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Showing posts with label Esperance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Esperance. Show all posts

Monday, October 29, 2012

Politics overshadow African championship final


Al Ahly militants

By James M. Dorsey

Next week’s African Championship League final between crowned Cairo club Al Ahly SC and Tunisian title defender Esperance Sportieve de Tunis is as much a battle of the titans as it is a struggle for the future of Egypt.

At stake in the November 4 match in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium, the first leg of the finals, is not only the African championship title but also a gamut of highly political issues, including the need for reform of law enforcement; the role of police and security forces in ensuring security in stadiums; the relationship between the club, its players and its fans; the right of fans to attend matches; and the campaign to remove associates of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak from soccer and eradicate corruption.

The match will be the first to be played by Al Ahly in front of its fans who have been banned from the few international and domestic matches that their club has played since professional soccer in Egypt was suspended eight months ago after 74 Al Ahly fans were killed in Port Said in a politically loaded brawl. The aftermath of the brawl looms large with militant, highly politicized, street battle-hardened fan groups known as ultras opposing a resumption of professional soccer as long as those responsible for the incident are not held accountable and the supporters’ political demands have not been met.

The last time Esperance played in Cairo in April 2011, two months after the ousting of president Hosni Mubarak, militant supporters of Al Ahly rival Al Zamalek SC stormed the pitch in what amounted to a reclaiming of the stadium from the security forces, Egypt’s most hated institution because of their role in enforcing the Mubarak regime’s repression. The storming marked the beginning of a post-revolt campaign by the militants, Egypt’s second largest civic group that played a key role in the protests that forced Mr. Mubarak to resign after 30 years in office, against the military and the law enforcement forces of the interior ministry. The campaign demanded the removal of Mubarak era officials and an end to corruption.

The militants known as ultras have booked a string of political victories in recent months in which they have attacked the offices of the Egyptian Football Association (EFA), Al Ahly’s training ground and the premises of media organizations. They have prevented a lifting of the ban on domestic soccer, ironically supported by their archenemy, the security forces who fear renewed clashes in the stadiums, the scene of years of often violent protests in the run-up to the demise of the Mubarak regime. A string of Mubarak era officials have been forced to resign or withdraw their candidacies for office and the Illegal Gains Authority has banned the chairman of Al Ahly, Hassan Hamdi, from travel and frozen his assets on suspicion of corruption.

The militants are further demanding justice for their 74 dead colleagues before professional soccer matches are resumed. They are frustrated with the slow progress in legal proceedings against 74 people, including nine mid-level security officers, accused of involvement in the Port Said brawl that is widely believed to have been an attempt that got out of hand to punish the militants for their role in the popular revolt and to cut them down to size. The militants also want the security forces to be deprived of their responsibility for security in the stadiums and want to see the initiation of a process of reform of the police force.

A leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Essam El-Erian, this month publicly backed the militants, saying he agreed that premier league soccer should remain suspended as long as the group that brought President Mohammed Morsi to office is battling its political opponents. "The Ultras were one of the most powerful forces to participate in last year's revolution. The Premier League will only resume after the final whistle is blown on this political match, which I hope ends in a draw," Mr. El-Erian said in a tweet. Mr. El-Erian was referring to divisions over the drafting of a new constitution and the judiciary’s failure to hold accountable officials responsible for the death of protesters during last year’s anti-Mubarak protests.

The interior ministry threw down a gauntlet last week when it announced that 15,000 Al Ahly fans would be allowed to attend the match against Esperance. The ministry’s decision came as players and fans held rival demonstrations for and against a lifting of the ban on soccer.

Players and fans clashed in early October in front of a Cairo hotel where Nigeria’s Sunshine Stars were staying in advance of a game against Al Ahli. The Al Ahli militants said they wanted to ensure that the Nigerian team made it safely to the match. Four police officers and 13 Al Ahly fans were injured last week in a clash between security forces and militants in front of a television station.

It was not immediately clear whether the militants would use the match against Esperance to press their demands or would boycott it in line with their opposition to a resumption of soccer. The militants exempt international matches from their rejection of a lifting of the ban on domestic premier league soccer. They have also agreed to the resumption in late November of matches in Egypt’s lower leagues.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Parties bet on soccer in Tunisia's first post-revolt election



By James M. Dorsey

Political parties and prominent businessmen hope soccer will give them a competitive edge in Tunisia's first election since the ousting in January of President Zine el Abedine Ben Ali scheduled for October 23.

Parties are lining up prominent soccer players as candidates while businessmen are leveraging their soccer club board memberships in advance of the election for a constituent assembly that will be charged with drafting a new constitution, the basis for free and fair parliamentary elections.

Some 100 parties are competing in the election in the country that sparked the popular revolt sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. Tunisian President Zine el Abedine Ben Ali was the first Arab autocrat to be forced by the revolt to resign after decades in power.

With Islamists emerging as a strong force in Tunisia as well as in Egypt and Libya, the three Arab countries that have put autocracy behind them, Tunisia’s election is widely seen as an indicator how parties will work together and what role the Islamists will play.
Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahada Party, which was brutally suppressed by the Ben Ali regime is expected to emerge as the largest party.

Its Islamist rival, the Justice and Development Party, modelled after its successful Turkish namesake, is betting on soccer striker Yassine Bouchaala to enhance its chances in the poll.

The Free National Party (FNP) has locked in goalkeeper-turned soccer executive Chokri al-Ouaer and the Initiative Party (IP) chaired by former Ben Ali foreign minister Kamel Morjane,  one of 20  successors to ousted President Zine el Abedine Ben Ali's dismantled Constitutional Democratic Rally (CDR), is betting on Tunisian national defender Saber Ben Frej.

Mr. El-Ouaer benefits from his position as technical manager of Esperance Sportive de Tunis, the country’s most popular club. He is standing as an FNP candidate in a Tunis district. Headed and funded by popular businessman Slim Riahi, a successful businessman, FNP has sparked controversy with its pioneering of paid political advertising – a concept that was unknown in Me. Ben Ali’s Tunisia and has given the party a competitive edge.

By associating with soccer, the parties and businessmen are building on a longstanding Tunisian tradition of exploiting the game for political benefit. Mr. Ben Ali used soccer events to further his political aims and garner support. Esperance, one of the country's most crowned clubs, was chaired by Mr. Ben Ali’s son-in-law, Slim Chiboub, who like the president has fled the country to evade charges of corruption.

The Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) long viewed as the main legal opposition to Mr. Ben Ali's regime, is deeply divided about the exploitation of soccer in its election campaign after Club Athletique Bizertin chairman and businessman Mehd Ben Gharbia decided to run for office on the PDP ticket.

Other businessman-turned-politicians, including Hamouda Louzir, interim chairman of the Avenir Sportif de la Marsa (ASM), IP candidate Mongi B'har, chairman of the Club Sportif de Hammam-Lif (CSHL), Saber Ben Frej, and a former chairman of Club Sportief Sfaxien, a club in a southern suburb of Tunis, are also seeking to capitalize on their association with soccer.

The notion of soccer players and official mingling with political dinosaurs, revolutionaries and intellectuals has sparked a rash of satirical comments and jokes in social media with sarcastic speculation rampant that Tunisia’s constitution is likely to be drafted in Tunis’ in Rades rather than the Bardo Chamber of Deputies.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Egyptian prime minister praises militant soccer fans

Ultras cooperate with security forces (Source: FilGoal.com)



By James M. Dorsey

Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf Sunday praised militant supporters of crowned Cairo soccer club Al Ahly FC for their rare cooperation with security forces during this weekend’s African Champions League match against Esperance Sportive de Tunis.

The joint effort constitutes a watershed in relations between the highly politicized, violence prone fans and security forces, who fought years of weekly battles in stadiums and clashed on Cairo’s Tahrir Square early this year during mass anti-government protests that forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign after 30 years in office.

The fan group, Ultras Ahlawy, clashed again earlier this month, with security forces, long viewed as Mr. Mubarak’s henchmen, during a domestic soccer match. Some 130 people were wounded, including 45 security personnel. The ultras were also part of mass protests a week ago against Egypt’s military rulers, who succeeded Mr. Mubarak with a promise to lead the country to democracy, in which three people were killed, more than 1,000 wounded and protesters stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo.

“I salute the wise fans of Ahli for being fully disciplined in supporting their team before the Tunisian brothers, who also gave a great example in co-operating with security. I hope that sportsmanship remains principal in all sports events in Egypt,” Mr. Sharaf said on his Facebook page.

Mr. Sharaf’s praise was designed to build bridges with the ultras who played a key role in the toppling of Mr. Mubarak and subsequent anti-government protests. It constitutes an effort to exploit public criticism of the violence often exercised by the militants.

A 1:1 draw with Esperance put an end to Al Ahly’s hopes of advancing in the tournament in  a match attended by some 50,000 Ultras Ahlawy supporters.

In an attempt to repair strained relations between the ultras and security forces, law enforcement officials before the match agreed that the ultras would take responsibility for keeping their members in check during the match.

In return, the ultras called on their members in the days before the match to refrain from violence and the throwing of bottles and other objects onto the pitch. They also agreed not to bring flares, fireworks and smoke guns into the stadium. Ultras gave the Ahly team a standing ovation at the end of the match even though they had failed to secure their place in the African cup.

The concessionary attitude of the ultras was agreed in a meeting with Al Ahly chairman Hassan Hamdy.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the author of the blog,The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

Clashes with police thwart attempt by militant Egyptian soccer fans to build bridges


Ahly ultras support Al Ahly against Esperance (Source: Al Ahram Online)

By James M. Dorsey

Clashes with security forces erupted Friday night as crowned Cairo club Al Ahly FC was stopped by Esperance Sportive de Tunis from advancing in the African Champions League despite efforts by the Egyptian club’s militant supporters to ensure that the game would proceed without incident.

The efforts by Ultras Ahlawy, the club’s militant, highly politicized, violence-prone supporter group, to keep the peace followed a series of incidents in the past two weeks in which some 1,200 people were injured and three killed in confrontations with security forces and soccer fans participated in the storming of the Israeli embassy in the Egyptian capital.

A 1:1 draw put an end to Al Ahly’s hopes of advancing in the tournament.

Disappointed fans attacked players of both teams after the final whistle and attempted to break into Ahly’s dressing room. The fiancée of on Ahly player, Walid Soliman, was attacked as she waited in a luxury car in the Cairo stadium parking lot, according to Al Ahram Online. Security forces intervened to ensure the safe departure of the players.

The attacks were reportedly perpetrated by a group of fans that broke ranks with some 50,000 ultras assembled in the stadium to cheer their team on. In an attempt to repair strained relations between the ultras and security forces, law enforcement officials agreed that the ultras would take responsibility for keeping their members in check during the match.

In return, the ultras called on their members in the days before the match to refrain from violence and the throwing of bottles and other objects onto the pitch. They also agreed not to bring flares, fireworks and smoke guns into the stadium. Ultras gave the Ahly team a standing ovation at the end of the match even though they had failed to secure their place in the African cup.

The concessionary attitude of the ultras was agreed in a meeting with Al Ahly chairman Hassan Hamdy.

The ultras willingness to avoid violence and confrontation with security forces and to support their team irrespective of the outcome of the match constitutes a milestone. The supporters’ relationship with both the players and security forces is complex and had been deteriorating ever since the eruption of mass anti-government protests early this year that forced autocratic president Hosni Mubarak to resign in February after 30 years in office.

The ultras fought years of battles with the security forces, widely viewed as Mr. Mubarak’s henchmen, and confronted them in the protests that led to the president’s ousting. During clashes last week in which more than 130 people, including 45 policemen, were hurt, the ultras shouted at the security forces, "Go f-k your minister, Habib al Adly,” a reference to Mr. Mubarak’s interior minister who alongside the president is on trial for the deaths of hundreds killed in the anti-Mubarak protests.

The fans’ relationship with the players is no less complex. The ultras accuse the players of having failed to support them during the popular revolt. The players’ failure to join the anti-Mubarak protests reinforced the fans’ belief that players’ are hired guns with no real loyalty to the club or its supporters.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Violence overshadows Ahly-Esperance African championship match



Fireworks during Esperance’s match against Mouloudia Alger (Source: Tunisia-live.net)

By James M. Dorsey

Two weeks of soccer violence in Egypt and Tunisia overshadow Friday’s African Championship League encounter in Cairo between six-time African champion Al Ahly SC and Esperance Sportive de Tunis.

Al Ahly chairman Hassan Hamdy, in a bid to preempt renewed confrontations, met this week with representatives of Ultras Ahlawy, the club’s militant, highly politicized, violence-prone fans, who last week clashed with security forces in Cairo stadium and last weekend played a key role in the storming of the Israeli embassy in the Egyptian capital.

Concern that violence could erupt during Al Ahly’s match against Esperance was fueled by incidents on Monday in Tunis in a game between Club Africain and Ivory Coast champions ASEC Mimosas. Mimosas said in a complaint to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) that Club Africain supporters had hurled smoke bombs and fireworks onto the pitch. It said the game had to be interrupted in the first half for 30 minutes because of clashes with security forces who used tear gas. Violence also disrupted a match between Esperance and Algeria’s Mouloudia Alger.

Militant soccer fans in Egypt and Tunisia played a key role in mass anti-government protests early this year that toppled Presidents Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abedine Ben Ali. The fans have since expressed frustration and protested against the slow transition in their countries towards democratic elections.

Mr. Hassan held out a carrot for the militants by promising that he would try and get eight militants released who are still being held by police after last week’s clash in Cairo stadium. 
The authorities released seven ultras earlier this week. Court proceedings against the militants are expected to start on Monday.

In an interview with the BBC, Esperance’s Cameroonian forward Yannick N'Djeng appealed for calm ahead of Friday's key match, which will determine which of the two teams will advance to the semi-finals.

"I want this match to be fair play - football is not fighting," Mr. N’Djeng said.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Arab Revolutionaries to Play Soccer Friendly despite Historical Animosity

Egypt and Tunisia, the two Arab countries most successful to date in overthrowing their dictators, have agreed to play a soccer friendly in mid-April despite their longstanding football animosity.

Tunisians were the first in the Arab world to rise in protest, forcing Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali in January seek exile in Saudi Arabia. Demonstrators last month ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years in office.

The uprisings have sparked a wave of anti-government protests across the Middle East and North Africa that have sparked brutal crackdowns in Libya and Bahrain.

Egypt and Tunisia, alongside Algeria, which is also confronting anti-government protests, have suspended all professional league matches to prevent the soccer pitch from becoming an opposition rallying point.

Egypt’s military rulers this week authorized a resumption of the country’s league on April 15. Tunisia has yet to follow suit. Tunisian authorities, concerned that the soccer pitch could become an opposition rallying point, have ordered the country’s most popular club, Esperance to play their Champions League match against ASPAC of Benin on March 19 behind closed doors.

To avoid protests, the Egyptian-Tunisian friendly will be played in either Britain or the United Arab Emirates. The match will be played in honour of the hundreds who died in the mass protests in both countries.

Egypt last played Tunisia in a match it lost 2:0 in 2005. Riots erupted in Cairo when storied Al Ahly SC beat Tunisia’s Esperance 2:1 in October of last year.

“Egyptians and Tunisians have a long history of feuds over football matches; a fact the tyrants exploited to exert control,” said Nawara Najem, an Egyptian journalist and blogger who was a spokeswoman for the anti-Mubarak demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, in an article in The Guardian.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Arab Revolutionaries to Play Soccer Friendly despite Historical Animosity

Egypt and Tunisia, the two Arab countries most successful to date in overthrowing their dictators, have agreed to play a soccer friendly despite their longstanding football animosity.

Egyptian Football Association board member Ayman Younes said a date for the match, dubbed “the revolutionists’ game,” had yet to set.

Tunisians were the first in the Arab world to rise in protest, forcing Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali to last month seek exile in Saudi Arabia. The uprising has sparked a wave of anti-government protests across the Middle East and North Africa that earlier this month toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and has sparked brutal crackdowns in Libya and Bahrain.

Younes said Egypt and Tunisia hoped that FIFA would incorporate the match in its international calendar as an annual event.

Both Egypt and Tunisia, alongside Algeria, which is also confronting anti-government protests, have suspended all professional league matches to prevent the soccer pitch from becoming an opposition rallying point.

Egypt last played Tunisia in a match it lost 2:0 in 2005. Riots erupted in Cairo when storied Al Ahly SC beat Tunisia’s Esperance 2:1 in October of last year.

“Egyptians and Tunisians have a long history of feuds over football matches; a fact the tyrants exploited to exert control,” said Nawara Najem, an Egyptian journalist and blogger who was a spokeswoman for the anti-Mubarak demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, in an article in The Guardian.

Football fans in both countries played important roles in the overthrow of their dictators.

Najem, speaking about the protests in Egypt, said the demonstrators “began to plan how to outmanoeuvre the security forces; experiences of football crowds which have long faced off against the security forces were helpful here.”