Football—Politics and Passions
The Fall 2022 issue of Middle East Report, “Football—Politics and Passions,”examines the regional and global importance of the beautiful game in the lead up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The authors of issue 304 reflect on the multiple ways football moves individuals and systems between South Asia, the Gulf states, Palestine, the Maghreb, Sudan, Egypt and Britain’s post-industrial North. One set of contributions takes up the domestic and international political economies through which Qatar and other GCC Countries invest in the international sporting scene, from the purchasing of European professional football clubs as a fix for petro-capital to the migration and labor issues at the heart of the 2022 tournament. Several articles go beyond the tournament to analyze the significance of football to everyday politics, gender identity and social movements in the region’s past and present. Returning to the World Cup, the issue closes with a provocative essay penned by players from an intramural football collective, Habibi FC, taking up the thorny issue of sportswashing as it has been applied to Qatar.
Issue Editors: Paul Silverstein, Katie Natanel, Curtis Ryan and Deen Sharp
Women’s football in Sudan has grown significantly since the 2000s, with more than 720 players and 21 teams now participating in the women’s national league. Yet attitudes toward women’s play vary across the country, with many footballers facing religious condemnation, social stigmatization, police harassment and even arrest. Players also point to “gender washing” by the Sudanese Football Association, an organization that diverts funds dedicated to developing women’s football from international bodies like FIFA. Based on interviews with women football players in Khartoum, Sara Al-Hassan and Deen Sharp highlight the challenges to women’s pursuit of the beautiful game, and their tenacity in continuing to play.
COP27, Alaa Abd El-Fattah and the Dreams of the Revolution—A Conversation with Omar Robert Hamilton and Ashish Ghadiali
On November 6, 2022, COP27 will begin in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with the aim of delivering on the Paris Agreement and the intention to acknowledge the disproportionate effects of climate change on the Global South, through “Loss and Damage.” On the same day, British-Egyptian political prisoner and revolutionary activist, Alaa Abd El-Fattah, will escalate his over 200-day hunger strike and stop drinking water. In the context of these events, MERIP invited racial and environmental justice activist Ashish Ghadiali to speak with novelist, filmmaker and cousin of Abd El-Fattah, Omar Robert Hamilton, about the tensions that underpin “the African COP.’”
While the World Cup constructs and fortifies a distinctly Qatari nationalism, the tournament has not erased the underlying tensions and inequities in Qatar’s migration system and citizenship policies. Beginning with the “Hayya Card,” a new visa tied to the purchase of a FIFA ticket, Jaafar Alloul and Laavanya Kathiravelu consider how ambiguous legislation is being used to differentiate and divide resident groups for purposes of retaining control. At the same time, they highlight emerging spaces for everyday solidarity between Qatari citizens and migrant communities made possible through generational change.
With the approach of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Natasha Iskander speaks to Arang Keshavarzian about the politics of labor that underpin the tournament – and their devastating effects. From the deliberate framing of migrant workers as “unskilled” to the regulation of workers protests, minimal reforms to the kafala system and strategic recruitment from climate damaged areas, Iskander highlights how calculated policies and practices shore up power at the cost of human life. The conversation provides a reflection on the often violent mechanisms that sustain “the beautiful game.”
Legacies of colonialism and decolonization have long shaped what football means to the large shared population of binational citizens between France and Algeria. One in every ten people in France has a direct familial connection to Algeria, complicating any distinction of national belonging and clouding footballing loyalties. Fans decide which national side to back, or opt to support both, in international tournaments. In the case of professional footballers, they must choose which nation to play for. This tense footballing relationship, rooted in colonial France’s civilizing mission, reverberates in social life in France today. Meanwhile, the sport itself grows increasingly enmeshed in systems of global capital.
Recent protests mark a tectonic shift in the method and rhetoric of expressing dissent in Iran. For over four decades, the Islamic leadership has fostered a culture of debate without delivery, using student debate tournaments and TV programs as an outlet for narrow critique. Previous protest movements—like the Green Movement in 2009—argued with the Islamic Government, largely on its terms and with its terminologies. The 2022 protestors have given up on persuasion.
One of MERIP’s signature issues over the years has been the question of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict—partly because of its intrinsic interest but largely because so much myth and cant clouds the mainstream media coverage of this subject that independent analysis is particularly necessary. This primer by Joel Beinin and Lisa Hajjar is a good place to start in understanding what is at stake as events unfold.
(Photo of Israeli separation barrier by Alfonso Moral.)