31 October 2014
Football fans exploiting stadia as contested public space emerged more than three years ago as a key force in anti-government protests that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and opposition to subsequent military rule. With stadia closed to spectators for much of the period since then, protesting students backed by militant football fans have turned university campuses into the new stadia with hundreds detained and scores killed. Theirs is a battle for public space and resistance to efforts by general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to depoliticise youth emboldened by its success in overthrowing a dictator after 30 years in office and angered by their being side-lined in the wake of their successful revolt and the rolling back of heavily fought achievements.
With Al-Sisi employing brute force by security forces, a private security firm reportedly owned by generals and regime-friendly businessmen, and Mubarak-era thugs, and a crackdown on academic freedom to impose his will, flashpoints loom beyond campuses on the horizon. These potential flashpoints include a pending court case that could lead to the banning as a terrorist organisation of the Ultras White Knights (UWK), the militant support group of storied Al-Zamalek SC that played a crucial role in the uprising against Mubarak; the appeal against the sentencing to death of 21 people and lengthy prison sentence for others on charges that they were responsible for a 2012 politically loaded brawl in Port Said in which 74 Al-Ahly SC fans died that is certain to spark protest once a verdict is announced; and the continued ban on spectators attending professional football matches.
The student protests have served to forge links between supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood whose Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president, Al-Sisi overthrew in a military coup last year, and secular youth groups that constituted the backbone of the 2011 popular uprising. The influence of Ultras Nahdawy, a group was formed by militant pro-Brotherhood supporters of Zamalek and its arch rival, Al-Ahly, is visible in video clips of the protests in which protesters much like militant football fans jump up and down while chanting and fire off coloured flares and smoke bombs.
…James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.
RSIS / Online
Last updated on 03/11/2014