Richard Whittall:

“The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer has helped me immensely with great information and perspective.”

Bob Bradley, former US and Egyptian national coach

"James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle Eastern Soccer (has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture."
Alon Raab in The International Journal of the History of Sport

“Dorsey’s blog is a goldmine of information.”

Play the Game

"Your expertise is clearly superior when it comes to Middle Eastern soccer."
Andrew Das, The New York Times soccer blog Goal

"Dorsey statement (on Egypt) proved prophetic."
David Zirin, Sports Illustrated

"Essential Reading"
Change FIFA

"A fantastic new blog'
Richard Whitall of A More Splendid Life

"James combines his intimate knowledge of the region with a great passion for soccer"
Christopher Ahl, Play the Game

"An excellent Middle East Football blog"
James Corbett, Inside World Football

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

China and the Middle East : Embarking on a Strategic Approach

RSIS Commentary is a platform to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy-relevant commentary and analysis of topical issues and contemporary developments. The views of the authors are their own and do not represent the official position of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU. These commentaries may be reproduced electronically or in print with prior permission from RSIS and due recognition to the author(s) and RSIS. Please email: for feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentary, Yang Razali Kassim. 

No. 183/2014 dated 16 September 2014
China and the Middle East :
Embarking on a Strategic Approach
By James M. Dorsey


As the United States becomes embroiled in yet another military intervention in the Middle East, China is embarking on a long-term approach to the region that would secure its access to resources and trade, and enable cooperation with the US on Chinese terms. The approach takes as its starting point that with US influence in the region in decline, political and economic indicators suggest that it’s just a matter of time before the pendulum swings in China’s favour.


CHINA HAS embarked on a Middle East strategy that is shaped as much by contemporary US predicaments in the Middle East as it is by a set of foreign policy principles that contrast starkly with those of the United States, with a determination not to repeat what China views as US mistakes. While there appears to be broad consensus on these points, China’s policy community seems to be divided on a host of questions related to integrating them into a comprehensive policy towards the region. These questions range from the role of democratization to the degree to which China should assert its influence in the region.

The extent of the policy debate was evident during a recent government-endorsed two-day symposium between Chinese policy analysts and former ambassadors to the Middle East and several of their scholarly Western and Arab colleagues. A glimpse of those differences goes some way to explain the focus of the Chinese policy debate. The debate is framed by an emphasis on external rather than domestic drivers of crisis in the Middle East and the importance attached to the formal aspects of political processes such as Chinese official statements and outcomes of elections in the region irrespective of whether they were free and fair, for example Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s re-election in June, rather than political reality on the ground. Ironically, framing that alongside the principle of non-intervention in a country’s domestic affairs effectively amounts to support for autocratic regimes in the Middle East, a policy for which the United States has paid dearly.

The end of US hegemony

The contours of Chinese policy in the Middle East and the assumptions on which they are based have begun to emerge even as US credibility is undermined as a result of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, US support for political change in the region is perceived to be misled; US reluctance to become further embroiled in the region’s conflicts foremost among which is Syria, and its inability to nudge Israelis and Palestinians towards a resolution of their dispute. “US backing off on the Syrian chemical weapons issue signalled the end of US hegemony,” said An Huihou of Shanghai International Studies University’s (SIIS) Middle East Institute who served as Chinese ambassador in five Arab countries.  An was referring to the Russian initiated negotiated resolution of the issue after US President Barack Obama last year shied away from acting militarily on what he had earlier described as a red line.

Like geopolitics, economics also mitigate in China’s favour. The era of an economic focus of oil-rich Gulf states on the United States and Europe ended last year when China replaced the European Union as the region’s foremost trading partner, pushing the US to second place and India moving Japan out of third place. “It’s a shift from the old industrialized powers to the newly industrialized powers,” said Tim Niblock`, a renowned expert on Gulf-Asian relations.

Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined his country’s policy framework towards the region when he called in June of last year for the revival of the Silk Road under the motto of One Belt, One Road. “The Silk Road is an important guide for China’s Middle East diplomacy,” said Wang Jian, director of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences’ West Asia and North Africa Research Centre. “Arab countries are at the western intersection of one road, one belt,” added SIIS’s Ye Qing.

Lofty principles; harsh reality

Leaving aside the sheer audacity and scope of Xi Jinping’s Silk Road project  that focuses on integrating the enormous swathe  of  territories between China and the Middle East by concentrating on infrastructure, transportation, energy, telecommunications, technology and security, applying China’s lofty principles is easier said than done and raises a host of unanswered questions. Its insistence on multi-polarity as opposed to US dominance in the Middle East implicitly means that the status of the US in the region would have to deteriorate further significantly before Washington, despite Obama’s willingness to consult with others in contrast to his predecessor, George W. Bush, would be willing to entertain the Chinese approach.

In the absence of US acquiescence, that approach risks Chinese interests being threatened by the spiralling violence in the region, including the feared spill over of Islamic State-style jihadism in Xinjiang. Non-intervention coupled with unconditional aid could further threaten Chinese interests if and when political change occurs as happened in Libya after the overthrow of Col. Moammar Qaddafi. Qaddafi’s immediate successors threatened to disadvantage China in the reconstruction of the country because of its ties with the Qaddafi regime to the bitter end.  China and the US could find easier common ground on the principle of adherence to international legality, a principle Obama emphasised when he was first elected. However, that has so far been thwarted by the blocking of resolutions regarding Syria by China and Russia rendering   the United Nations Security Council impotent .

China’s policy approach to the Middle East is reinforced by its conclusion from the US predicament in the region that no one power can help the region restore stability and embark on a road of equitable and sustainable development. “Replacing the US is a trap China should not fall into,” Wang Jian said. At the same time, he justified Chinese non-interference with the government’s conviction that the chaos in the region meant that this was not the time to intervene – an approach that many in the Chinese policy community believe allows China to let the US stew in its own soup.

At the crux of the Chinese debate is the same dilemma that stymies US policy in the Middle East: the clash between lofty principles and harsh reality that produces perceptions of a policy that is riddled with contradictions and fails to live up to the values it enunciates. Non-intervention coupled with economic incentives has so far allowed China to paper over some of those dilemmas. That may be more difficult to maintain as the crisis in the Middle East escalates and potentially spills out of the region and closer to home and China’s economic stake increases. To many in the Chinese policy community, dealing with this dilemma makes cooperation between the United States and China an imperative. The question however is: on whose terms?

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Wurzburg and the author of the blog.The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer and a forthcoming book with the same title.

Click HERE to read this commentary online.

Nanyang Technological University
Block S4, Level B4, 50 Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798
Tel: +65 6790 6982 | Fax: +65 6794 0617 |

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Palestinians pressure UEFA not to award the tournament to Israel

By James M. Dorsey

Palestinian soccer clubs and non-governmental organizations have called on European soccer governor UEFA to this week shy away from awarding Israel the right to host the 2020 UEFA European Championship.

The campaign against Israel, one of 12 hopefuls expecting a decision in a September 19 UEFA meeting, is part of a boycott campaign that was boosted by the recent seven-week long Israeli Palestinian war in Gaza. The war ended with a ceasefire designed to open the door to negotiations on long-term arrangements that would lift an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the strip.

The clubs and NGOs reminded UEFA president Michel Platini in a letter dated September 9 that he had warned Israel that it “must choose between allowing Palestinian sport to continue and prosper or be forced to face the consequences for their behaviour.”

The letter signed by a host of clubs and other NGOs puts Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestine Olympic Committee and the Palestine Football Association (PFA), both of which were absent among the signatories of the letter, in a difficult spot.

Mr. Rajoub, widely believed to be positioning himself as a candidate in Palestinian presidential elections, helped Israel in early June avert sanctions by world soccer body FIFA by dropping calls for the suspension of the Jewish state’s membership. Instead, Mr. Rajoub agreed to the establishment of an independent FIFA committee tasked with monitoring progress in the removal of Israeli obstacles to Palestinian soccer such as restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinian players and officials as well as the import of soccer-related goods. The commission is scheduled to report back to FIFA’s executive committee in December.

The Palestinian sports czar argued in a recent 20-minute Al Jazeera talk show entitled ‘Is it time for a sporting boycott of Israel?” that “the main obstacle is the occupation and their treatment daily of the Palestinian sports community with hatred and enmity; restricting the movement of the players, staff and officials and even the movement of our national teams, whether men or women, from inside to outside (of the West Bank and Gaza) or inside the occupied territories.. We need to try to develop and invest in football in Palestine, despite the difficulties we face... We believe football should remain a tool to build bridges between people. Personally, I've been very saddened by the loss of Palestinian life in the conflict,” Mr. Rajoub said.

Mr. Rajoub’s assertions of Israeli harassment were given a boost by a letter of 43 mostly active Israeli reservists stating that they would refuse future service in the Israeli military intelligence wing, Unit 8200, which is often described as the equivalent of the United States National Security Agency. Unit 8200 monitors Palestinians using sophisticated technology. The Israelis said in their letter to Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, Israel Defence Forces chief of staff Binyamin ‘Benny’ Gantz, and head of military intelligence Brigadier General Herzl Levi that their refusal was a result of the methods used by Unit 8200 and the toll they take on innocent civilians in occupied Palestinian territories.

The letter said the methods included gathering personal information about a person's sexual preference, marital fidelity or health needs and using it to blackmail the individual into collaborating with Israeli authorities. The letter quoted its signatories as saying in the form of witness statements that "the notion of rights for Palestinians does not exist at all, not even as an idea to be disregarded" and "any Palestinian may be targeted and may suffer from sanctions, such as the denial of permits, harassment, extortion, or even direct physical injury." The Israeli military denied the allegations in a statement saying that "the Intelligence Corps has no record that the specific violations in the letter ever took place." The statement said Unit 8200’s mission was to protect Israeli civilians.

The campaign also casts a shadow on the credibility of the Palestine Authority (PA) headed by President Mahmoud Abbas that has walked a thin line between backing sanctions against Israel in the wake of the war in which some 2,000 Palestinians were killed and more than 10,000 wounded. Some 70 Israelis also died as a result of the hostilities.

Mr. Abbas’ PA needs to be seen as adopting a harder line in pressing Israel to genuinely negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians after Hamas, the Islamist militia that controls the Gaza Strip, emerged reinvigorated as the force that had confronted Israeli military superiority. The campaign to pressure UEFA is part of a broader Palestinian move to force Israel’s hand by gaining recognition of Palestinian statehood through membership in international organizations. That campaign is tempered by Mr. Abbas’ need to avoid disrupting his financial lifeline by crossing PA’s Western donors. As a result, Mr. Abbas has shied away from plans backed by Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups to charge Israel with war crimes in the International Criminal Court.

The Palestinian soccer clubs and NGOs asserted in their letter to Mr. Platini that awarding Israel the 2020 European Championship would be tantamount to rewarding it for its widely criticized conduct of the Gaza war. Israel has been accused of at best failing to avoid high civilian casualties during the Gaza war and at worst targeting highly populated areas. Israel has argued that it was aiming at military targets but that Hamas and other Palestinian groups had been using civilians as human shields by stationing their rocket launchers and other weapons in densely populated areas.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Committee, which had been campaigning for the sanctioning of Israel before the Gaza war quoted its Gaza coordinator, Abdulrahman Abunahel, as saying that “giving Israel the privilege of hosting a major international sports tournament just weeks after it has carried out a bloody massacre of Palestinians in the besieged Gaza strip would give a green light to future war crimes. Palestinians in Gaza enjoy the beautiful game as much as anyone else but Israel has launched a war on football, killing footballers, bombing stadiums and refusing to allow players to travel to matches. UEFA must live up to its stated commitment to human rights and show Israel the red card.”

Mr. Abunahel was referring to the deaths during the war of 19-year old players Ahmad Muhammad al-Qatar and Uday Caber as well as 49-year-old Palestinian soccer legend Ahed Zaqout and the reported destruction of 32 Gazan sports facilities and damaging of some 500 athletes’ homes.

The letter charged further that awarding the European tournament to Israel would legitimize Israel’s alleged displacement of Palestinians from predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem, which it said was void of soccer facilities as a result of restrictions on Palestinian development. Israel’s allies, including the United States, recently criticized the Jewish state for its expropriation of 400 hectares of land between Jerusalem and Bethlehem as collective punishment for the killing earlier this year of three Israeli teenagers.

“If UEFA decides to allow part of its football tournament to take place in Jerusalem, it will be providing tacit support to the serious violations of international law that Israel is committing in the city”, Mr. Abunahel said.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fighting the Islamic State: What about the day after?

RSIS Commentary is a platform to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy-relevant commentary and analysis of topical issues and contemporary developments. The views of the authors are their own and do not represent the official position of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU. These commentaries may be reproduced electronically or in print with prior permission from RSIS and due recognition to the author(s) and RSIS. Please email: for feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentary, Yang Razali Kassim. 

No. 180/2014 dated 11 September 2014
Fighting the Islamic State:
What about the day after?
By James M. Dorsey


The US’ military operations against Islamist jihadists in Iraq and possibly Syria risk repeating the West’s failure to embed kinetic interventions in post-conflict reconstruction policies to address the core grievances of populations in the Middle East and North Africa.


The beheading of a second American journalist and the likely execution of a British national have left  US President Barak Obama and other Western leaders few options but to step up military operations against Islamist jihadists in Iraq and expand the battle into Syria.

The focus on confronting the militant jihadists however risks repeating the West’s failure to couple military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya with policies that address post-conflict reconstruction of healthy, pluralistic societies. Similarly, the lack of support for more moderate rebels in Syria failed to take into account the consequences of allowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to squash his moderate opponents and enable the rise of groups that cast him in the role of a bulwark against terrorism.

Failure of war on terror

As a result, more than a decade after then US President George W. Bush declared war on terrorism in the wake of Al Qaeda’s spectacular 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, militant jihadists have morphed into lethal military organisations capable of conquering and holding territories in countries as far flung as Syria, Iraq, Libya and Nigeria. The Islamic State, the militant Islamist group that controls a swath of Syria and Iraq, is moreover financially self-sufficient, reaping up to an estimated $1 billion a year in revenues from captured oil assets as well as extortion and kidnappings.

The rise of groups like the Islamic State or Boko Haram in Nigeria effectively signals the failure of the war on terror in eradicating Islamist violence or at least putting jihadists on the defensive. The exception may be Somalia where Al Qaeda affiliate Al Shabab has suffered loss of territory, but is still capable of launching deadly attacks in the capital Mogadishu or Al Qaeda itself which appears to have been more concerned in recent years with survival than with plotting an offensive global strategy.

At the core of continued Islamist successes, is the failure of the United States to embed counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency strategies into a comprehensive policy that addresses core grievances on which the Islamists thrive: a changing geo-political environment in post-revolt Middle Eastern and North African countries in which autocratic and sectarian rule as well as colonial-era national borders are being questioned, and the propagation of a puritan, intolerant interpretation of Islam by one of its closest allies, Saudi Arabia.

The failure disregards a rare acknowledgement by Bush shortly after the 9/11 attacks that the United States had become a target because it had for decades emphasised stability in the Middle East and North Africa maintained by authoritarian rulers rather than the installation of regimes that catered to people’s needs and aspirations. President Barak Obama’s hope of minimising US military involvement in the Middle East with the ending of more than a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with no real plan for the day after produced a return to the very policies that Bush identified as co-responsible for militant jihadist violence.

Putting military action at the core

The confrontation with the Islamic State inevitably will involve an increased US military commitment albeit in cooperation with America’s Western allies and regional forces like Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi military forces. It is an involvement that puts military action rather than politics at its core despite US pressure that led to the replacement of sectarian Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki with an Iraqi leader who promises to reach out to the country’s disaffected Sunni Muslim community.

Al-Maliki’s rise as an authoritarian leader who monopolised the state’s levers of power and alienated large segments of the Iraqi population in the process was in part the result of a US return to an emphasis on stability in a volatile part of the world rather than support for transition even if it is at times messy and produces problematic leaders.

So is the Obama administration’s decision to drop pressure on Egypt despite the fact that the country has reverted to the repressive rule of a military commander-turned-president by an election that hardly could be deemed free and fair. As is the administration’s treatment with velvet gloves of Saudi leaders who share a puritan Wahhabi interpretation of Islam with their jihadist detractors that subjects women to their male guardians, propagates intolerance towards those with alternative interpretations of religious texts, and encourage divisive, sectarian policies. Saudi da’wa, the proselytising of its religious precepts funded by the country’s oil wealth, which kicked into high gear after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, has sparked intolerance in Muslim communities across the globe, such as in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Levelling the playing field

Decades of entrenched autocratic mismanagement and abusive rule in the Middle East and North Africa cannot be erased overnight. Similarly, they cannot be reversed by foreign intervention. Populations in the region will have to chart their own course in struggles that are likely to be volatile, messy and at times bloody. The US and others cannot do it for them. They can however help in levelling the playing field by living up to their democratic ideals and adhering to Bush’s realisation that US policies in support of autocratic regimes help create the breeding ground for ever more effective and brutal groups such as the Islamic State.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.

Click HERE to read this commentary online.

Nanyang Technological University
Block S4, Level B4, 50 Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798
Tel: +65 6790 6982 | Fax: +65 6794 0617 |

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Responding to the Islamic State’s Foreign Fighters: Retribution or Rehabilitation?

RSIS Commentary is a platform to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy-relevant commentary and analysis of topical issues and contemporary developments. The views of the authors are their own and do not represent the official position of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU. These commentaries may be reproduced electronically or in print with prior permission from RSIS and due recognition to the author(s) and RSIS. Please email: for feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentary, Yang Razali Kassim. 

No. 176/2014 dated 9 September 2014
Responding to the Islamic State’s Foreign Fighters:
Retribution or Rehabilitation?
By Farish A. Noor and James M. Dorsey


Heated debate about the fate of foreign fighters joining the Islamic State, the jihadist group that controls a swath of Iraq and Syria, spotlights a host of societal problems in Europe. It also highlights the degree of alienation that prompts young men and women to join a brutal force and calls into question the efficacy of criminalisation.


PRIME MINISTER David Cameron’s plans to criminalise British fighters in Iraq and Syria and bar them from returning to Britain has come in for sharp criticism from the former head of counter-terrorism in its intelligence services MI5 and MI6. Richard Barrett hit the nail on the head when he argued that repentant fighters, who regret taking the fateful step of joining an armed struggle in a war-torn region that has nothing to do with religion, have an important role to play in dissuading others from following in their footsteps.

In fact Barrett was suggesting that the young men and women, many of whom have been marginalised in British society as a result of their ethnic or religious heritage, could not only be reintegrated into society but help break down barriers of alienation in immigrant communities.

Questioning notions of retribution

Barrett’s comments came amid reports that as many as one fifth of the estimated British fighters in Iraq and Syria were disillusioned and looking for a way to return home. A man with a 25-year history in British intelligence and diplomacy, Barrett was not motivated by compassion but by hard-nosed realism rooted in the experience of de-radicalisation programmes in a host of countries over a long period of time, including Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

Barrett recognised that beyond having been there and being able to argue to their peers that groups like Islamic State are not a solution, repentant foreign fighters are also a potential fount of intelligence about the group’s mode of organisation, funding, tactics and long-term ambitions. Barrett further understood that in the struggle against radical militants insider knowledge is of crucial importance, and vital for understanding the dynamics of radicalisation.

In doing so, Barrett was implicitly calling into question traditional notions of retribution and rehabilitation by arguing that Britain had more to benefit from turning repentant foreign fighters into assets than from penalising them.

With ISIS having an estimated 12,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, Barrett’s argument builds on the more recent experience of Saudi Arabia, a major supplier of the Islamic State’s foreign contingent, as well as  of Malaysia in the 1950s. Saudi officials estimate that of the approximately 3,000 jihadists that have gone through the kingdom’s extensive rehabilitation programme, at most 10 percent have found their way back to violent militancy. In rehabilitating the former jihadists, Saudi Arabia included militant clerics who in the past had supported Osama Bin Laden in the team of professionals working with the young men to re-integrate them into society.

Two models of successful counter-terrorism

While it may be too early to declare the Saudi programme a success with jihadist violence sweeping the Middle East, enough time has gone by to tout Malaysia’s experience as one. Former militant guerrillas of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) were persuaded to abandon their struggle and accept rehabilitation in order to be reintegrated into society. Many did, and some provided vital information about the MCP’s tactics, operational capabilities, and long-term strategy.

The Malaysian government helped turn the anti-militant campaign into a success by looking into the anxieties and frustrations of those who had become militants in the first place. Like the Saudis after them, they factored in variables such as job opportunities and citizenship rights that pushed young men and women to join the militants in the first place.

The Saudi and Malaysian experiences are but two models of successful counter-terrorism that take as their starting point the addressing of core problems rather than retribution. They offer lessons for Europe in coming to grips with its  nationals who join the Islamic State often more as a desperate cry for help because of deep-seated feelings of marginalisation and exclusion that are magnified by their home country’s unwillingness to act while a brutal regime in Syria massacred its population.

In many ways, frustration among Europe’s Muslim youth over Syria resembles the anger that prompted European leftists and liberals to join the Republicans against General Francisco Franco’s Nationalists in Spain in the 1940s – which was another instance of ‘internationalism’ and which proves that what we are seeing now is neither new nor unique.

With unemployment at its highest in Europe since World War Two, thousands of young Europeans, many of them descendants of earlier waves of immigration, face the harsh realities of economic stagnation and, homelessness. They have lost faith in future prospects and the capability of governments to create opportunities. They share the same problems and despair with non-migrant segments of European society who seek their solace in neo-Nazi organisations and right-wing militias. Like today’s foreign fighters, these men and women travelled in the 1990s to Bosnia to fight alongside right-wing ethno-nationalist militias.

The lesson in all of this is that Muslims may be at the centre of the foreign fighter issue in Iraq and Syria but that does not mean that Europe has a Muslim problem. Europe’s problem is one of transition from traditional relatively homogeneous societies into a plurality of ethnic and religious communities. That transition has yet to address problems of lack of political representation, social and economic inequality, and the fact that the brunt of these unresolved issues is borne by the young and the poor.

An egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer

Writing in The Guardian, anthropologist Scott Atran noted that the Islamic State’s western volunteers “are mostly youth in transitional stages in their lives – immigrants, students, between jobs or girlfriends, having left their homes and looking for new families. For the most part they have no traditional religious education and are “born again” to religion.”

What inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Quran or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer: fraternal, fast-breaking, glorious and cool. It was what they sought in European society but were unable to access.

As a result, Europe’s foreign fighters largely represent a generation that needs help not castigation. Barrett’s argument opens the door to approaching them and their peers with the necessary intelligence and sensitivity, recognising that punitive retribution is not the answer and will not solve the problem. It was precisely the perception of discrimination, exclusion and society’s lack of comprehension and compassion that drove them out of Europe in the first place.

Farish A Noor is Associate Professor at RSIS and Head of the RSIS Doctoral Programme. James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University and co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg.

HERE to read this commentary online.

Nanyang Technological University
Block S4, Level B4, 50 Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798
Tel: +65 6790 6982 | Fax: +65 6794 0617 |

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Turkish prosecutor demands life sentences for protesting soccer fans

By James M. Dorsey

Newly elected Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined this week a host of Middle Eastern and North African leaders seeking to portray protest as terrorism or a threat to national security with the indictment of 35 militant soccer fans on charges of trying to topple his Islamist government. Turkish prosecutors have demanded that they be sentenced to life in prison.

The indictment of the members of Carsi, the popular militant support group of storied Istanbul club Besiktas JK, which played a key role in last year’s mass Gezi Park anti-government protests coincided with calls in Egypt, reportedly supported by Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fatah Al Sisi, to outlaw the ultras. The ultras are groups of street battled-hardened soccer fans who were crucial to the popular uprising in 2011 overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak and subsequent opposition to military rule.

Basing his charges on wiretaps, Adem Meral, an Istanbul Terrorism and Organized Crime Unit prosecutor, charged that the soccer fans had not been driven to join the protests by environmental concerns and opposition to plans to replace the historic Gezi Park on the city’s iconic Taksim Square with an Ottoman-style shopping mall. Instead, Mr. Meral said in his 38-page indictment: “It is understood that they were trying to overthrow the democratically elected Turkish government and to facilitate this objective, they were attempting to capture the Prime Ministry offices in Ankara and Istanbul.”

The indictment cited as evidence statements by various defendants in tapped telephone conversations. One defendant said he was “not interested in the construction of the mall or the demolition of trees” but wanted to “topple the government.” Another suggested that the protests could lead to civil war, adding that “we will today occupy the prime ministry's residence.” Others suggested attacking the police to fuel public anger.

Turkey was criticized by its European and US allies as well as human rights group for its heavy- handed efforts to halt the protests in which at least eight people were killed and some 8,000 others wounded.

In line with Mr. Erdogan’s assertions at the time that the protests against his increasingly haughty style of government were a foreign conspiracy, the indictment charged that Carsi that traces its roots to the far left and positions itself as anarchist, had sought to create the impression that Turkey was experiencing an Arab spring by feeding pictures of clashes with police to foreign journalists.

Charging that Carsi was an armed group, the indictment accused Erol Ozdil, described as one of the group’s leaders, with distributing torches and explosives to his colleagues. It said police had found smoke grenades and gas masks in Mr. Ozdil’s house.

Some 20 members of Carsi were initially arrested a year ago on charges of belonging to an illegal organization, but were later released. A video released at the time by the prime minister’s Anti-Terrorism Office – Mr. Erdogan was serving at the time his third term as prime minister – warned that protests were a precursor to terrorism.

The 55-second video featuring a young woman demonstrator-turned suicide bomber warned the public that “our youth, who are the guarantors of our future, can start with small demonstrations of resistance that appear to be innocent, and after a short period of time, can engage without a blink in actions that may take the lives of dozens of innocent people.” Throughout the video, the words ‘before it is too late’ were displayed.

The trial of the soccer fans for which a date has yet to be set follows several ongoing court proceedings against other protesters in which prosecutors are also seeking harsh sentences. The cases are being prosecuted by a judiciary that like the police force in recent months has been cleansed of alleged supporters of Fethullalh Gulen, a self-exiled Islamic cleric and head of one of the world’s richest Islamist groupings that Mr. Erdogan accuses of attempting to create a parallel state.

Mr. Erdogan openly turned on the group after scores of people, including the sons of three of his ministers, were detained on corruption charges. Subsequent tapes leaked to the media suggested that several of his associates as well as members of his family were involved.

Amnesty International said in a report last year on the Gezi Park protests that the brutal suppression by police and the subsequent campaign against militant soccer fans “significantly undermined the claims of (Mr. Erdogan’s) ruling Justice and Development Party to be delivering responsible, rights-respecting government and exposed a striking intolerance of opposing voices. The smashing of the Gezi Park protest movement has involved a string of human rights violations – many of them on a huge scale. These include: the wholesale denial of the right to peaceful assembly and violations of the rights to life, liberty and the freedom from torture and other ill-treatment. The vast majority of police abuses already look likely to go unpunished, while many of those who organized and participated in the protests have been vilified, abused – and now face prosecution on unfair or inflated charges.”

Mr. Erdogan’s government has attempted over the last year to depoliticize stadia by banning the display and chanting of political slogans during matches, demanding that spectators sign a pledge to refrain from political expression before entering a stadium, and introducing an e-ticket system that would allow authorities to identify fans. Carsi’s response to the government efforts was to chant during matches, "everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance."

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title

Monday, September 8, 2014

الأزمات للتغطية على مصير بريطانيين مختفيَيْن بالدوحة (JMD quoted in Al Arab)

قطر تفتعل الأزمات للتغطية على مصير بريطانيين مختفيَيْن بالدوحة
الدوحة ترسل إشارات سيئة حول جديتها في الالتزام باتفاق الرياض ومقرراته، وتواصل التصعيد الإعلامي ضد دولة الإمارات.
العرب  [نُشر في 07/09/2014، العدد: 9672، ص(1)]
قطر تسعى لطمس حقائق انتهاكها لحقوق العمال
لندن- بدل أن تقدم قطر تفسيرات حول اختفاء باحثين بريطانيين سافرا إلى الدوحة للبحث في أوضاع العمالة في المنشآت الرياضية الخاصة بكأس العالم 2022، سارعت إلى التصعيد ضد دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة دون أي مبررات تذكر.
وقال مراقبون إن أسلوب الهروب إلى الأمام يزيد من الشكوك حول مصير الرجلين المختطفين اللذين قد يكونان حصلا على معطيات تدين الدوحة وتزيد من الضغوط الدولية عليها، أو أنها تراجعت عن وعودها بتحسين ظروف العمالة الأجنبية.
وأضاف المراقبون أن تصعيد قطر لخطابها ضد الإمارات يرسل إشارات سيئة حول التزامها الأخير في جدة بتطبيق اتفاق الرياض بحذافيره وبينه وقف الحملات ضد الدول الأعضاء بمجلس التعاون.
وكانت السلطات البريطانية ذكرت أنها تحقق في معلومات حول اختفاء مريب لباحثين بريطانيين في مجال حقوق الإنسان قدما إلى الدوحة ليحققا في ظروف العمالة.
واختفى كل من كريسنا أوبادهيايا وغونداف غيمير، وهما مواطنان بريطانيان من أصل نيبالي، عندما كانا يستعدان لمغادرة قطر في اتجاه النرويج، حيث سيعرضان على الشبكة العالمية للحقوق والتنمية نتائج تحقيق قاما به في قطر حول حقوق العمال وظروف العمل في المنشآت التي تبنيها لاحتضان كأس العالم 2022.
وركّز تحقيق أوبادهيايا وغيمير على قضية العمال النيباليين، بعدما ذكرت تقارير أن مئات النيباليين في قطر يواجهون ظروفا رهيبة ولا إنسانية تصل حد الاستعباد.
آخر الأخبار عن الرجلين، كانت يوم الأحد الماضي، عبر سلسلة من التغريدات قالا فيها إن رجالا، يعتقد أنهم من الأمن القطري، يقومون بتتبعهما عن قرب.
وأكّدت الشبكة العالمية للحقوق والتنمية، وهي منظمة تتخذ من النرويج مقرّا لها، صحة ذلك مشيرة إلى أن موظفيها اشتكيا مرارا من أن الشرطة تتعقبهما.
كريسنا أوبادهيايا وغونداف غيمير شاهدان على انتهاكات قطر
وربط مراقبون بين خبر اختفاء البريطانيين كريسنا أوبادهيايا وغونداف غيمير ونتائج تقرير صدر مؤخرا عن الشبكة العالمية للحقوق والتنمية صنّف قطر في موقع متأخر (المرتبة 94) على مؤشر الترتيب العالمي لحقوق الإنسان.
لكن الأمر الذي استفزّ القطريين أكثر، وفق المراقبين، هو أن الإمارات، التي يستهدفها الإعلام القطري بشكل خاص مقارنة ببقية دول مجلس التعاون الخليجي، جاءت في المرتبة 14، على مؤشر الترتيب العالمي لحقوق الإنسان الذي صنّفها على أنها الدولة العربية الأكثر احتراما لحقوق الإنسان مقابل توجيه نقد لاذع لقطر بسبب هشاشة التزاماتها تجاه العمال الأجانب.
وفي مقابل صمتها على خبر اختطاف الموظفين البريطانيين وجّهت وسائل إعلام قطرية سهامها للتشكيك في تقرير المنظمة الدولية زاعمة أنها مدعومة من الإمارات.
وقد نفت أفجينيا كوندراخينا، المديرة التنفيذية للشبكة العالمية للحقوق والتنمية، هذا الادعاء مؤكّدة أن مؤشر المنظمة لحقوق الإنسان مبني على تقارير من عدة مصادر موثوق في نزاهتها، بما في ذلك تقارير الأمم المتحدة وأيضا شهادات يقدمها متطوعون، منهم قطريون، ومحققون تابعون للمنظمة.
وأوضحت كوندراخينا أن الخبراء في الشبكة الدولية يقومون بتقييم كل التقارير واحتساب مستوى حقوق الإنسان ليتحصّلوا بناء على ذلك على الترتيب الحقيقي للدولة المعنية على مؤشر حقوق الإنسان.
ويستشهد مراقبون على صحّة تحقيقات الشبكة الدولية للحقوق والتنمية بما جاء في تقارير عديدة صدرت، من مختلف أنحاء العالم وعن مختلف المنظمات الحقوقية، والتي تكاد تتفق على الملف الأسود لقطر في مجال حقوق العمّال.
ولا يستبعد الناقد والمحلل البريطاني، جيمس م. دورسي، أن يكون لهذه الحادثة علاقة بالخلاف بين قطر ودول الخليج العربي، وخصوصا الإمارات. وهذه العملية، إن كان هذا التوقّع صحيحا، وفق دورسي، تؤشّر على فشل الجهود الخليجية لتجاوز الخلافات بين دول مجلس التعاون حول سياسة قطر الخارجية المنفلتة.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Egypt’s banning of ultras constitutes effort to outlaw legitimate opposition

By James M. Dorsey

An expected decision by Egyptian soccer authorities to ban as terrorist organizations groups of militant soccer fans builds on the definition by Arab autocrats of legitimate, democratic opposition forces as violent threats to their grip on power. By leaving youth with ever fewer, if any, options for venting pent-up anger and frustration, it risks pushing them towards violent, militant Islamist groups.

In banning the ultras – groups of fervent, well-organized, street battle-hardened soccer fans -- authorities would outlaw a social force that rivalled in appeal the Muslim Brotherhood that was criminalized last year as a terrorist organization with the military coup that toppled Mohammed Morsi, the country’s only democratically elected president.

The proposed ban constitutes a response to the re-emergence of soccer pitches across North Africa as venues of anti-government protest. It also entrenches a policy that Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al Sisi has in common with rulers such as Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who have redefined the concept of terrorism by incorporating alternative voices that in any unbiased assessment would fail to meet the criteria.

It a policy that is designed to force domestic public opinion and the United States to choose between autocracy or illiberal democracy and the threat of terrorism. It echoes the argument used by ousted autocrats including Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Tunisia’s Zine El Abdeine Ben Ali and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh to justify their repressive policies.

A formal ban is expected during a forthcoming meeting of the Senior Sporting Clubs Committee (SSCC) that groups the heads of Egypt’s major clubs. Mortada Mansour, the committee’s head and president of Al Zamalek SC, one of two storied and crowned Cairo clubs, has accused Ultras White Knights (UWK), Zamalek’s militant support group, of last month trying to assassinate him.

In a blowback to the walk-up to Mr. Mubarak’s downfall and the subsequent anti-military protests, UWK said recently on its Facebook page that has more than 600,000 followers: “The truth is, we took the streets because we cannot be quiet in the face of injustice.” A recent UWK song accused Mr. Mortada of being a stooge of the Al Sisi.

UWK last month stormed Zamalek’s headquarters and demanded Mr. Mansour’s resignation for reneging on a promise to lift a nationwide 2.5 year ban on spectators attending soccer matches. 
Authorities last week remanded 36 UWK ultras in custody for 15 days after a clash with security forces in which the fans were demanding the release of fans suspected of the attempted murder. The 36 were accused of breaking Egypt’s draconic anti-protest law, belonging to a group opposed to the law and the constitution, creating chaos, damaging public and private property, interrupting traffic and illegal possession of firearms.

"Article No. 3 of the charter of the committee makes it necessary for armed soccer fan groups to be 
dissolved. There is no hope in the members of Ultras White Knights. The relationship between these members and the officials of our club has reached the point of blood and gunfire," Mr. Mansour said. In separate remarks, Mr. Mansour said he had secured the support of Mr. Al Sisi for his fight against terrorism. He said he had asked the president to convene a meeting of the SSCC.

The call to ban the groups that are largely akin to similar controversial but legal soccer fan groups in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere in the world follows the killing 2.5 years ago of 74 members of Ultras Ahlawy, the militant support group of Al Ahli SC, Zamalek’s arch rival one of Egypt and Africa’s most storied and crowned clubs, in a politically loaded soccer brawl in the Suez Canal City of Port Said.

The brawl was widely seen as an attempt by the military and the security forces that got out of hand to cut down to size a force that played a key role to the toppling in 2011 of President Hosni Mubarak and subsequent opposition to military rule. Ultras constituted the foremost group in the waning years of the Mubarak regime and subsequent military rule capable of sustained physical resistance. Fiercely independent, passionately loyal to their club, and aggressive in support for their team, the ultras constituted the one force that refused to shy away from sustained confrontation with security forces whose strategy was limited to intimidation and brute force.

The expected banning also comes repeated clashes in recent months between the ultras and security forces fuelled by a ban since Port Said on spectators attending matches; repeated harassment of the soccer groups and attempts by authorities to portray them as criminals, thugs and hooligans; and mounting agitation by the ultras against pro-regime soccer authorities.

The coming week will tell whether the ultras will resist their potential banning. The lifting of the ban on spectators for a September 10 African Cup of Nations qualifier in Cairo between Egypt and Tunisia could offer the ultras an opportunity to make a stand. The retrial of those held responsible for the Port Said incident, including 21 supporters of the canal city’s Al Masri SC who were sentenced to death, constitutes a second potential flashpoint.

While there is little doubt that ultras pride themselves on their violent confrontations with security forces on the principle shared by their brethren across the globe of ACAB, All Cops are Bastards, the militants insist that they exclusively resort to violence in self-defence. That is more often than not the case with regimes that refuse to engage with their critics and opt instead for often bloody repression.

In the absence of due process, the assertion that ultras are terrorists has yet to be substantiated. Although Egyptians constitute the second largest contingent of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, the outing of some self-declared soccer fans-turned-Islamist fighters like Younes, a 22-year old student at Cairo’s citadel of Islamic learning at Al Azhar University, who joined the Islamic State (IS) the jihadist group that controls a swath of Syria and Iraq, fails to prove the ultras’ association as a group with terrorism.

More alarming for Mr. Al Sisi is the cooperation between IS and Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based group that has killed hundreds of members of the Egyptian security forces over the last year. "We will not be able to change the situation in Egypt from inside, but Egypt is to be opened from abroad," Younes said in a Facebook interview with Reuters speaking as an Islamist fighter rather than a soccer fan.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title