Richard Whittall:

The Globalist's Top Ten Books in 2016: The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer

Middle East Eye: "

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer is one of the weightiest, most revelatory, original and important books written about sport"

“The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer has helped me immensely with great information and perspective.”

Bob Bradley, former US and Egyptian national coach: "James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle Eastern Soccer (has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture."
Alon Raab in The International Journal of the History of Sport: “Dorsey’s blog is a goldmine of information.”
Play the Game: "Your expertise is clearly superior when it comes to Middle Eastern soccer."
Andrew Das, The New York Times soccer blog Goal: "No one is better at this kind of work than James Dorsey"
David Zirin, Sports Illustrated: "Essential Reading"
Change FIFA: "A fantastic new blog'

Richard Whitall of A More Splendid Life:
"James combines his intimate knowledge of the region with a great passion for soccer"

Christopher Ahl, Play the Game: "An excellent Middle East Football blog"
James Corbett, Inside World Football

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Iran Nuclear Deal: Rewriting the Middle East Map

RSIS presents the following commentary The Iran Nuclear Deal: Rewriting the Middle East
Map 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

No. 217/2013 dated 27 November 2013
The Iran Nuclear Deal:
Rewriting the Middle East Map

By James M. Dorsey

The agreement to resolve the Iranian nuclear programme could rewrite the political map                           of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as strengthen the US pivot to Asia. It could                       also reintegrate Iran into the international community as a legitimate regional power.
IF ALL goes well, the preliminary agreement between Iran and the five permanent members
of the UN Security Council – the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia – plus
Germany, would ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme and ultimately
reintegrate it into the international community. In doing so, it would not only remove the
threat of a debilitating war with Iran and prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and
North Africa but also return the Islamic republic to the centre stage of the region’s
It would force regional powers such as Israel and Saudi Arabia to focus on their most
immediate issues rather than use the Iranian threat as a distraction, while offering the US
the opportunity to revert to its stated policy of pivoting from Europe and the Middle East to

Complex panacea

To be sure, a resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue is not a panacea for the vast array of
social, political, economic, ethnic, national and sectarian problems in the Middle East and
North Africa. Political and social unrest, boiling popular discontent with discredited regimes
and identity politics are likely to dominate developments in the region for years to come.

Nonetheless, Iran’s return to the international community is likely to provide the incentive for
it to constructively contribute to ending the bitter civil war in Syria, breaking the stalemate in
fragile Lebanon where the Shiite militia Hezbollah plays a dominant role, and furthering efforts
to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. That would also take some of the sting
out of the region’s dangerous slide into sectarian Sunni-Shiite conflict.

All of that would reduce the number of fires in the Middle East and North Africa that the
Obama administration has been seeking to control and that have prevented it from following
through on its intended re-focus on Asia.
Countering US policy

A resolution of the nuclear issue offers Iran far more than the ultimate lifting of crippling
international sanctions. Iran has over the last decade been able to effectively counter US
policy in the Middle East and North Africa through its support of Hezbollah which is the single
most powerful grouping in Lebanon; Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian faction in Gaza; its aid to
the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; backing of restive Shiite minorities
in the oil-rich Gulf states and Iraq; and ensuring that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister
Nuri al-Maliki looks as much toward Tehran as it does to Washington.

Iran’s incentive to become more cooperative is the fact that resolution of the nuclear issue
would involve acknowledgement of the Islamic republic as a legitimate regional power, one of
seven regional players - alongside Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Pakistan - that
have the ability or economic, military and technological strength to project power. It would
also allow Iran to capitalise on geostrategic gains it has made despite its international

Iran is likely to be further motivated by an easing and ultimate lifting of the sanctions that will
allow it to address boiling domestic social and economic discontent. President Hassan
Rouhani’s election earlier this year has for now replaced that powder keg with high expectations
that his more moderate policies would ease the heavy economic price Iran was paying for its
nuclear programme. This is despite many Iranians feeling disappointed that Iran will reap only
US$7 billion in benefits from the freshly concluded agreement in the coming six months. The $7
billion serve, however, as an incentive for Iran to come to a comprehensive and final
agreement on its nuclear programme.

From spoiler into a constructive player

What worries opponents of the nuclear deal like Israel and Saudi Arabia most is the potential transformation of Iran from a game spoiler into a constructive player. The nuclear deal removes
the Islamic republic as the foremost perceived threat to the national security of Israel and Saudi
Arabia. For Israel, this risks peace with the Palestinians reclaiming its position at the top of the
agenda, making it more difficult for the Israelis to evade the painful steps needed to end a
conflict that is nearing its centennial anniversary.

For Saudi Arabia, it complicates its efforts to fuel regional sectarianism, deflect calls for
equitable treatment of its Shiite minority as well as for greater transparency and accountability,
and establish itself as the region’s unrivalled leader.

Nowhere is that likely to be more evident than in Iranian policy towards Syria. Contrary to
perception and what Saudi Arabia and its allies would like the world to believe, Iranian-Syrian
relations are not based on sectarian affinity but on common interests stemming from
international isolation. That reality changes as Iran rejoins the international community.

For the US, a deal means evading at least for now the threat of another Middle East war
with potentially catastrophic consequences and enlisting Iran in addressing the region’s
problems. That creates space for it to focus on long term goals in Asia.

However, in removing Iran as a regional lightning rod, the US is likely to be forced to clearly
define a Middle East policy that balances short term national security with the reality of
years of regional volatility and unrest to come that could redraw some national borders and
is likely to involve messy political and social transitions, following the toppling in recent years
of autocrats in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen and the civil war in Syria.

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International
Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also co-director of the
University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The
Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the
same title.

Click here for past commentaries.
Find us on Facebook.
Due to the high number of publications by our RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional
Security Studies (NTS), RSIS maintains a separate subscription facility for the Centre.
Please click here to subscribe to the Centre's publications.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

American Pharaoh: Ex-U.S. coach Bradley has Egypt on brink of WCup (JMD quoted in SI)

Decrease font
Enlarge font
Former U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley is trying to lead Egypt to its first World Cup since 1990.
Former U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley is trying to lead Egypt to its first World Cup since 1990.
Look. There's Bob Bradley, the American coach of the Egyptian national soccer team. On a warm September night in Cairo, Bradley and his wife, Lindsay, arrive at the open-air El Prince restaurant in Imbaba, a vibrant working-class neighborhood in the Egyptian capital. Two years after a popular revolution, two months after a military takeover, one month after the mass killing of 800 protesters, the country remains on edge. A car bomb, the first in ages, went off the other day. Its intended target: the Minister of the Interior. Authorities just extended the state of emergency, including a curfew of 11 p.m. on most days and 7 p.m. on Fridays, the holy day, the day of demonstrations.
And yet in a divided country of 85 million, at least one unifying force has no opposition these days, and this bald 55-year-old coach from Essex Fells, N.J. -- the most visible American in Egypt's daily public life -- embodies that hope. As Bradley walks into the packed restaurant, diners rise from their tables and give him a standing ovation. Cellphone cameras go into overdrive. The waitstaff commences a chant, in English: "World Cup! World Cup! World Cup!"
Look. There's Bradley again. It's Sunday morning, and the coach and his wife are seated in the back of a Kia sedan inching through Cairo gridlock. Along the way they pass signposts of their two years in Egypt: the headquarters of the country's most famous club soccer team, Al-Ahly, with murals along its walls depicting the 74 Ahly fans who died in last year's Port Said Stadium tragedy; the home base of the Egyptian soccer federation (including Bradley's old office), which was torched by angry ultras after the court ruling on the Port Said deaths; and, finally, the Children's Cancer Hospital, where the Bradleys have donated their time and money as they've become an unexpected and deeply valued part of the Cairo community.
Inside, meeting young cancer patients and their parents, Bradley kneels low, offering smiles, ready with hugs. He and his wife are naturals, connecting with kids who've lost their hair, kids on IV drips, kids half-asleep in the arms of their tired-eyed parents. "Who's your favorite player?" Bradley asks one ailing boy.
"Aboutreika!" the child cries out, referring to the national team's star midfielder, Mohamed Aboutreika.
"Yeah," says Bradley. "Me too."
In another room Bradley encounters a beaming father. "You're the American Superman!" he says. "You're going to take us to the World Cup!"
Look: It's the word Bradley uses most often to start sentences, an unvarnished Jersey Guy way of talking. Even his Egyptian friends have started using it. (These days Egyptians also see any bald white guy of a certain age and yell, Bob!) But there's more to it than that.
Look. No, really. Look. Use your eyes. Observe. Think. Bob Bradley did not come to Egypt to blow a whistle and stick his head in the desert sand. "Wherever you live, this ability to look around you and be aware of others, this is what you try to do," he says. "We live here. We're aware of what's going on."
In August, one month after the Egyptian military overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood and president Mohamed Morsi, Bradley watched from his high-rise apartment on the bank of the Nile as protesters marched toward Ramses Square, only to encounter police forces. Black helicopters and smoke filled the air. Bradley heard gunfire pushing back the crowd: POP! POP! POP!
"Up until the last few weeks you always knew when and where things were heating up," he says. "Cairo's a huge city, and things just carry on. But for a few days it was more random and reckless." On Aug. 15, the U.S. State Department advised all Americans living in Egypt to evacuate the country. Ninety-nine percent of foreign soccer coaches in his situation would have left long ago.
But the Bradleys stayed. "Look, as I've gotten to know these players, we're brothers," says Bradley. "We're in something together. If this is who you are, you challenge people to be in all the way, and you explain what that means. Then you have to show them that you're in all the way. That's just how it is."
And while he stayed, the most amazing thing happened: The Pharaohs kept winning, kept advancing toward this soccer-mad nation's third World Cup berth and its first since 1990. You could throw any obstacle at Bradley's team -- a suspension of the domestic league, players who were earning no money, empty stadiums for home qualifiers, political divides within the squad, the uncertainty and turmoil that come with each day in Egypt. Before their last World Cup qualifier, against Guinea last month, some Egyptian players had to use magic markers to write their numbers on their shorts. Still, nothing has stopped the Pharaohs.
Of the more than 200 national teams that have chosen to participate in qualifying for World Cup 2014, the last one with a perfect record isn't Spain or Germany or Argentina. Only Egypt -- Egypt! -- has been spotless. Six games, six victories. And now comes the final test: a two-game home-and-away playoff starting on Tuesday at powerful Ghana. Only the winner will advance to Brazil next summer.
Mido, a former Egyptian star forward who now works as an analyst for Al Jazeera, says that his countrymen were skeptical at first of the American coach, imagining that Bradley would care only about fitness and the physical aspect of the sport. But he has won them over. "I think he has done great," says Mido. "He has been so strong mentally to stay in Egypt with all that's happened. The easy option was to leave, but he chose to fight."
The story of Bob Bradley and Egypt began transcending sports a long time ago. Now it's a symbol of hope for a nation. "It would be great for [the team] to qualify and experience with the Egyptian people the joy of caring about something together," says Jeffrey Stout, a Princeton religion professor and a Bradley confidant dating back to the coach's time at the school, from 1984 to '95. "That is what Bob could imagine ahead of time. What he couldn't imagine is how significant it would be for him and the team to behave well in public under circumstances where almost nobody else does. In a crisis situation for a country, there's this one place where people are doing the just thing in front of everyone, every day. And getting a group with differences to show what it's like to have relationships that don't involve dominating each other [and to hold] each other accountable -- that's a thumbnail sketch of what democracy is.
"For them to do that? That's a big deal."
Egypt is hardly what Bradley imagined as a next destination after he was fired by the U.S. following a Gold Cup-final loss to Mexico in July 2011. He aspired to a job in Europe and believed (not unreasonably) that he'd built a worthy résumé during his nine seasons as an MLS coach and, especially, four years with the Americans. That history included taking the MLS Cup in 1998 with the Chicago Fire, beating Spain to reach the 2009 Confederations Cup final and winning the U.S.'s '10 World Cup group, ahead of England, before losing in the Round of 16 to Ghana. But European clubs didn't bite. "When you're an American, earning respect and getting your foot in the door is hard, whether you're a player or a coach," says Bradley. "I feel strongly that with everything I've done, if I were German, Dutch, Spanish, French or Italian, I'd have had many opportunities in Europe."
Egypt came calling for several reasons: Bradley had impressed its federation by coaching the U.S. to a 3-0 victory over the Pharaohs in the 2009 Confederations Cup, and he had worked closely with an Egyptian-American, Zak Abdel, his goalkeepers coach with the U.S. and in MLS.
Egypt had soccer talent -- the team had won three straight African championships, in 2006, '08 and '10 -- but after a series of World Cup qualifying failures, Bradley saw the importance of breaking through and reaching Brazil in '14. For years Bradley had preached to his players and his children the value of embracing new challenges. Now he turned that expectation on himself. "When opportunities come along, you don't look back," he says. "Don't be afraid to put everything you have into something. If you're worried about the outcome, you don't get anywhere."
Bob Bradley and his wife, Lindsay, sought ways to help Egyptian children and families in need.
Bob Bradley and his wife, Lindsay, sought ways to help Egyptian children and families in need.
Scott Nelson/SI
Bob and Lindsay went all in. With three children all in their 20s and out of the house -- daughters Kerry and Ryan lived in L.A.; Michael, a U.S. midfielder, plays in Italy for Roma -- the timing made sense. "I was like, O.K., let's try this adventure and see what happens," says Lindsay, a former lacrosse standout at Virginia. Instead of living outside Egypt or in a gated compound on the outskirts of Cairo, the couple chose an apartment in Zamalek, close to the city center. The idea: The new coach couldn't know his players unless he had a sense of life on the ground in the post-revolution metropolis.
For more than a century, Egyptians' soccer passions have been tied to politics. Al-Ahly, founded in Cairo in 1907 by opponents of the British protectorate, served as a meeting point for the students who staged the '19 revolution that gained Egypt independence. One of the team's first presidents, Saad Zaghloul, also acted as the head of the country's nationalist party; and Gamal Abdel Nasser would hold the Ahly post (despite not being known as a soccer fan) before serving as the nation's president from '56 to '70. Meanwhile Al-Ahly's archrival, Zamalek, was known as "the King's Club," for its British sympathizers.
During his 29 years as head of state, starting in 1981, Hosni Mubarak fostered close ties with the national team, not least during the glory years of the Pharaohs' African three-peat. The national team's doctor still has a photo of himself and Mubarak on the wall of his office at a Cairo gym.
As Egyptian soccer expert James Dorsey points out, extreme fan groups, or ultras (especially those supporting Al-Ahly), played a pivotal role in the Arab Spring as part of a street-savvy resistance that helped overthrow Mubarak's regime in February 2011. Depending on whom you listen to, that support may have led to the tragic events a year later, on Feb. 1, 2012, when Al-Ahly visited Al-Masry, a team in Port Said whose fans had clashed in previous years with their Ahly counterparts.
"I'll remember it forever because I saw it on TV live, and I've seen it hundreds of times since," says Bradley, who was watching from the hospitality room at Cairo Stadium, where he was scouting a game alongside his wife and Abdel. "The final whistle blows and fans come running onto the field, and Ahly players are running for their lives. What immediately hits you is that there are police on the field, and they're not doing anything."
Someone shut off the Port Said Stadium lights. Someone bolted an exit gate, trapping the Ahly fans inside. It was a bloodbath. Ahly's players managed to escape to the safety of their locker room, which soon became a makeshift morgue. One young Ahly fan died in the arms of Aboutreika, a 10-year veteran of the team.
Back in Cairo, the Bradleys left the game with Abdel, who translated radio updates to their growing horror. Ten people are dead. ... It's up to 25. ... O.K., now it's 40. ... Fifty now. ... They're saying 74 dead. "Lindsay was crying, and Bob wasn't saying anything," Abdel recalls. "I'd never seen him like that before."
But Bradley did have questions -- lots of them. The coach reads about Egypt constantly (even on Twitter, though you'll never see him create his own account), and what he's learned from media and from his own experience applies as much to Port Said as it does to Egyptian life in general. "It's always easy to see what's on the surface," says Bradley. "What is harder to understand -- what's more complex -- is what goes on beneath the surface."
It's unlikely that anyone will ever know exactly what transpired in Port Said, but Bradley felt it was his duty as a leader to show the Egyptian people that he understood what they were going through. That included risking the wrath of authorities by saying on Al Jazeera English that he believed Port Said had been a massacre (implying premeditation), as opposed to spontaneous fan violence. "Exactly what went on, how it went down -- I still don't know," he says. "Nobody does. But look, this was a massacre."
At the time of Port Said, Bradley was only four months (and one game) into his national-team tenure. He and Lindsay could have taken the first plane out of Cairo. Instead they did something that astonished Egyptians. One day after the tragedy, they joined thousands of marchers at Sphinx Square in support of the victims and their families. The next day, they attended a memorial at Al-Ahly headquarters. "I hugged each player and looked into his eyes," says Bradley. "I knew what they had seen in that locker room. I could read it on their faces."
From that moment on, nothing would be the same in Egyptian soccer. The domestic league was suspended. Several players, including Aboutreika, announced they were retiring from the sport. A year later, in March, angry Ahly fans would set fire to the Egyptian federation building after a court acquitted seven of nine police officials from the Port Said case.
But in those searing days of February 2012, Egyptians noticed something in their new American coach, who quietly donated money to the victims' families. He was one of them now. When the Bradleys met with the families of the deceased, mothers gave Lindsay photographs of their children, young people in their teens and 20s who'd gone to a game and had never come home. Mother to mother, they knew she would understand.
How many of you have heard of Bruce Springsteen?"
New Jersey to his core, a fan of the Boss for life, Bradley thought at least one of his players would raise a hand when he asked this at one of his first team meetings. To his dismay, nobody did.
"Who is he?" asked midfielder Hossam Ghaly.
"Come on, friend, and sit with me," said Bradley, who started playing Land of Hopes and Dreams on his iPhone. The lyrics applied to Egypt too, Bradley thought, and so he had Abdel translate some for the room: Leave behind your sorrows/Let this day be the last/-Tomorrow there'll be sunshine/And all this darkness past.
In many ways Bradley has approached the Pharaohs the same way that he did the U.S. team: Keep practices relatively short, high-energy and organized to the minute; demand teamwide accountability and the willingness to say constructive things that others (including the coach) might not want to hear; and preach the purity of the team, the need to rely on the inner circle of players and coaches, shutting out all distractions, all excuses for failure.
But, recognizing that he's in a new environment, Bradley has also summoned all of his powers to connect not just with his players but also with the Egyptian people. In long conversations between Bradley and Stout, the Princeton professor, they spoke about respect as a concept that resonates with Mediterranean cultures. The two friends have talked about what it means to Egyptians for Bradley to identify as a family member more than as a U.S. citizen. Bradley, for example, often refers to his players, publicly and privately, as "my brothers." And yet there was always the understanding that those players would only believe in Bradley if they saw him back it up with his actions every day.
In his meetings with players, Bradley addresses challenges that he never faced as the U.S. coach. After Port Said, Al-Masry goalkeeper Amir Abdelhamid -- a reserve for Egypt -- expressed concern about driving to the national team camp in Cairo because his car's license plates identified him as being from Port Said. Meanwhile, with domestic players not being paid while the league is suspended, the strain is palpable.
Not every player has bought in. Before a friendly against Chile in February, Bradley informed Egypt's veteran first-choice goalkeeper, Essam El-Hadary, that he wasn't going to start. At halftime El-Hadary told a journalist that he was retiring from the Pharaohs, which became the big postgame story. El-Hadary believed he could force Bradley to recall him, but instead the coach thanked him the next morning for his services. Bradley hasn't brought him back since.
The coach has pushed back on a few Egyptian traditions too, notably the use of the term captain. In Egypt, not only does the player with the most seniority wear the captain's armband during games -- a practice that Bradley accepts as something he can't change -- but the term captain is used frequently as an honorific for anyone who's seen as a leader, even (in Bradley's opinion) blowhards who don't deserve it. After hearing "Captain Bradley" a few too many times at a recent practice, Bradley called one of his equipment managers, Abdullah Mohamed, and asked him to stand with him in front of the team. "Listen," Bradley told them, "every other word here is captain-captain-captain. We have media who used to play on the national team who rip us, and then they come here and you guys show them this phony respect and call them captain. And they're trying to destroy our team. Meanwhile, here's Abdullah. He's a good man. He works hard. He will do anything for us. Look, I've been here for two years. How long have you been here, Abdullah? Twenty years. I'm not captain. He's captain!"
It's a running theme with Bradley. When the Egyptian league was still operating, a television broadcast showed him sitting in the stands next to Abdel and, one seat down, Bradley's driver, Hany Abdel Wadood. When a federation board member angrily demanded that the driver be told to wait in his car outside the stadium, Bradley asked Wadood to move into the seat next to him.
Bradley has won the respect of his players by learning their culture and connecting with them on a personal level.
Bradley has won the respect of his players by learning their culture and connecting with them on a personal level.
Scott Nelson/SI
The coach has kept his inner circle small, limiting it to his players and assistants. No relationship has grown stronger than the one between Bradley and Aboutreika, one of the most fascinating figures in world soccer. A few years ago, when Egypt and Ahly were the champions of Africa, the midfield wizard was regarded as the world's best player not plying his trade in Europe or South America. He could have moved to a top international club had he wished; though not particularly fast or smooth, Aboutreika is blessed with a vision for making passes that nobody else could have visualized. But he loved Egypt and made good money, so he stayed, earning the devotion of Egyptian fans. Aboutreika was different in other ways too. Devoutly religious and the owner of a university degree in philosophy, he didn't lack the courage to speak his mind. After scoring a goal at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, he revealed a T-shirt that read SYMPATHIZE WITH GAZA, only increasing his stature throughout the Middle East.
By the time Bradley took over in late 2011, however, there were whispers that Aboutreika, at 33, was too old. In the days before Bradley's first game, against Brazil, Aboutreika wasn't even starting for Ahly, so the coach left him off his squad. The decision caused an uproar (NEW COACH DROPS STAR MIDFIELDER!), and Aboutreika's dream of making his first World Cup appeared in jeopardy. Yet Bradley took notice: Aboutreika never lashed out to the media in the way that many players would have; instead he said it was on him to earn back a spot in the national team. As Bradley kept an eye on Ahly games, the old Aboutreika reemerged.
Then Port Said happened, and everything stopped. After waiting several weeks to respect the dead, Bradley arranged a meeting with Aboutreika in Cairo. The start of World Cup qualifying was three months away; the player had thought about it and he didn't want to retire after all, he told Bradley. His message was clear: Whatever you need from me, I'll do it. I would love to have one more chance to reach the World Cup.
"I got a sense with him," says Bradley. "When you talk about having a blood brother in this, where you bleed for him and he'll bleed for you -- this was a really good man."
Aboutreika's reemergence has been crucial for the Pharaohs. In his first game back, a March 2012 friendly against Uganda, he scored the game-winner in stoppage time. During Egypt's rampage through its World Cup qualifying group, he started all six matches and scored five goals, including two in the key victory, a 3-2 come-from-behind win at Guinea. What's more, at 34 he's mentoring Egypt's promising young forward, 21-year-old Mohamed Salah. It's no coincidence that at his club team, FC Basel, Salah wears number 22. Aboutreika's number.
Stout hears these stories about Aboutreika from his old friend and shakes his head with wonder. "Here's somebody who gets up every day and asks, 'How do I do the just thing concretely to other people?' " the professor says in Princeton, where he first coached youth teams with Bradley in the 1980s. "Now you have a coach and a player who are both like that? It's unusual to have either of those things in any team, anywhere. The players are gathering around it. It's like Red Auerbach and Bill Russell -- that level of human beings, coming from these different worlds. What remarkable athletic thing can happen because of the way they deal with their business every day and with each other?"
"You meet a lot of people in Egypt who have two faces," says Tomasz Kaczmarek, the Pharaohs' conditioning coach. "They're one way in the media and another way when the camera is off. Aboutreika has one face."
Only sometimes, in today's polarized Egyptian political climate, that honesty comes with a price.
Egypt is so close to the World Cup. Just two games away. Yet it's impossible to separate the Egyptian players from what's happening around them. The military takeover in June removed the Muslim Brotherhood and the democratically elected (but plainly faltering) Morsi from power. The majority of Egyptians now support the military leaders, who cracked down violently in July on massed Brotherhood protesters, a handful of them armed, before outlawing the Brotherhood altogether.
But demonstrations continue. The divide in Egypt persists. "Now, in this country, if you disagree with me, you're my enemy -- that's the mentality," says Abdel. "My older sister here, she thinks [the military takeover] was a revolution. My brother in the States thinks it's a coup. Now they don't talk to each other. Can you imagine? Brother and sister? It's crazy."
As Bradley prepares his team for the winner-take-all, aggregate-goal playoff against Ghana (Egypt will host the second leg in Cairo on Nov. 19), he faces the ongoing challenge of keeping his players together. "At a time when the country is divided, you want to make sure the national team stands together in a strong way," he says.
But that's tough. These days many of his players support the military rulers. Aboutreika, however, backs the Muslim Brotherhood. Occasionally, he and Bradley talk about political stories they've both read. Bradley has always encouraged debate and give-and-take on his teams, but he has never led in the midst of a political crisis. During the turmoil of July and August, Aboutreika was active on his Twitter feed,
@aboutrikamoham1, writing:
I supported Dr. Morsi out of complete conviction . . . in light of the success of the January 25 revolution and the freedoms and expression of opinion that followed ... I think there will be a real democracy and respect for other opinions, but unfortunately this hasn't happened. So I decided not to talk politics. ... But when it has to do with reputation and dignity I will not be quiet.
Aboutreika's pro-Brotherhood statements have caused tension with some teammates, but there has of yet been no noticeable toll on the Pharaohs' on-field chemistry. For his part, Bradley has walked a fine line. "Look," he says, "Treika has had the strength to always stand behind his beliefs and say what he thinks, and that doesn't always work here. But I will defend that part of him forever, because he is a good man and cares about Egypt. In order to focus on doing everything to get to the World Cup, he's picked up on the need to not be high-profile at the moment."
It would be easy to wrap a bow around the Pharaohs' World Cup qualifying success, to view the team as an oasis of harmony sealed off from the rest of society. But life isn't like that. The truth: Much of Bradley's finest coaching has taken place in that spot he so often talks about, beneath the surface. Coaxing a group with conflicting opinions into behaving in public? Holding each other accountable? Finding a way to reach a common goal in the face of so many challenges? For them to do that? That's a big deal.
Aboutreika hasn't tweeted since late August, but one of his final posts struck a note of hope for all Egyptians: Loving your country doesn't mean advertising. It means actions and feelings that translate this love. This love is among the ways that we get closer to God. I love you, Egypt.
Next Tuesday, on a soccer field in Ghana, those actions will recommence.

Read More:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Role for World Cup in Arab Spring? (JMD in Global Brief)

QUERY | November 11, 2013     

What Role for the World Cup in the Arab Spring?Less than a year from Brazil 2014, in Egypt and Turkey alike, the stadiums give the pulse of the protests and the people

A soccer brawl last year, in which more than 70 militant soccer fans died, galvanized significant numbers of Egyptians against the military and security forces. The brawl accelerated the military’s desire to turn power over to an elected government.
Eighteen months later, mass protests, involving Muslim Brothers, non-Brothers and street battle-hardened soccer fans took place to oppose the military ouster of elected president Mohamed Morsi and the subsequent brutal crackdown on the Brotherhood. Both the coup and the crackdown were backed by a significant segment of Egyptian society.
The resistance to military rule and the security forces by many soccer fans and the youth groups that formed the backbone of the popular uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak out of office in early 2011 is again visible. Today, this is a resistance that has been adopted by a far wider part of the Egyptian public, and indeed reinforced by what many Egyptians perceive to be a restoration of some of the repressive features of the Mubarak era. In other words, even if Morsi had succeeded in becoming widely reviled after only a year in office, the return of the capricious security force brutality that was one of the main drivers of Mubarak’s removal has the soccer ultras exercised. This has been evident in various forms of violent pro-Morsi protests inside and outside of Egypt’s soccer stadiums.
The impact of soccer fans is, of course, not exclusive to Arab autocracies. It also felt in the region’s illiberal democracies – the possible direction of Turkey, for instance. Egyptian strongman General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan see their critics in the same terms – as terrorists who need to be harshly subdued. Soccer fans rank high on both their agendas.
Both Egypt and Turkey remain deeply polarized. Public opinion is fluid. Backing in Egypt for the coup against Morsi is fragile and conditional. Cracks in that support have manifested themselves despite a significant number of Egyptians egging on the military and the security forces to be even tougher in their crackdown on the Brotherhood.
By the same token, Egypt’s deep polarization has not left the militant soccer fans untouched. The crisis in Egyptian soccer was famously amplified by last year’s deadly brawl in Port Said. And while the ultras as organizations have refrained from joining the fray, many of their members and leaders have, reflecting the gamut of political views in their ranks. For instance, in a twist of irony, many Ultras White Knights (UWK) joined the pro-Morsi protests. The UWK is a fan group of storied Cairo club Al Zamalek SC, which traces its roots to support of the monarchy that was toppled by the military coup in 1952 and replaced by Arab nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser became the club’s president and brutally repressed the Brotherhood.
The arch rivals of the UWK, Ultras Ahlawy, the fan group of Al Ahly SC – historically the nationalist club – issued their first anti-Brotherhood statement in more than a year weeks into the current crackdown. The statement ended the group’s silence in respect of the government while Morsi was in office. By refraining from attacking the government, Ahlawy had hoped that harsh verdicts would be served in the trial of those responsible for the deaths in Port Said. Ahlawy got only partial satisfaction: while 21 supporters of Port Said’s Al Masry SC were sentenced to death, seven of the nine security officials were acquitted.
“The ultras have become fascists. Like Egypt, they have collapsed. They have no values and no real beliefs,” said one former ultras leader, who left his group in protest at the political turn that it had taken. In a perverse way, the difficulty of Egyptian and Turkish ultras in defining themselves is not dissimilar to that of the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has yet to make up its mind as to whether it is a social or a political movement. That decision may become easier if it survives the crackdown and emerges strong enough one day to negotiate the terms of a political solution to Egypt’s crisis – a prospect that, to be sure, appears increasingly unlikely.
The Egyptian and Turkish ultras, for their part, refuse to acknowledge that they are as much about politics as they are about soccer. Their battle in Egypt for freedom in the stadiums and their prominent role in the toppling of Mubarak, as well as their opposition to the military rulers that succeeded him and the Morsi government, made them political by definition. Those who populated their rank and file were united in their support for their club and their deep-seated animosity toward the security forces. Alas, they were united on little else.
The ultras’ fate could change if Egypt continues down the road on which it has embarked – that of a restoration of Mubarak’s police state. Repression with little more than a democratic façade could again turn stadiums into political battlefields. The former ultra again: “I’m afraid of the return of the military state. That is not what I fought for in the stadiums and on Tahrir Square. I’m also afraid of the Brotherhood. It’s a choice between two evils. If you ask me now, I’d opt for the military, but that could well change once this is all over.”
The Turkish ultras have one leg up on their Egyptian counterparts. Carsi, the support group of Istanbul’s Besiktas JK, with a massive following across the country, traces its roots to the far left and positions itself as anarchist. Still, despite having wholeheartedly embraced massive anti-Erdogan protests last June in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, they, like the Egyptians, are responding to the backlash by insisting on their pro-forma apolitical nature – this after 20 of their numbers were charged with belonging to an illegal organization.
Neither the government nor the ultras have illusions. Both are preparing for confrontations this fall and into the new year – not in Taksim, but in the stadiums and the universities. The prospect of renewed protests has prompted the Erdogan government to announce measures that could have been taken from Al-Sisi’s playbook. They include replacing private security forces in stadiums and on campuses with police forces; banning the chanting of political slogans during soccer matches; requiring clubs to force spectators to sign a pledge to abide by the ban before attending a game; and cancelling scholarships for students who participate in anti-government protests.
To drive home the message that protest equals terrorism, a video issued by the Anti-Terrorism Office in Ankara warned that protests were the first step toward terrorism. The 55-second video featuring a young woman demonstrator-turned-suicide bomber warned the public that “our youth, who are the guarantors of our future, can start with small demonstrations of resistance that appear to be innocent, and after a short period of time, can engage without a blink in actions that may take the lives of dozens of innocent people.”
As in Egypt, Erdogan’s efforts to squash further protests are failing. Fans have been reminding the government that the battle is not over – and indeed may only have just begun – when they chant during the matches, demanding political resignations: “Everywhere Is Taksim Square! Everywhere Is Resistance!” It is a slogan that the Brotherhood has adopted as it has launched regular, smaller-scale protests across Cairo and the rest of Egypt – a tactical evolution meant to avoid the massive demonstrations that risk ending in a bloodbath.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture. He is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog.
(Photograph: The Canadian Press / AP / Amir Nabil)

Qatar launches politically sensitive survey into low soccer match attendance

By James M. Dorsey

Qatari authorities, in a bid to counter criticism that the Gulf state lacks a soccer culture as well as a sense that low attendance of matches could constitute a form of protest, has launched a politically sensitive survey to gauge reasons for its empty stadia.

The survey on the website of the Qatar Statistics Authority (QSA), in cooperation with the Qatar Football Association (QFA) and the Sports Statistics Technical Committee, is likely to produce limited responses given that participants are required to identify themselves by entering their email addresses and the fact that the survey does not include questions about whether club ownership is a factor. To be fair, the survey does not verify email addresses which means participants do not necessarily need to provide a correct address.

The survey is further noteworthy as it seeks to canvass the opinions of both Qataris, who account for a small minority of the Gulf state’s 2 million inhabitants, and non-Qataris. It constitutes the second time this year that authorities have used sports to reach out to the county’s majority of foreigners.

Qatar fundamentally views foreigners as guests obliged to leave when their professional contracts expire in a policy that was designed to fend off non-Qataris developing ties that could persuade them to make Qatar their permanent home. At stake for Qataris is a deep-seated fear that a foreign majority that has a stake in the country and could adopt it as their homeland would threaten the integrity of Qatari culture and control of society.

Under mounting pressure from the international trade union movement and human rights groups to enforce international labor standards that has recently increased with world soccer body FIFA and the European Parliament joining the fray, Qatar earlier this year organized its first ever tournament for soccer teams of foreign workers in which 16 teams participated. Soccer officials said they were likely to launch a league for 32 teams of foreign workers. Qatari soccer authorities had until then not acknowledged teams made up of foreign workers and Qatari clubs catered almost exclusively to Qatari nationals.

The survey comes as Qatar is taking a public relations beating over working and living conditions of foreign workers, many of whom are involved in projects related to the 2022 World Cup that the Gulf state expects to stage.

The survey, because it is online and in English, targets expatriates rather than foreign workers who hail primarily from South Asia, have at best limited access to the Internet and frequently have a poor command, if any, of English.

The absence of whether club ownership influences match attendance is important because many Qatari clubs are owned by state institutions like the military or members of the Al Thani ruling family who account for an estimated 20 percent of Qatari nationals.

Qatari executives privately suggested earlier this year that the fact that Qataris represent a small minority of the population and that Qatari clubs have hitherto refrained from reaching out to the non-Qatari public may not be the only reasons for low match attendance. They said a third reason was that many Qataris did not want to watch “the Sheikh’s club” play – a reference to club ownership by the ruling elite. The executives said authorities were considering transferring ownership to publicly held companies.

Suggestions that some Qataris see non-attendance of local matches as a way of expressing dissent are not the only indication of protest in the Gulf state in recent years. Conservative Qataris have in recent years organized online boycotts of the state-owned telecommunications company as well as Qatar Airways and in a few cases have spoken out to question the ruler’s authority to issue decrees. Those criticisms occurred before Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani earlier this year abdicated in favor of his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Khalifa.

Sheikh Tamim, a sports fan who is widely viewed as more conservative than his father, was expected to focus more on domestic issues than on international affairs. Sources said Sheikh Tamim’s conservatism was evident in recent legislation that seeks to regulate behavior in public and reinforce government attempts to increase Qatari participation in the workforce that is overwhelmingly foreign. In a further development, the government recently approved draft legislation introducing a mandatory four-month military service for Qatari males aged 18 to 35 years old.

Doha News this week quoted the editor of Qatari sports magazine Qatar Stadium Plus, Ahmad al Mohannadi, as saying: “Considering the number of cases coming out in the open, the Ministry (of Labor), to say the least, has failed to perform. It’s time someone responsible from the ministry gave a true picture of the situation, own up the failures and also tell the world what steps are being taken to solve the problems.”

The government in response to a damning report issued by Amnesty International earlier this month said it would increase oversight and enforcement to address issues in the report that include non-payment of wages, “harsh and dangerous” working conditions,  “shocking standards” of accommodation and some cases of “forced labor.” The Foreign Ministry was further reported to have instructed law firm DLA Piper to investigate concerns raised by Amnesty.

At the same time, Qatar appeared this weekend to be signaling that its foreign policy that is at odds with that of its Gulf state partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), foremost among which Saudi Arabia, had not changed. In a blistering attack on Egypt’s military-backed government and armed forces, prominent Qatar-based Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi said Egypt was being ruled by thugs who kill people and steal their money."

Speaking in Doha’s Omar Ibn al-Khattab Mosque, Egyptian-born Sheikh Qaradawi, who has close ties to the Qatar-supported Muslim Brotherhood that was ousted from power by the Egyptian military in July, said “those oppressors have killed worshipers, fasters, pious people and readers of Quran who did not harm anybody. The military, police, thugs, and snipers killed thousands in Rabaa al-Adawiya which was obvious injustice,” a reference to the Cairo Square on which the Brotherhood camped out for weeks to protest against the removal of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president from office. Hundreds of people were killed in August when security forces brutally broke up the protest.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

What it means to call the bombing of Iran's embassy in Beirut 'sectarian violence' (JMD quoted on Global Post)

Iran embassy Shia funeral sectarian violence
Shia women mourn during the funeral of four Iranian embassy security guards who were killed in the suicide attack outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut. Thousands of people turned out to mourn for the guards, all of whom were members of Lebanon's powerful Shia movement Hezbollah, which is also backed by Iran and is fighting alongside Assad's troops against Sunni-led rebels. (Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

What it means to call the bombing of Iran's embassy in Beirut 'sectarian violence'

Syria's civil war is increasingly seen as stoking a regional conflict based on religious differences. But don't forget about political motives, analysts say.

BEIRUT — In the aftermath of the horrific twin bombings of the Iranian Embassy here, streets remained strewn with rubble and burned-out cars. Two suicide bombers unsuccessfully attempted to blow up the embassy, killing 25 and wounding more than 150. It made the once peaceful, upper-income Shia neighborhood of Bir Hasan look like a war zone with violence and devastation Lebanese haven’t seen in Beirut's residential areas for years.
Many analysts say the Tuesday terrorist attack was retaliation for Iran’s support for the government inSyria’s civil war. An extremist Sunni Muslim group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, took credit for striking at Iran, which is predominantly Shia, thus stoking the already smoldering religious tensions in the region.
Groups in Lebanon and regional powers such as Iran, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have all taken sides in the Syrian civil war. While politics remains at the heart of the dispute, the battle has taken on an increasingly sectarian character, cutting along the Sunni/Shia lines of demographically divided Lebanon. Sunnis and Shia constitute about an equal percent of the population, with Christians and minorities making up the rest.
“Sectarian divisions between Sunnis and Shiites have come to dominate the narrative because that suited various powers in the region,” according to James M. Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “The danger is that the imposition of a sectarian narrative begins to live a life of its own.”
Holly Dagres, a researcher at Cairo Review of Political Affairs, noted that the the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group, justifies killing civilians because it’s waging “jihad against the Shiites who are seen as kaffirs (infidels). In 2012, the AAB threatened to punish Lebanese Shiites for backing [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad. The bombings are blowback of such support.”
“The danger is that the imposition of a sectarian narrative begins to live a life of its own.”
~James M. Dorsey
The Beirut embassy bombing is believed to be the fourth violent sectarian attack in Lebanon in the past five months. 
* In July a car bomb exploded in a Shia neighborhood of Beirut, wounding more than 50.
* On Aug. 15 another car bomb killed 30 and wounded more than 300 in a different Shia neighborhood.
* On Aug. 23, two car bomb attacks in the northern city of Tripoli killed 47 and wounded more than 500.
Extremist Sunni groups were suspected of planting the bombs in an effort to support Sunni fighters inSyria. Tuesday’s Iran embassy bombing was a serious escalation because it involved suicide bombers, a tactic not used in the previous incidents.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades named itself after an Arab Mujahideen leader who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s and died in Pakistan in 1989.
The AAB spiritual guide, Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, tweeted his group’s responsibility for the embassy bombing, demanding that "all Iran fighters withdraw from Syria and our families [be] granted freedom in Lebanon.”
The AAB and similar extremist Sunnis cloak their political views in religious rhetoric against Shiites, according to analyst Dagres.
Such groups “do not accept Shiites because of an array of reasons such as the culture of the sainthood [and] their means of seeking blessing through holy shrines. Although Bashar Al-Assad is Alawite, it is seen as a sect of Shiite Islam and therefore on the side of the Shiites.”
Such sectarian hatred is a distortion of Islam used to justify attacks on innocent civilians, according to Reza Sanati, a Research Fellow at the Middle East Studies Center, Florida International University.
“Al Qaeda ideology allows mass, systemic violence on civilians – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – for the attainment of political goals,” he said. “In this specific case, Al Qaeda’s goal was to attack a sworn enemy: Iran.”
The majority of foot soldiers in extremist groups “engage in this behavior for more than religious reasons,” said Sanati, “usually for political and for personal profit as well. Many come from poor backgrounds and find this line of work as highly profitable, but obviously very dangerous. The financiers of the extremists are almost always motivated by geostrategic interests, as opposed to just sectarian reasons.”
For example, he noted, “The Saudis do not attack a Shia-majority country like Azerbaijan.” Similarly, Iran backs Christian Armenia in its dispute with Azerbaijan.
Along the regional sectarian fault line, Iran is predominantly Shia. The difference between the Sunni and Shia dates back to the 7th century, following the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The Shia denomination believed a direct descendant of the prophet, his cousin and son-in-law Ali, should inherit what was a political and religious position and that direct lineage is still what maintains the theological purity of the faith. Iran supports Hezbollah, a prominent and powerful Shia political and military force within Lebanon. And Iran has long supported the secular Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad for geopolitical reasons.
On the other side sits Saudi Arabia, predominantly Sunni, which split from the Shia in the 7th century and followed the rule of a friend of the prophet, Abu Bakr. The Sunni denomination represents approximately 70 percent of the Muslim world, and the Shia represent between 10 and 20 percent.
The Saudi monarchy adheres to a particularly puritanical Sunni set of beliefs, known as Wahhabism. This ultra-conservative view of Sunni Islam is embraced by the more militant regional Islamist movements and opposition groups in Syria. So Syria has become a kind of proxy war, broadly pitting Assad’s Iranian-backed government against a Saudi-backed opposition.
Most Western powers side with the rebels fighting Assad, while Russia supports the regime.
This Sunni-Shia tension is exploding elsewhere in the region as well, particularly in Iraq, which is also divided between Sunni and Shia Muslims, along with minority Kurds and Christians. The sectarian violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since the worst days of the US occupation of Iraq in 2005-6.
While outside powers stoke the Sunni-Shia divide, sectarianism has become an increasingly dangerous force, according to analyst Dagres.
“Syria is a grand example,” she said. “Even if one is anti-Assad but Alawite, it can get one killed and vice versa. No longer does 'who side you support matter' — it's all about your religion, and it's becoming worse by the day.”

Reese Erlich, who is reporting from Syria and Lebanon on a travel grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, is the lead reporter in the GlobalPost Special Report on the Sunni/Shia divide, “In The Land of Cain and Abel,” which is made possible through a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.