Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A clear offside! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The Egyptian Wafd party, which is known for its liberal tendencies, has recently announced its intention to form a football team to compete in the Egyptian Premier League. This news comes shortly after the Muslim Brotherhood announced that it also intended to form a football team for the same purpose. It seems that political parties of different orientations are fully aware of the significant effects that football has on the masses, and are subsequently trying to strengthen their affiliated to this sport. Egypt’s Al Ahly football club is more influential than all the political parties put together, and is watched fervently by millions of Egyptians each week. In fact there can be no doubt that more Egyptians support Al-Ahly than there are people affiliated to all the political parties in Egypt put together. Mixing sports and politics is nothing new. In Scotland, for example, football fans are divided according to their sectarian beliefs, with the Catholics supporting Celtic FC and the Protestants supporting Rangers FC. The same applies to the English city of Liverpool; tradition suggests that Liverpool FC was formed for the Catholics, whilst Everton FC was formed for the city’s Protestant community.

We also see this phenomenon in the Arab world, for example, in Lebanon each sect has its own football team. The Sunnis have the Al-Ansar Club and Nejmeh SC, however if a football club is located in a Shiite area then the supporters divide over support of this club. As for the Shiites, they have Tadamon Sour club and al-Ahed FC, which has ties to Hezbollah. The Maronites have al-Hikma football club, which also has a very popular basketball club, whilst the Orthodox Christians support Racing Beirut. As for the Armenian Orthodox community in Lebanon, they support the Homenmen and Homenetmen Beirut football clubs, whilst even the Druze community has its own football team, namely Safa Beirut SC. Every sect and party has its own [football] club, figures and support; indeed [political] division is reflected strongly in the football stands. Jordan also experiences a fierce rivalry between the two biggest football clubs in the league; Al-Weehdat football club is strongly supported by citizens of Palestinian origin, who have a large presence in the major refugee camps scattered around the capital Amman, whilst Al-Faisaly Club is known as an “indigenous” team, meaning it is supported by the [Jordanian] tribes and clans. Unfortunately, meetings between these two football teams have descended into endless sessions where opposing fans insult and jeer one another. Indeed, a recent match turned into an armed brawl [between supporters], which led to a number of serious injuries.

As for Kuwait, the Kuwaitis are well aware of the extremely competitive and combative history between Qadsia SC and al-Arabi SC, owing to the clubs’ sectarian origins. Qadsia SC is known as the team of the Sunnis and the tribes, whilst al-Arabi SC is the team of the Shiites, the Bedouins, and others. Of course the competition between the clubs and fans has increased and decreased depending on the related [social] circumstances. The Federation Internationale de Football Association, known as FIFA, strictly prohibits the establishment of football clubs on the basis of religion, race, or politics, but over the years clubs have found ways, means and tricks to circumvent FIFA’s rules and regulations. Many companies and rich investors have formed sports clubs, for religious and political purposes in some cases. Saddam Hussein used sport and football in particular to glorify his rule, which is something that also happened in Cuba and North Korea.

However as for political parties publicly engaging in football, this is a “play” to exploit people’s emotions and weakness, with regards to something that is very dear to them. It may be a sign of a weakness in the political agenda of these parties, and reflects their own belief that they cannot gain a sufficient number of supporters to implement the political changes that they desire. The major problem for the Arab world is that its soil is extremely fertile for all manner of discrimination, racism, tribalism and extremism, particularly as there are many who still believe in the importance of pride in membership and opposing anything that is “different.” A man needs his religion and his homeland, and he should be proud of his identity in this regard, however as for sectarian, regional, or city-based pride, these differentiations only serve as a source for conflict and sedition. Civilized society has its conditions and standards, and we must distance ourselves from hard-line elements, no matter how talented they are in sport, poetry, religion, or politics, because their presence is divisive.