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.