Nationwide Soccer Masculinities and the Recreation in Egypt

As Qatar will get able to host the FIFA World Cup—a spectacle of nation branding via fashionable, capitalist sports activities—it’s price remembering that soccer has lengthy constituted an enviornment for nation constructing elsewhere within the Center East.

An Egyptian boy, carrying the jersey of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, working towards soccer at a discipline within the Egyptian star’s dwelling village of Nagrig, Egypt, Could 13, 2018. Gehad Hamdy/dpa/Getty Pictures

One prime instance is Egypt, the place the sport because the early twentieth century has facilitated a strong and sometimes politicized stage for nationwide self-projection, identification and reflection. In my e book, Egypt’s Soccer Revolution: Emotion, masculinity, and uneasy politics, I present an in depth ethnographic and historic account of such processes between the 1990s and 2019.

The e book reveals that the late Mubarak period was a interval of Egyptian historical past when soccer performed a very energetic position within the nationwide venture. Within the 2000s, the nation was swept away by a heady soccer hysteria because the male nationwide soccer staff achieved unprecedented success. The game turned an vital avenue via which Egyptian males discovered how you can act, speak, behave and really feel. Attuned to the rising affect of soccer on the nationwide stage—and to how the game formed masculinity specifically—the Mubarak household exploited the game as an environment friendly instrument to be one with the individuals, and shore up legitimacy and recognition.

In 2011, nonetheless, the federal government’s curiosity in soccer got here to an abrupt finish. The 25 January revolution not solely ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign but in addition pushed many Egyptian residents to query the political position that soccer had performed underneath the outdated regime. On the similar time, a brand new sort of younger supporter—the so-called “Ultras”—developed a novel and extra radical type of soccer fandom that posed a severe problem to the institution’s beliefs, aesthetics and gender roles.

Up to now few years, the army-led counterrevolution has crushed the revolution inside Egypt’s nationwide recreation. The Ultras’ venture has been devastated, and soccer’s means to epitomize the nation and form its masculinities just isn’t what it was once. As soccer followers world wide tune in to the World Cup in Qatar, President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi’s regime is fairly turning its again on the sport, which used to represent a centerpiece of Egyptian nation constructing.


The Egyptian Soccer Man


Though soccer has lengthy been Egypt’s hottest spectator sport, the ultimate years of Mubarak’s presidency represented its peak. Particularly after the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, which Egypt each hosted and received, the nation was swept away by a soccer hype with wide-ranging ramifications nicely outdoors stadiums and coaching grounds.

The sports activities growth resulted from a number of interlinked elements. Sturdy promoting income and the possession of golf equipment by state establishments—together with the military, police and fuel and oil firms—contributed to the skilled league’s monetary success, turning it into the wealthiest league in Africa. A rising variety of personal satellite tv for pc tv channels allotted an growing share of their programming to broadcasting, discussing and analyzing the nationwide league and the nationwide staff. Soccer performed a vital half within the plots of a number of Egyptian films, together with Ana mish ma‘hum (2007) and Wahid sifr (2009). Mega stars like Nancy Ajram and Sherine Abdel Wahab launched hit songs that roughly explicitly addressed Egypt’s soccer heroes. In these years, it was tough to delineate the exact boundaries of the sport’s attain: actors, artists and politicians mingled within the VIP sections of stadiums, whereas soccer gamers and coaches frequented movie star events and occasions that includes politicians and regime-associated businessmen.

Within the years earlier than the 2011 Revolution, an unprecedented string of victories introduced the brew of cash, media, fame and soccer to a boiling level. In 2006, 2008 and 2010, the Egyptian nationwide staff received three consecutive Africa Cup of Nations, and the largest Cairo membership, al-Ahly, took dwelling as many African Champions League titles between 2005 and 2008. These successes incited nationwide widespread celebrations. After every continental triumph, tens of 1000’s of residents gathered in streets and squares in cities and cities throughout the nation. Typically the festivities—a singular expression of collective have an effect on in public area throughout an period in any other case dominated by extreme police repression—continued for days.

The soccer craze additionally dropped at the fore specific masculinities constructed round nationwide passions. To go as a “regular” man in Egypt within the late 2000s, it was essential to like soccer feverishly, rejoice within the nationwide staff’s victories, show ardour when one’s favourite membership was enjoying and present fanatical animosity towards opponents. Egyptian films from the period illustrate how a normalized institution masculinity was tied to assist for soccer, as the game was time once more forged as adopted by “everybody.” By the identical logic, the films portrayed males who don’t like soccer as marginal, suspect and even harmful figures. The strict Islamist and the elite mental constituted two recurring stereotypes. Neither of those figures ever actually represented the soccer nation that was taking form.

the films portrayed males who don’t like soccer as marginal, suspect and even harmful figures. The strict Islamist and the elite mental constituted two recurring stereotypes.

Satellite tv for pc tv introduced one other sphere for portraying the character of the Egyptian soccer man on this period. Specifically, the hosts and pundits of Egypt’s day by day soccer speak reveals—a rampantly widespread style combining sports activities, gossip, politics and lightweight leisure—embodied a lot of this determine’s typical traits. The masculinity on show in these reveals deviated markedly from the beliefs of respectability, training and meritocracy that, in keeping with anthropologist Walter Armbrust, had been promoted in nationalist widespread tradition from the late nineteenth century till the 1980s.[1] The tv hosts’ recognition and fame fairly stemmed from a combination of pugnacity, nouveau riche style and an ethic of victory in any respect prices—emblematic, in Armbrust’s evaluation, of a flip to “vulgarity” that started within the late 1980s and early 1990s. Such reveals showcased the Egyptian soccer man as somebody who appreciated to win, boast, banter and have enjoyable. He embodied a considerably vulgar and chauvinist masculinity that outlined the late Mubarak period.

Whether or not by the way or not, this masculinity occurred to align with the general public personae of Hosni Mubarak and his two sons, Gamal and Alaa. Not like his predecessors, Gamal Abdul Nasser and Anwar al-Sadat, Mubarak didn’t primarily construct legitimacy and recognition on performances of respectability or elaborate speeches. Particularly within the ultimate decade of his presidency, nepotism and corruption turned rampant. Gamal Mubarak and his businessmen mates dominated the political and financial spheres. Few residents would reward the ruling household’s ethics or integrity. What each Egyptian knew, nonetheless, was that the president and his sons have been actually passionate soccer followers. Within the stadium or in entrance of the tv, they got here throughout as typical Egyptian males, cheering for his or her staff similar to another citizen. On this approach, the victorious soccer growth supplied the presidential household with a singular and well timed probability to be one with a profitable, barely vulgar however by all means normalized model of the Egyptian nation and its individuals. Within the socioeconomically and politically dire years that preceded the 2011 uprisings, the nationwide sport introduced a uncommon social discipline the place the Mubarak household loved recognition, luster and legitimacy.


Revolutionary Soccer Masculinities


The 2011 revolution not solely terminated Mubarak’s 30-year-long presidency. It additionally dismantled the peculiar nationwide soccer frenzy and the nationwide soccer man that had given Mubarak’s kleptocratic regime widespread attraction. Cracks started to point out a minimum of a yr earlier than demonstrations began in Tahrir Sq. on January 25, 2011. In November 2009, Egypt performed two extremely anticipated World Cup qualifiers in opposition to Algeria—the primary in Cairo and the second in Omdurman in Sudan. Soccer followers with whom I conduct analysis in Cairo have usually described these two video games as the height of Egypt’s nationalist soccer hysteria. The protection of soccer within the media was extraordinarily intense. Aggressive anti-Algerian rhetoric and supporter violence surrounded the matches, triggering a severe diplomatic disaster between the 2 international locations.

The occasion additionally prompted a definite shift within the public debate. Within the weeks after Egypt misplaced the decisive second match to Algeria and missed qualifying for the World Cup, voices crucial of the nation’s soccer obsession started to emerge. Within the press, many commentators argued that the Egyptian individuals’s obsession with soccer was breeding “fanaticism” (ta‘assub) and dangerous political divisions. Notably, the figures criticizing soccer on this second have been usually exactly these Islamists and intellectuals beforehand marginalized by the institution mannequin of masculinity related to soccer. Within the wake of the devastating defeat, those that claimed to symbolize a extra “respectable” (muhtaram) masculinity appeared to strike again in opposition to a soccer nation they noticed as dominated by vulgarity and masculine chauvinism. On this sense, November 2009 anticipated transformations that might happen after January 2011. Throughout Egypt’s revolutionary years, football-skeptical Islamists and secular intellectuals dominated politics and public debates. Now, it was the Mubarak period’s vulgar soccer males who had discovered themselves marginalized.[2]

The 2011 revolution additionally coincided with a revolt inside Egypt’s nationwide recreation. The important thing gamers on this soccer revolution have been members of latest sorts of supporter organizations that first appeared in Egyptian soccer stadiums in 2007. The “Ultras,” as the brand new followers have been known as, launched a extra devoted and orchestrated approach of cheering for the nation’s hottest golf equipment. Taking inspiration from current Ultras teams in southern Europe and the Maghrib, they introduced collectively a extra worldwide type of soccer fandom markedly completely different from what typically occurred in Egyptian stadiums.[3] The Ultras wearing a selected method; their songs had elaborate lyrics; they used flags, pyrotechnical flares and graffiti excessively; they sang and danced for 90 minutes with out interruption; they insisted that soccer must be watched dwell on the stadium, not on tv. By 2009, Ultras Ahlawy (supporting the Cairo powerhouse al-Ahly) and Ultras White Knights (supporting arch-rival al-Zamalek) have been in a position to mobilize tens of 1000’s of younger males of their teenagers and early 20s at Cairo Stadium. Unsurprisingly, this booming supporter phenomenon precipitated a backlash from the soccer institution and the safety state. Within the media, the Ultras have been portrayed as troublemakers and thugs. They ceaselessly clashed with safety forces inside and out of doors the stadium.

By 2009, Ultras Ahlawy (supporting the Cairo powerhouse al-Ahly) and Ultras White Knights (supporting arch-rival al-Zamalek) have been in a position to mobilize tens of 1000’s of younger males of their teenagers and early 20s at Cairo Stadium.

Though refusing to take an official political stance, the Ultras performed an vital position from the very starting of the 2011 revolution. The teams’ sheer dimension, strict group and expertise defending themselves in opposition to the police proved invaluable throughout clashes and avenue fights. Repeatedly, the Ultras’ attribute aesthetics—flags, t-shirts, flares—have been seen on the battlefront at and round Cairo’s Tahrir Sq. in addition to in cities within the provinces. Their provocative songs with lyrics mocking the faltering police state turned a central a part of the revolutionary repertoire.

The Ultras’ revolutionary prowess additionally resulted from their unorthodox approach of cheering on the stadium. Their younger and radical method of soccer fandom contrasted distinctly with the establishment-aligned fan practices and aesthetics of the late-Mubarak period. In a stark distinction to the older, extra media-centered fan practices that used to dominate, some Ultras interlocutors depicted the stadium as an area of “enjoyable and freedom.”[4] Difficult the institution’s emotional-national soccer masculinity from the within, the Ultras embodied and lived a brand new approach of being an Egyptian soccer fan and, to some extent, an Egyptian man.

All through 2012, the Ultras’ aesthetics and feelings spilled from stadiums and into the streets. This shift was initiated on February 1, when 72 members of Ultras Ahlawy have been killed in a grotesque bloodbath at a stadium in Port Mentioned. Though no conclusive proof has established precisely what transpired, many Egyptians consider that the military and/or police organized the assault, both by infiltrating the house followers who stormed the visiting Ahly supporters’ stadium part or by hiring baltagiya (“thugs”) to hold out the violence. Tv footage from the match appears to assist this supposition, exhibiting the police who have been current doing little to intervene. After the Port Mentioned tragedy, the Egyptian authorities canceled home soccer matches for a full yr. As a substitute of attending soccer video games, Ultras Ahlawy launched into a protracted marketing campaign for justice for these killed in addition to for far-reaching reforms of Egypt’s notoriously corrupt soccer organizations. They organized demonstrations and sit-ins, coated Cairo’s partitions with graffiti honoring the Port Mentioned martyrs, interrupted coaching classes and tv reveals and ransacked the Egyptian Soccer Affiliation’s headquarters.

For a couple of yr, this activist push for justice, retribution and reforms gathered important widespread assist. In a revolutionary interval when many former soccer followers felt ambivalent in regards to the recreation they used to like as a result of it appeared too related to violence and the soiled politics of the Mubarak regime, the Ultras got here throughout as one among few soccer actors in sync with the nationwide zeitgeist. The teams’ principled actions, their combat in opposition to corruption and for the rights of the households of these killed and the best way they used violence in a daring but purposeful and ordered approach impressed many outsiders.

That al-Ahly and the nationwide staff’s immensely widespread playmaker, Mohamed Aboutrika, actively backed the Ultras’ marketing campaign contributed to their widespread standing. Arguably the brightest star of his technology, Aboutrika was one among only a few gamers who had stored a distance from the Mubarak regime through the growth years. He’s extensively identified for his morals, respectability and integrity, and he actively backed the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president Muhammad Mursi earlier than and after the June 2012 elections. In 2011 and 2012, it was tough to seek out anybody in Egypt who didn’t love Aboutrika. When he expressed his unreserved assist for the Ultras, his unquestionable respectability spilled onto the supporter motion, growing their look as revolutionary position fashions.[5]


Even a Counterrevolution Can not Flip Again Time


In 2013, Egypt’s revolutionary momentum was defeated by an army-led counterrevolution. The soccer revolution was no exception. Already to start with of the yr, the Ultras had begun to lose their standing as revolutionary position fashions. The intricate steadiness between violent motion and respectability that had rendered their masculinity so nicely in tune with the revolution’s beliefs and ambiance proved inconceivable to uphold. Following a extensively criticized public demonstration by Ultras Ahlawy celebrating the dying sentences of 21 followers from Port Mentioned for his or her involvement within the earlier yr’s bloodbath, and a collection of violent assaults on public property, growing numbers of residents started to understand Ultras as thuggish troublemakers. That winter was additionally a second of deep polarization between the Islamist Mursi regime and the secular opposition—the backing of the outspoken Mursi supporter Mohamed Aboutrika, which had beforehand rendered the followers nearly untouchable, was not an apparent asset.[6]

After the navy coup in July 2013, the state of affairs went from unhealthy to worse. Because the Egyptian safety state regrouped, the Ultras—like most revolutionary factions—confronted a relentless wave of repression. Taking revenge for the years that Ultras’ visions had dominated public discourses in regards to the recreation, the soccer media and the Soccer Affiliation smeared the followers ruthlessly, associating them with the demonized Mursi authorities. The police and the judiciary additionally joined forces, arresting and prosecuting lots of of Extremely leaders and rank-and-file members. Different members of the fan teams determined to go away Egypt, usually ending up in a chronic exile. By 2018, Egypt’s greatest Ultras group, Ultras Ahlawy, formally conceded and dissolved the group. The second greatest group, Ultras White Knights, continues to be formally energetic, but its actions are scattered and erratic at finest.

A decade has handed since Egypt’s soccer revolution reached its zenith. Over these years, the Ultras’ revolutionary soccer masculinity has been marginalized and their push for change crushed, however that doesn’t imply that Egyptian soccer is again the place it was once earlier than January 2011.

A decade has handed since Egypt’s soccer revolution reached its zenith. Over these years, the Ultras’ revolutionary soccer masculinity has been marginalized and their push for change crushed, however that doesn’t imply that Egyptian soccer is again the place it was once earlier than January 2011. Undoubtedly, the nationwide recreation stays an enormously widespread pastime. When al-Ahly or al-Zamalek play, thousands and thousands of Egyptians watch anxiously on tv, whereas memes, commentary and banter fill social media. The Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah has developed into one of many highest-ranked gamers internationally, with thousands and thousands of Egyptians tuning in to Liverpool FC video games to cheer him on every week. And but, attachments, particularly to the nationwide staff, will not be what they was once.  Throughout current analysis journeys to Cairo, I’ve usually heard followers converse of disenchantment and ambivalence, even at ostensibly momentous events such because the 2018 World Cup or when Egypt hosted the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

One current instance of widespread disenchantment occurred when Egypt narrowly misplaced a decisive World Cup qualifier to Senegal in March 2022, thus lacking out on the upcoming match in Qatar. Definitely, many Egyptians have been vastly disillusioned after the setback. As I walked dwelling via Cairo that evening, the town was unusually silent, marked by defeat, and but, most followers shrugged it off surprisingly shortly. A day or two later, soccer was not the principle speaking level within the media or in cafes. Some mates even argued that it was higher that Egypt had misplaced: the staff was enjoying poor and boring soccer—sending this group of gamers to the World Cup may solely finish in embarrassment. In comparison with the extreme shock and public outcry that engulfed the nation after the November 2009 defeat to Algeria, the loss to Senegal appeared like a non-event. The distinction between the 2 defeats and two missed World Cups suggests a palpable shift in soccer’s centrality within the nationwide consciousness.

Because the world’s eyes look to Qatar, the headiest days of Egypt’s soccer politics appear to belong to the previous. No less than for the second, the nationwide recreation has misplaced its beforehand unmatched means to seize the nation’s consideration and set off actually nationwide passions and debates. Consequentially, soccer not delineates normative nationwide gender roles. Few movies produced in 2022 would use soccer as an instance who’s and who just isn’t a standard Egyptian man. Pop stars not often sing about soccer gamers lately.

This marginalization of soccer within the nationwide venture gives a clue as to why the present political elite doesn’t appear to care a lot in regards to the sport, regardless of comparatively good outcomes. At first blush, the final 5 years would possibly look like a really profitable interval in Egyptian soccer historical past. The nationwide staff reached the ultimate of the Africa Cup of Nations in 2017 and 2022, and certified for its first World Cup in 28 years in 2018. Al-Ahly has reached the ultimate of the African Champions League 5 instances within the final six years (successful the match twice), and al-Zamalek received the second main African membership match, the Confederation Cup, in 2019.

Regardless of these successes, the Sisi regime has made surprisingly few makes an attempt to affiliate itself with the nation’s soccer groups. The president neither talks in regards to the sport with the identical frequency or depth as Mubarak nor makes the identical efforts to return throughout as a passionate soccer fan. Discerning the hen from the egg on this course of is difficult, however clearly, the relative disregard for soccer among the many nation’s rulers pertains to the sport’s decreased significance to the nation. The game continues to be omnipresent all through Egypt and should still be a fertile breeding floor for masculine topic formation. But, at current, the Egyptian soccer man not embodies the Egyptian nation.


[Carl Rommel is a Researcher in the Department of Anthropology and Ethnology at Uppsala University.]


This text seems in MER problem 304 “Soccer—Politics and Passions.”




[1] Walter Armbrust, Mass Tradition and Modernism in Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge College Press: 1996).

[2] Carl Rommel, Egypt’s Soccer Revolution: Emotion, Masculinity, and Uneasy Politics (Austin: College of Texas Press, 2021), 59-81.

[3] James Montague, Among the many Ultras: A Journey with the World’s Most Excessive Followers (London: Penguin, 2020). Muhammad Gamal Bashir, Kitab al-Ultras: ‘Andama Tata‘adda al-Jamahir al-Tabi‘a (Cairo: Dar Dawwin, 2011)

[4] Carl Rommel, Egypt’s Soccer Revolution: Emotion, Masculinity, and Uneasy Politics (Austin: College of Texas Press, 2021), 94–⁠⁠⁠98.

[5] Ibid., 109-137.

[6] Ibid., 139-148.


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