20 October 2014
A successful soccer player near the peak of his career, 22-year Nidhal Selmi died last week a foreign fighter for the Islamic State, the jihadist group that controls a swath of Syria and Iraq. His death followed that of Tunisian handball goalkeeper Ahmed Yassin and Ahmed El-Darawi, a former policeman and Islamist parliamentary candidate who arranged soccer sponsorships for the Egyptian affiliate of Dubai telecommunications company Etisalat. Mr. El-Darawi, a supporter of the 2011 overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, blew himself up in a suicide bombing in Iraq.
The deaths of Messrs. Selmi, Yassin and El-Darawi highlight political Islam’s attraction as a channel for protest, a cry of desperation, or the venting of pent-up anger and frustration-turned-hopelessness. They also spotlight militant Islam’s convoluted relationship to soccer. So does the role militant soccer fans aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood play in mass student protests in Egypt and controversy in Israel over an Israeli Palestinian team that honoured a former Palestinian member of parliament who was accused of aiding Lebanon’s Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah.
It was not immediately clear what persuaded Mr. Selmi to give up his promising career as a player for one of Tunisia’s most prestigious clubs, Etoile Sportive de Tunis, as well as Tunisia’s national team. Like Mr. El-Darawi and Ahmed Yassin, a handball goalkeeper, who earlier joined thousands of Tunisians in Syria and was killed fighting for the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, Mr. Selmi appears to have become disillusioned about prospects for change, appalled by the slaughter in Syria, and convinced that Sunni Muslims were under attack.
…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 21/10/2014