I've wondered why the soccer fans called "Ultras" have been such an important force in Arab revolutionary politics, especially in Egypt. Toby Matthiesen points
toward this article
on the topic by James Dorsey in the scholarly journal Mobilization
For years, ultras in the Middle East have staged frequent stadium battles with the police and rival fans, a zero-sum
game for control of a venue they saw as their own. States in the
region viewed these autonomous, militant groups as a challenge to the regime’s monopoly
on the means of coercion, and a potentially serious threat to their authority. In the name of public
safety they turned football pitches into virtual fortresses, ringed by
black steel and armed security
personnel. The ultras, for
their part, radicalized in response to the militarization of the stadium, though they did not always frame their militancy as political. “We steer clear
of politics. Competition in Egypt is on the soccer pitch. We break the rules and regulations when
we think they
are wrong. You don’t change things in Egypt talking about politics.
We're not political, the
government knows that and that is why it has to deal with
us,” said one Egyptian ultra in 2010, after his group overran a police barricade erected
to prevent it from bringing flares, fireworks and banners into a stadium
(Dorsey 2011). In recent
years, violent clashes erupted
In these countries and elsewhere, ultras and other
soccer fans came to view soccer officials as tools of the regime, and even
disparaged some of the athletes as mercenaries, playing only for money. The ultras considered themselves the only defenders of the true values of their squad...
more than a decade, Tunisian ultras had forged links with Takriz, a secretive self- described “cyber think tank and street resistance network,”
founded in 1998, whose name is a street-slang profanity
that expresses a feeling of frustrated anger. In 1999, several
Takriz activists attended a Tunisian soccer cup match that erupted in violence with scores injured, several fatally.
The ultras’ militant spirit impressed the activists, who reached out to fan
groups and developed a web forum
for ultras from different teams. At the end of 2009, Takriz
and the ultras decided the time was right to mobilize.
“So we turned up the heat in the stadiums and started boiling the Internet.
We decided to fuck everybody,” said Foetus, one of Takriz’s founders, who identifies himself only by his
alias (Pollock 2011). They used Facebook to put opposition forces on the spot for being too timid and intimidated.
“We had to electroshock’ them to get people to do that
last step. Then we built momentum, momentum,
momentum,” said Waterman, the alias
for another Takriz founder. (Pollock 2011). In the street
battles that ensued with
forces in early 2011
in the run-up to Ben Ali’s departure into exile on January 14, in which
300 people were killed,
ultras and members of Takriz formed the protestors’ fighting core
(In Egypt) the ultras’ street-battle experience helped other protesters break down barriers of fear that had kept them
from confronting the regime in the past. "We were in the front line. When
the police attacked we encouraged people. We told them
to run or be afraid.
firing flares. People took courage and joined us, they know that we understand injustice and
liked the fact that
we fight the devil,”
Labels: Egypt, Tunisia