Politics and Soccer in the Middle East

Written by: Peter Alegi

Primary Source: Football is Coming Home, September 19, 2016

 

The Football Scholars Forum opened its 2016-17 season on September 19, with a discussion of James Dorsey’s long-awaited new book, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

A journalist and Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, Dorsey’s blog “(has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture” on Middle East soccer and politics, according to FSF member Alon Raab, who teaches at the University of California Irvine.

The forum’s twenty participants spread out across North and South America, Africa, Europe, and, naturally, the Middle East, engaged in a lively discussion with the author. Dorsey began by describing the origin of the project and a disclaimer that he is neither a player or fan of the game. The book, he stated, is about politics, not soccer. But he immediately qualified this quasi-heretical statement (among fútbologists, at least) by stressing that sports and politics are always linked, though at different levels of intensity depending on the place and time.

Dorsey emphasized the importance of young Egyptian ultras in the overthrow of Mubarak and of stadiums as spaces of mobilization, dissent, and censorship. A particularly interesting thread of the forum was the focus on social media as scholarly sources–“cyber-ethnography–and also as an invaluable space for public discourse.

Prompted by new questions, Dorsey shared his thoughts on gender issues; the limited influence of “Muscular Islam” in its diverse interpretations (from conservative to liberal) on the region’s football culture; racial and ethnic discrimination in the region; and how the failed July 15 coup in Turkey means soccer fans have been caught in the wider web of repression carried out by the Erdogan regime.

Despite the grim status quo for people and football in war-ravaged Syria, Dorsey closed on an optimistic note, arguing that we are at the beginning of a long process of potentially positive change in the Middle East. Time will tell, but what is certain is that the game will continue to serve “as an arena where struggles for political control, protest and resistance, self-respect and gender rights are played out.”

Click here for an audio recording of the session.

For information about the next Football Scholars Forum on October 27, please visit footballscholars.org.

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Peter Alegi
Peter Alegi is Professor of History at Michigan State University. He is the author of Laduma! Soccer, Politics, and Society in South Africa (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2004) and African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World’s Game (Ohio University Press, 2010). With Peter Limb, Alegi hosts the “Africa Past and Present” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @futbolprof.
Peter Alegi

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