Soccer: A Middle East and North African Battlefield
32 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2011
Date Written: November 6, 2011
For much of the past three decades, soccer constituted the only major battleground that rivaled Islam in the creation of alternative public space in a swath of land stretching from the Gulf to the Atlantic coast of Africa. Away from the glare of the international media, soccer provided a venue to release pent-up anger and frustration and struggle for political, gender, economic, social, ethnic and national rights. By the time the Arab revolt erupted in December 2010, soccer had emerged as a key non-religious, non-governmental institution capable of successfully confronting security force-dominated repressive regimes and militant Islamists.
Increasingly over the past two decades, soccer became a high-stakes game, a political cat-and-mouse contest between fans and autocrats for control of the pitch and a counterbalance to jihadi employment of soccer as a bonding and recruitment tool. All participants in the game banked on the fact that only soccer could capture the deep-seated emotion, passion and commitment evoked by Islam among a majority of the population in the Middle East and North Africa.
As a result, professional soccer inevitably emerged as an early casualty when protests spilled into the streets. Suspending league matches is one of the first steps embattled Middle Eastern and North African leaders take when mass anti-government protests erupt. They understand the soccer pitch's potential as an opposition rallying point.
Keywords: Soccer, Sport, Protest, Social Movements, Middle East, North Africa, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Algeria, Iran, Palestine, Israel, Kurds, Turkey, Lebanon, Tunisia
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