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      Unusual Suspects: “Ultras” as Political Actors in the Egyptian Revolution

      Arab Studies Quarterly
      Pluto Journals
      Egypt, Arab Spring, January 25 revolution, Ultras, social movement, street politics


            The Egyptian revolution that started on January 25 engaged many people who theretofore had not been considered political actors. Among them were the Ultras, a particular group of football fans who are widely credited to have played a part in the more physical aspects of the uprising. In this article the Ultras are studied by means of an analysis of their own written material, their internet presence, and fieldwork conducted in Cairo. It is argued that the Ultras have quite naturally developed into a revolutionary social movement.


            Author and article information

            Arab Studies Quarterly
            Pluto Journals
            Summer 2013
            : 35
            : 3
            : 290-304
            © The Center for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies 2013

            All content is freely available without charge to users or their institutions. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles in this journal without asking prior permission of the publisher or the author. Articles published in the journal are distributed under a http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.


            Social & Behavioral Sciences
            street politics,Ultras,Egypt,social movement,Arab Spring,January 25 revolution


            1. Andrea Teti and Gennaro Gervasio, “Egypt's Second January Uprising: Causes and Consequences of a Would-be Revolution,” Mediterranean Yearbook 2011 (Barcelona: IEMed, 2011), 30–36, http://www.iemed.org/observatori-en/arees-danalisi/arxius-adjunts/anuari/med.2011/Gervasio_en.pdf (accessed March 16, 2012). Ahdaf Soueif, Cairo My City, Our Revolution (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), 167. Mahmoud El-Wardani, “The Ultras and the Egyptian Revolution,” Jadaliyya.com, December 25, 2011, http://www.iemed.org/observatori-en/arees-danalisi/arxius-adjunts/anuari/med.2011/Gervasio_en.pdf (accessed March 16, 2012). Ahdaf Soueif, Cairo My City, Our Revolution (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), 167. Mahmoud El-Wardani, “The Ultras and the Egyptian Revolution,” Jadaliyya.com, December 25, 2011, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/3759/the-Ultras-and-the-egyptian-revolution (accessed March 16, 2012).

            2. Asef Bayat, “Paradoxes of Arab Refo-lutions,” Jadaliyya.com, March 3, 2011, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/786/paradoxes-of-arab-refo-lutions (accessed March 16, 2012).

            3. P. Aarts and F. Cavatorta, “Debating Civil Society Dynamics in Syria and Iran,” in Civil Society in Syria and Iran: Activism in Authoritarian Contexts , ed. P. Aarts and F. Cavatorta (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, forthcoming), 6.

            4. Asef Bayat, Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010).

            5. Gunter A. Pilz and Franciska Wölki-Schumacher, “Overview of the Ultra culture phenomenon in the Council of Europe member states in 2009,” document drafted for International Conference on Ultras: Good Practices in Dealing with New Developments in Supporters' Culture, January 18, 2010, http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/sport/Source/T-RV/T-RV_2010_03_EN_background_doc_Prof_PILZ.pdf (accessed May 1, 2012), 9. Alberto Testa, “The UltraS: An Emerging Social Movement?” Review of European Studies 1:2 (2009), 54–63 at 55.

            6. Muhammad Jamāl Bashīr, Kitāb al-Ultrās. <'>indamā tata <'>addā al-jamāhīr al-ṭabī<'>a (Cairo: Dār Dawwin, 2011), 28–29.

            7. Pilz and Wölki-Schumacher, “Overview of the Ultra culture.”

            8. Ibid., 5.

            9. Ibid., 7.

            10. Ibid., 6–7.

            11. E. Dunning, P. Murphy, and I. Waddington, “Towards a Sociological Understanding of Football Hooliganism as a World Phenomenon,” in Fighting Fans: Football Hooliganism as a World Phenomenon , ed. E. Dunning, P. Murphy, I. Waddington, and A. E. Astrinakis (Dublin: UCD Press, 2002), 17, 19.

            12. Pilz and Wölki-Schumacher, “Overview of the Ultra culture,” 8.

            13. Ibid., 17–19.

            14. Ibid., 20.

            15. See the following websites from across Europe against this phenomenon: www.againstmodernfootball.com (England); www.tegenhetmodernevoetbal.nl (Netherlands); http://mouvement-Ultra.forumactif.fr/t2747-platoche-contre-le-football-moderne (France); http://www.facebook.com/pages/Gegen-den-modernen-Fu%C3%9Fball/134359363314219 (Germany). Cf. “ḍid al-kura al-ḥadītha” (Bashīr, Kitāb al-Ultrās, 169–175).

            16. Pilz and Wölki-Schumacher, “Overview of the Ultra culture,” 15.

            17. Pilz and Wölki-Schumacher are unclear at this point, arguing that Ultras are not particularly leftwing or rightwing, whereas their material shows clearly that the dominant trend is the rightist one. Testimony to this is for example, what they relate of leftist groups in Spain referring to themselves as anti-Ultras in order to disassociate themselves from the right-wing Ultras in the country. (“Overview of the Ultra culture,” 19–20.) See also: Testa, “The UltraS.”

            18. Gemyhood is the pseudonym under which Bashīr authors a weblog: www.gemyhood.com. See also: www.facebook.com/gemyhoodblog.

            19. The term jamāhīr may indicate the Ultra groups, but in these revolution-minded days it is perfectly possible to think that it recalls the Egyptian masses of late January.

            20. Bashīr, Kitāb al-Ultrās, 10–13 and passim.

            21. Ibid., 25.

            22. Ibid., 38.

            23. Ibid., 39.

            24. Ibid., 165–166.

            25. Socialisme.nu, “Revolutie radicaliseert voetbalsupporters Egypte, 'Tantawi, wij willen je hoofd!'” February 4, 2012, http://socialisme.nu/blog/nieuws/23369/revolutie-radicaliseert-voetbalsupporters-egypte-%E2%80%98tantawi-wij-willen-je-hoofd%E2%80%99/ (accessed March 16, 2012). Khalil al-Anani (sic), “Al-thawra al-misriyya fī mir<'>āh al-tārīkh,” Jadaliyya.com, January 26, 2012, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/4171/ (accessed May 1, 2012).

            26. Bashīr, Kitāb al-Ultrās , see the chapter entitled “A.C.A.B. Kull rijāl al-amn awghād,” 95–103.

            27. Ibid., see the chapter entitled “ḍid al-kura al-ḥadītha,” 169–175.

            28. Ibid., 74–75.

            29. Socialisme.nu, “Tantawi.”

            30. Passant Rabie, “And the fans played on,” Egypt Today , March 6, 2012, http://egypttoday.com/news/display/article/artId:559/And-the-Fans-Play-On/secId:25 (accessed May 4, 2012).

            31. Paul Mason, Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions (London: Verso Books, 2012), 16–17.

            32. Bashīr, Kitāb al-Ultrās , 70.

            33. Ibid.

            34. Ibid.

            35. Some of these statements are collected in ‘Amru Hāshim Rabī‘ (ed.), Wathā'iq 100 yawm ‘ala thawra 25 Yanāyir (Cairo: Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, July edition), 343–345; at least one is still accessible on the internet: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=183770148312807&id=152436011448151 (accessed May 3, 2012).

            36. Ibid.

            37. I assume Bashīr means “facebookpages,” when he writes “nasharat al-safhāt al-rasmiyya li_lmajmū'atayn al-kubār bil-‘āṣima.” I have not been able to retrieve these messages.

            38. James M. Dorsey, “Soccer: A Middle East and North African Battlefield,” Social Science Research Network, November 6, 2012, http://ssrn.com/abstract=1955513 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1955513 (accessed March 16, 2012). Teresita Cruz-del Rosario and James M. Dorsey, “Street, Shrine, Square and Soccer Pitch: Comparative Protest Spaces in Asia and the Middle East,” RSIS Working Paper No. 230 (Singapore: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, 2012), http://hdl.handle.net/10220/7570 (accessed March 16, 2012). See also Dorsey's blog: http://mideastsoccer.blogspot.com/.

            39. Testa, “The UltraS.”

            40. James M. Jasper, “Social Movements,” in Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 4443–4451.

            41. I am leaving the distinction between SMT and New SMT for what it is. Neither will I elaborate on the distinction between social movements and social movement organizations (Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Tim Bartley, “Social Movement Organizations,” in Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 4440–4443).

            42. Asef Bayat, “Activism and Social Development in the Middle East,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 34:1 (2002), 1–28. Bayat, Life as Politics . Quintan Wiktorowicz (ed.), Islamic Activism: A Social Movement Theory Approach (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004).

            43. These examples are taken from Cairo, where I witnessed these phenomena personally before and especially after the January 25 revolution.

            44. Bayat, Life as Politics , 11.

            45. On May 2 their Facebook site posted the following YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_8qSPonTlY (viewed June 28, 2012).

            46. Interview with Sarah Badī'a on June 20, 2012. Sarah was present at this march. Her statement is largely confirmed by Cairo-based freelance journalist Dirk Wanrooij, who was also present at this march. While he confirms the Ultras' antipathy towards the Muslim Brothers, he did not connect the Ultras' silence on this day as a protest against the Muslim Brothers on stage. Correspondence by mail with Wanrooij, July 22, 2012.

            47. http://www.facebook.com/ultras.tahrir.squares (viewed June 28, 2012).

            48. “ṣawtak muhimm yā fāris (.) ḥatqūl na‘m ḥatqūl lā… ṣawtak da btā'ak wa bass,” cited in Rabī'Wathā'iq, 344. In White Knights' parlance, a member of the group is referred to as fāris/“knight.”

            49. Bashīr, Kitāb al-Ultrās, 187.

            50. See Sherif Tarek, “Egypt's Ultras: Politically involved but not politically driven, yet,” Ahram Online, January 16, 2012, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentPrint/1/0/31904/Egypt/0/Egypt's-Ultras-Politically-involved-but-not-politi.aspx (accessed May 4, 2012) for an indication that some are working on a unified Ultras political movement, while others remain skeptical.


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