In Egypt and Beyond, Democracy Through...Soccer?

| Mon Jan. 31, 2011 6:20 PM EST

At Sports Illustrated, Dave Zirin analyzes the role of Egypt's "most organized, militant" soccer clubs in organizing opposition to the Mubarak government. He quotes Egyptian  blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah, who told Al-Jazeera that the clubs "have played a more significant role than any political group on the ground at this moment." Explains Zirin:

The critical role of Egypt's soccer clubs may surprise us, but only if we don't know the history that soccer clubs have played in the country. For more than a century, the clubs have been a place where cheering and anti-government organizing have walked together in comfort. Egypt's most prominent team, Al Ahly,  started its club in 1907 as a place to organize national resistance against British colonial rule. The word Al Ahly translated into English means "the national," to mark their unapologetically political stance against colonialism. Al Ahly has always been the team with the most political fans. It's also a team that's allowed its players to make political statements on the pitch even though this is in direct violation of FIFA dictates. It's no coincidence that  it was Al Ahly's star player Mohamed Aboutrika, aka "the Smiling Assassin," who in 2008 famously raised his jersey revealing the T-shirt, which read  "Sympathize with Gaza."

Soccer fans are notorious troublemakers. Egyptians are prime offenders: In 2009 things got ugly after a heated match against nearby Algeria. Here are some other examples of the sport's political side in the region:

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