Inside the Egyptian revolution

Recorded shortly before Friday prayers (yesterday), this discussion with three Egyptian political activists in Cairo reveals more about the passions that are driving the Egyptian revolution than any amount of analysis from outside observers.

The political power now unleashed across Egypt will topple the Mubarak regime not in spite of being leaderless but because it is leaderless — because it has no ideological or social bias but truly represents the will of the people.

Alaa Abd El Fattah, a prominent Egyptian blogger who was interviewed on Al Jazeera today, made the interesting observation that the uprising’s most effective organizational strength comes from a quarter that has been ignored by most of the media: soccer fans known as ultras.

“The ultras — the football fan associations — have played a more significant role than any political group on the ground at this moment,” Alaa said. “Maybe we should get the ultras to rule the country,” he joked.

James M. Dorsey, an expert on soccer in the Middle East, writes:

Established in 2007, the ultras—modelled on Italy’s autonomous, often violent fan clubs—have proven their mettle in confrontations with the Egyptian police, who charge that criminals and terrorists populate their ranks.

“There is no competition in politics, so competition moved to the soccer pitch. We do what we have to do against the rules and regulations when we think they are wrong,” said an El Ahly ultra last year after his group overran a police barricade trying to prevent it from bringing flares, fireworks and banners into the stadium. “You don’t change things in Egypt talking about politics. We’re not political, the government knows that and has to deal with us,” he adds.

The involvement of organized soccer fans in Egypt’s anti-government protests constitutes every Arab government’s worst nightmare. Soccer, alongside Islam, offers a rare platform in the Middle East, a region populated by authoritarian regimes that control all public spaces, for the venting of pent-up anger and frustration.

President Obama and other Western political leaders profess their respect for people power but claim that it loses legitimacy if it fails to eschew all forms of violence. Let the people march in their tens or hundreds of thousands holding up signs and perhaps roses, but whoever picks up a rock must be condemned. In other words, let the people demonstrate their power so long as they do it in such a way that it does not challenge the power of the state and the state’s monopoly on the use of violence.

The sad truth is that when the people attempt to make their voices heard through such dignified expressions of civility, those from whom they are demanding a response find it all too easy to ignore the people’s voice.

Egypt can call out with one voice that it is time for Mubarak to go, yet what captures his and the world’s attention are images of his security forces being over-powered — images of policemen being chased off the streets while their vehicles go up in flames.

The West would like to see someone like Mohamed ElBaradei become a face of moderation who might tame Egypt’s revolutionary forces, yet it is Egypt’s angry youth including an ample sprinkling of ultras who are at the vanguard of this revolution. An ElBaradei revolution would have been a revolution postponed.

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8 thoughts on “Inside the Egyptian revolution

  1. James M. Dorsey

    thanks for the quote from my blog. egypt may have the most organized soccer force but soccer plays an interesting and important role across the region and constitutes a platform rattled leaders fear.

  2. Jonathan Wright

    In theory mass marches by millions of peaceful Egyptians might make a big difference, but it’s almost always the police who initiate the violence, by beating people with their truncheons or teargassing them. After that any normal human being who is not a saint or a masochist is bound to retaliate

  3. Christopher Hoare

    Maybe Obama would like to make another Cairo speech — this time an honest one telling Egyptians that he likes them as long as they don’t cause his foreign policy any trouble. What outrageous hypocrisy to tell them that they might protest only if they don’t strike back at the people who injure them.

    Perhaps he’d like to stand in the street — mainstreet Egypt — and tell them how to behave. Better he keeps his mouth and his Pentagon wallet closed and quit meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs.

  4. Norman

    This is the time for the West, especially the U.S. & “O” to sit out on the side lines, let the people of Egypt tend to their own future. The U.S. for all its billions of $$$$ that have been spent, now looks just like the Wars, a giant sewer pipe that consumes. This seemingly total disregard for human rights by the U.S. is coming back to bite it in the ass. “O” has shown which side of the street he comes from, his actions are more akin to a flimflam man that the delusional public figure he is. The people that surround him sit in their ivory towers and give advice as if they know what is & what isn’t. Time to take off the blinders, before the same thing happens here in the U.S.A.

  5. Jeffrey Hall

    A revolution in the US is still a long way off because the people here are too comfortable and have it too good to revolt against the government who tirelessly works to diminish their rights. I applaud the people of Egypt and Tunisia for standing up and attempting to remove the thugs who rule them. As a strategic matter, I agree that a non-violent strategy would be more effective and less costly- in lives and treasure. I propose instead that the people of Egypt (or wherever) just refuse to provide services for those who rule- from the top on down. When the toilets don’t flush, the ill aren’t taken care of, the garbage remains uncollected, the taxes aren’t collected, the telephones don’t work, the electricity is shut off, etc., the elite will be forced to step down or make changes. Those who support the tyranny will be subject to the same inconvenience. I don’t know if it would work, but I’d certainly like to see it tried.

  6. ameenibnkader

    As the Shah of Iran brutally killed, Husni Mubarak is attacking his own people with American bullets and tear gas cannons. “Made in USA” marked on burnt cannons on the streets of Cairo for its people to understand the conspiracy of democracy and controlling violence. It is not surprising why there is so much anti-American sentiment across the world and more so in the Muslim world.

    This is another case study of U.S. foreign policy of aiding arms and financing a dictator for decades and ending up on the wrong side of history. At least now the U.S. government and the people should stop hoping for Mubarak to hang-on. Many may wonder which military strongman that the CIA is going to recommend to replace Mubaruk.

    Husni Mubaruk has chosen a man he can trust while the people are trying to chase him away. But Mr. Suleiman, a former general, is also the Mubaruk’s candidate, not the one that the people of Egypt will approve.

    His appointment if it were to occur would not represent the democratic change called for on the street, but most likely a continuation of the kind of military-backed, oppressive, corrupt, authoritarian and pro-Israeli, pro-American leadership that Mr. Mubaruk has led for nearly 30 years.

    Basically this is a way of paving the way for a military-led regime under the guise of reforms and democracy, a good move to please the U.S. neo-cons. After all, Suleiman is said to hold a similar worldview, deeply distrusting Iran, favouring close relations with Washington, supporting the cold peace with Israel, and against easing up on the Muslim Brotherhood, the principal opposition group in Egypt.

  7. Charlie Smith

    Jeffery Hall..what you said is exactly what I’ve been saying for years, a revolution can be fought without bloodshed (or very little) if it is fought with the pocketbook or denial of services.

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