Politicizing Football In The Arab World

Reuters - Algerian fans demonstrate after a newspaper published photographs of what the newspaper claimed were Algerian football fans wounded during a World Cup qualifier between Egypt and Algeria in Cairo, in Algiers November 16, 2009.

Reading an interesting article in TIME today, I found myself thinking in broader terms when I came upon this excerpt:

In his 2008 book, Inside Egypt, John R. Bradley observes, “Egyptians are the most patriotic people in the Arab world.” But, he adds, “I have never come across a local who does not despise his president to one degree or another.” The police state that has kept Hosni Mubarak in power for three decades does not tolerate much expression of political opposition, and that may help explain why many Egyptians get more openly riled up for a soccer match than they do for a national election. Soccer provides an outlet for emotion, both positive and negative, that so many Egyptians so desperately crave, says Maher Gamel, manager of one of Cairo’s most popular restaurants, al-Omda.

“The Egyptian people feel a lot of pressure every day. Life is difficult here. It is hard to find money, to make a living, and this is a hard thing to escape from,” says Gamel, who packed 700 customers into every available inch of his restaurant on game night. “So football is a way to find joy, to escape from these pressures.” [source]

No doubt, this line of thinking has probably crossed many minds for those of us living in the Arab World, to the extent that I wonder how true it is. Is freedom of speech and expression so limited in our part of the world that football games are the only real outlets for our passionate voices? Or can we simply reduce these to acts of hooliganism that are prevalent in football all over the world? Maybe it’s a mix of both.

More interestingly, we should also ask whether we internally politicize football. Jordan’s Wahdat and Faisali teams have long become the standardized symbols of “Palestinian” and “Jordanian” football clubs, when in reality, the teams’ players for both clubs are mixed. A great deal of chaos ensues after these two teams meet and to a large extent, it seems to be tolerated by the state, which makes me wonder whether the powers-that-be also consider football games as both inherently politicized and thus “appropriate” outlets for the average folk to vent out their anger and frustrations. To say nothing of the fact that they tend to offer perfect distractions from everyday problems plaguing our region, as Emad Hajjaj depicted in a recent caricature:

Whatever the reason may be, as I’m positive that there exist several layers to the dynamics that make up Arabian football, the truth of the matter is, it is growing increasingly difficult to differentiate between protests and football aftermath frenzies. Say what you will, but the truth of the matter is, a look at some of the recent images that emerged during the Algeria-Egypt game are filled with all the trappings of a perfect political protest:

Reuters – Algerian fans demonstrate after a newspaper published photographs of what the newspaper claimed were Algerian football fans wounded during a World Cup qualifier between Egypt and Algeria in Cairo, in Algiers November 16, 2009.

Reuters – Algerian fans hold their passport as they wait in front of the ticketing office of Algerian airline Air Algerie to book a flight to Sudan’s capital Khartoum in Algiers November 15, 2009.

Getty – Security guards look on during the FIFA2010 World Cup qualifying match between Egypt and Algeria at the Cairo International Stadium on November 14, 2009

Retuers – A French policeman removes burning garbage after clashes with Algerian team soccer fans in Marseille November 14, 2009, after Algeria’s 2010 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Egypt.

Reuters – Egyptian policemen carry an injured fan after the World Cup 2010 qualifying soccer match between Egypt and Algeria in Cairo.

Reuters – Policemen hold batons as they allow Egyptian soccer fans with tickets to enter Cairo stadium.

+ Give this a listen to (ht: saeedomar)


  • It’s like a pressure cooker, you need a valve on it to control the pressure or it will explode.
    Call it religion, call it sports, call it fandom and stardom or even “bab al harra” whatever it is that you need to call it every system will try to utilize it to absorb the populous into an alternate reality that is disjointed from their every day problems. It’s not only the arab world that uses that, the states is the perfect model by utilizing all those channels, from sports to superstars and the ironically dubbed “reality” TV. It used to be the arts and crafts, since people need to disconnect so that they recharge their energies. So opinion shakers would lace the arts and crafts with some controversy or ideology which would connect the audience back to their harsh lives and teach them something new. Now we just have a sustained brainless disconnect from reality.

  • With a completely calcified political scene, football serves as one of the only outlets for national pride and competitive domestic politics in Egypt. Elections for the position of president of the two main Cairo clubs – Al-Ahly and Zamalek – are more hotly contested than any government position in the country.

    Imagine what the pent up frustration of millions of young Egyptians could do if focused on a political target? Perhaps Gamal Mubarak? Just blogged on this at: http://bit.ly/2FnsL2

  • Ambassador’s recalled/consulted/summoned by all sides, this spat is at least officially political now. I think people just use all their little pent-up grievances and prejudices, get hopped up on national pride, then mix it up with a large group of testosterone fueled males and BAM! Not sure what to call it, but it’s damn silly.

  • “كنت أظن أن الأمة العربية والإسلامية ميتة وغير قادرة على التفاعل مع أي شيء، ولكن مباراة مصر والجزائر كشفت لنا عن طاقات وأحداث وصور هائلة ومذهلة، ولكن للأسف تمَّ استغلالها في الاتجاه المعاكس والبعيد عن قضايا الأمة وهمومها الحقيقية”

    الأمين العام لـ”الهيئة الإسلامية المسيحية” حسن خاطر


  • I wonder how football hooliganism explained by the existence of oppressive regimes explains the phenomenom that is the british football hooligan.

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