for the first time in 30 years …