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New Article: Ultras As Social Nonmovement in Egypt

July 24, 2012

One of the most fascinating questions about the Egyptian uprising is the role of the Ultras.

Ultras are sports fans renowned for their fanatical support of Egyptian sports clubs–especially Zamalek (“Ultras White Nights”) and ‘Ahly (Ultras Ahlawy)–and for their elaborate displays intended to create an atmosphere that encourages their own team and intimidates opposing players and supporters. Ultra activity can lead to violence, and Ultra-police clashes have long been common (a common Ultra slogan is ACAB, meaning “All Cops Are Bastards”). Since the revolution, Ultras have involved themselves in fights between anti-military protesters and government security forces in Egypt.

One important aspect of the Ultras in the Egyptian uprisings?

The presence of ultras in Tahrir Square was the only organized entity with vast experience in dealing with the security forces and police brutality.

Those are the words of Faedah M Totah. In a recent article in Anthropology News,  entitled “Ultras Uprising or Boys Just Wanna Have Fun?” she describes the Ultras as an example of “social nonmovements” (Bayat 2010) in which people come together in similar activities that can trigger social change without the structure, leadership, and formality associated with traditional social movements.

She writes:

it is this ability to shift from sports to politics that makes the ultras fascinating. They already had vast experience in marking the cityscape with the logos of their favorite teams and were skilled at rioting at local games and evading the police and security forces. These skills were transferable during the demonstrations in Tahrir Square. Perhaps the interesting thing about these ultras is their ability to organize and mobilize individuals who are “action-oriented rather than ideologically driven” (Bayat 2010:19). The lack of ideology makes it easier to attract supporters regardless of their socio-economic and political backgrounds. They are one of the few entities in Egypt that transcend the social, religious, and economic barriers to coordinated political action in Egypt. Therefore, “social nonmovements” such as the ultra can engage in political activities without being political actors.

References:

Bayat, Asef. 2010. Life as Politics How Ordinary People Change the Middle East. Stanford University Press.

Totah, Faedah. 2012. Ultras Uprising or Boys Just Wanna Have Fun? Anthropology News

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