Accepted paper:

The Breaking of a Bubble: State-controlled, commercialised football under Mubarak, and the challenge from Cairo's revolutionary Ultras


Carl Rommel (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the intertwined relationships between football, big-business, media and the neo-liberal state in Mubarak’s Egypt. It also discusses how this peculiar complex of state-controlled, politicised football has been challenged by Ultras groups, before and after the 2011 revolution.

Paper long abstract:

This paper dramatises some aspects of Egypt's peculiar neo-liberal experience, taking a closer look at Egyptian football in the last decades. Drawing on press material, movies and ethnographic fieldwork in Cairo, the paper argues that football formed an intrinsic part of the hyper-nationalist, state-controlled neo-liberalism that was intrinsic to the Mubarak-regime, not the least since the game provided an arena to discursively and materially define what Egypt ought to be, and how Egyptians ought to talk and behave. Presenting findings from fieldwork among the Ultras groups of Cairo's two football giants Ahly and Zamalek, the paper also discusses how this complex of big-business, satellite media and oppressive politics has been challenged in recent years. Emerging in 2007, international Ultras principles such as 'anti-media', 'anti modern football' and an aversion for the police, resonated well with large sections of the Egyptian youth, and the Ultras grew quickly, directing stern criticism towards the corruption within the domestic game, while repeatedly fighting State Security forces inside and outside the stadiums. Consequently, the Ultras gained an experience that proved crucial in the 2011 uprising, and their importance as a revolutionary force is on the rise, not the least after the massacre of 74 Ahly Ultras at Port Said stadium in February 2012. How do Ultras in Cairo perceive of their role in the revolution and the struggle against the commercial-political monster that Egyptian football turned into under Mubarak? What are their alternative visions for what football should be and represent in a future, democratic Egypt?

panel G24
The anthropology of sport in a changing world