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Football Arenas in the Middle East and North Africa: Battlegrounds for Political Control

Updated: Jan 29, 2022

In T. Rapoport (ed), Doing Fandom, Palgrave MacMillan, 2020

“Football Arenas in the Middle East and North Africa: Battlegrounds for Political Control”, is authored by James M. Dorsey. The chapter discusses how since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, doing fandom has played a central role in the formation of nation states and regimes in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in ratifying and shaping ethnic identities and political demands for independence, liberties and rights. The chapter shows how during the late twentieth century, Middle Eastern and North African leaders have enlisted sports to attain independence, strengthen their hold on centres of power and further their political aims, even as at times the stadium turned into the site of anti-government protest. The age-old ability of autocratic leaders to continue in their ways was significantly restricted at the beginning of the twenty-first century with the rise of militant, battle-hardened political groups of football fans and the Ultras, which challenge the repressive regimes’ power centres and persistently and doggedly confront autocrats’ need to control all public space (as in the protest sites, Tahrir Square in Egypt and Taksim Square of Istanbul.) In the course of intense and sometimes violent change, their struggle turns football and the stadium into a battleground demanding political control, increased political freedom and equal economic opportunity.

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