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Whiteness: Soccer Hooliganism or Social Movement in Egypt?

February 2, 2012

As has been splashed all over the news yesterday, 70+ have been killed in Egypt after a football (soccer) match. The match involved the favorite, Al Ahly (“The National”) against the local squad Al Masry. After the match had ended, fans stormed the field and chased supporters of Al Ahly.

I’m the first to admit that I’m no expert on Egyptian politics nor Egyptian football, merely paying a passing interest to global football as Canada has little of note in that arena. So this article is more about the coverage of the event rather than the event itself. ‘Africa is a Country’ has some good primer reading from Sophia Azeb (@brownisthecolor) on politics and football in Egypt, here and here. The sum of it: Al Ahly began as a political organization before it was a football organization and still, to this day, has very political leanings that are seen as revolutionary.

So after the riots, while the Western media was titling all their articles and updates as “soccer violence”, almost uniformly all Egyptian and Arab commentators went deeper and called it political, realizing that what had happened was very complexly tied into the tensions post-Mubarak and with the current Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which is currently ruling.  Sophia Azeb, on her Twitter account, quickly summed it up in one of her first tweets post-event:

She followed that up with:

I only post her take on events as they are representative, while the exact cause of the attacks is likely complex and unknowable in the minutes after, commentators from the area uniformly saw it as something beyond “soccer violence”, something politically motivated.

The Western media, though, was loathe to catch on and it made me curious as to why. A local beat writer, whose beat is not Egyptian politics, sports, global politics, or even any type of politics at all, went so far as to publicly question a Egyptian columnist on Twitter, asking with a sense of knowing better:

Isn’t there a chance that part of the problem was just sports fans acting stupid/violent?

It took me back, what reason would we have to doubt local accounts? And then I realized that it was our Whiteness kicking in. Our frame of reference for violence on the pitch is drunken young males fighting for the sake of fighting – so we transpose that onto Egypt because, on the surface, it looks similar. Our view must be right. I want to say that those involved in Egypt don’t have the luxury of fighting for fighting’s sake (a particularly White luxury) and know the meaning of true struggle, the realities of a real fight.

I’m still mulling over why the narrative of “soccer violence” in Egypt is more compelling to Western media – whose agenda does this serve? I certainly don’t have the answers on this one. I want to see some of the local commentators put together a great piece outlining the competing interests that culminated on the pitch – I’d love to read it. What I don’t want to read more of is the Western media jockeys and their opinions.

Edit: Since I’ve posted, a couple of good analysis have been posted here and here – check them out!

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