“Ultras”—associations of a team’s most ardent fans—have grown increasingly visible as political actors within these spaces. Although traditionally known for their rivalries with other clubs, ultras have, over the past ten years, developed into quasi-social movements, facing off against authorities to demand greater economic opportunities and political inclusion.
The connection between ultras and socio-political contestation is an emerging trend across the region, where governing regimes have failed to address unemployment, social welfare insecurity and a lack of access to healthcare and education. In Egypt, prominent ultras like Zamalek SC’s “White Knights” and Al-Ahly SC’s “Ultras Ahlawy” played key roles in the 2011 Revolution and the mass-demonstrations that followed, especially in clashes with military authorities.
The Moroccan kingdom—while maintaining nominally free and fair elections—showcases strong top-down governance centered around the monarchy and palace-aligned elites, usually termed al-makhzen. Many youths aged 16–30 feel particularly disenfranchised in this authoritarian system and view political parties and state institutions as averse to their engagement and interests. In the wake of the 2011–2012 popular uprisings, the makhzen bolstered repressive measures, curbing protests and online activism and constricting outlets for citizens to vent frustrations.
Amid crackdowns on street protests and press freedoms, disgruntled youth have turned to football as one of the few remaining avenues to articulate their grievances. Ultras’ actions in recent years illustrate their growing socio-political engagement. The regime’s efforts to regain control of the stadiums have only compounded these trends, setting ultras and the authorities further at odds. In the face of increasing youth marginalization from more formal realms of political contestation, Moroccan ultras may soon mirror their Egyptian counterparts of the past decade as major challengers to the state.
The “King’s Team”
Football’s origins in Morocco date back to the French and Spanish Protectorates (1912–1956) when many of today’s clubs emerged. Following independence, football continued to prosper as the nation’s main sport with the creation of professional leagues and the annual Throne Cup tournament, which is overseen by the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF).
Hassan II created the Royal Armed Forces Sports Association club (ASFAR), which has become one of the two main teams in Rabat. Nicknamed the “king’s team,” it was established as a military sports initiative. The club has been suspected of receiving undue favors and lucrative contracts from the palace, government and business elites, especially during its golden years between 1960–1980, when it dominated Morocco’s Botola league, winning numerous Throne Cups. Palatial control over the FRMF helped facilitate the careers of referees favorable to ASFAR.
Moroccan football has also long been invested with monarchical iconography, as innumerable portraits of the king and other royal symbolism decorate the stadiums. The king himself often presided over award ceremonies and the opening of new sports facilities and spoke about the sport’s centrality to society. King Mohammed VI, although considered less autocratic than his father, retained monarchical oversight over the sport. ASFAR remains “his” team, and the palace’s hold over the FRMF continues largely unabated.
The Emergence of the Ultras
The first ultras to emerge on the scene in Morocco were the “Green Boys,” who arose around the football club Raja Casablanca in 2005. Their crosstown rivals, Wydad, later formed their own association, calling themselves the “Winners.” From 2005 to 2011, the ultra scene more or less mirrored hardcore fan traditions of Europe and Latin America. Ultra members rallied and led chants and displays to support their team from the stands. They organized grandiose club-colored flare shows and displayed immense artistic pieces known as “tifos” that covered the stands—sometimes extending over 100 square feet—to showcase team pride and assert physical dominance over the stadium.
With equal fervor, they constructed signs and chants to taunt and intimidate opponents, going so far as to call their opponents’ mothers and sisters prostitutes. Particularly noteworthy were the big derby days in Casablanca, when the competitive displays of tifos, chanting, pyrotechnics and goading between the Green Boys and Winners became matches in and of themselves. While ultras, unlike so-called “hooligans,” are driven by club support rather than violence, serious episodes of violence did occur.
The 2011 popular uprisings marked the beginning of a palpable transition toward greater political engagement among ultras. As with many other regional countries, large swathes of Morocco’s citizenry took part in demonstrations across major cities and towns to press for political, social and economic changes. These demands, which included greater democratization and social justice, coalesced under the banner of the February 20th Movement (Feb20), an umbrella social movement comprising many sub-groups, including youth activists, human rights campaigners, Amazigh rights groups and labor movements.
Unlike leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, Mohammed VI quickly responded by pledging socio-economic reforms, drafting a new constitution and initiating fresh elections to be held the following November. Although limited, some of the ultras participated in the mass demonstrations. For example, the Green Boys proudly marched in rallies and joined sit-ins sporting their club’s banners and insignia while attacking politicians’ corruption and calling them villains and thieves.
Overall, the Moroccan ultras’ role in Feb20 was a far cry from the violent confrontations between Egypt’s ultras and security forces. Even such limited experiences, however, brought them greater socio-political capital. Indeed, since 2011, Moroccan ultras have received substantial media and academic attention as an emerging socio-political force.
In 2017, a prominent song, written by a band of self-professed Green Boys, became prominent at stadiums and on social media. Entitled “Fbladi Dalmouni” (“In my country I suffer from injustice”), the lyrics attacked those in power for corruption and for depriving them of opportunities to live successful and meaningful lives. The song has become a leading chant of Raja Casablanca’s supporters with Green Boys orchestrating in the stands. Other ultra groups have adopted the song as well. While protesting the death of Belkacem in 2018, fans of Moghreb Tetouan chanted it against match authorities. By sharing strategies and songs, Moroccan ultras challenge the dominant narrative that their football associations are mutually hostile and inherently opposed to each other.
Such songs and chants are increasingly present around the pitch. The ultras at Kenitra AC, who call themselves Helala Boys, can often be heard shouting, “This message is for the police and for the government, from its injustice we are already fed up […] We hate you all.” Meanwhile, the Winners composed their own song entitled “Free and Unbowed,” which also draws attention to youth unemployment and corruption.
The Regime’s Response
Stadiums have witnessed aggressive police responses, and the state-owned media has blamed ultras for violence, stigmatizing them as “hooligans,” but the regime has struggled to dampen the increasing politicization of ultras and football generally.
Ultras stood united, not only in their opposition to the ban but also against the palace-aligned elites. ASFAR, or the “king’s team,” has long served as a lightning rod for ultra anger, and many supporter groups consider it a primary rival. Chants attack ASFAR’s history, accusing the club of corruption and its fans of being submissive to elites. The Green Boys position Raja as emerging from Casablanca’s poorer, working class in contrast to ASFAR’s reputation for undue wealth and favoritism.
While the makhzen has historically dominated key footballing institutions, supporter organizations are independent with grassroots bases. Ultras are not affiliated with their clubs’ owners or management and often clash and conflict with them. Beyond their occasional conflicts with match authorities, some ultra groups, like the Winners and Green Boys, have mobilized in protests against club owners and governing boards in response to perceived mismanagement, poor team performances and corruption.
More generally, ultras have benefited from the development of social media, which provides regular access to alternative information and forums, facilitating dialogue among citizens. As historian Shawki El-Zatmah argues, such a critical perspective dovetails with the ultras’ inherent “anti-authority” tendencies. Ultras style themselves and their activities as being “pro-freedom” in terms of their efforts to control the stadium as their space and oppose forces who seek to regulate or restrict their autonomy.
The 2016–2019 ultra ban exacerbated such anti-status quo sentiments, as state-induced violence fueled ultra anger and even retaliatory violence. For instance, throughout 2017, the Winners regularly brandished tifos outlining their hostility toward authorities and chanting, “We came to clash with the government!” Helala Boys held letters in the stands that read “PHILOTIMO” (Latin for “love of honor”), expressing their defiance of the ban as they roared anti-government songs. Meanwhile, Green Boys have been known to showcase tifos displaying Che Guevara, with chants exclaiming they are “rebels” like him.
Morocco’s Ultras and Youth Activism
Moroccan ultras’ increasing engagement in social and political matters is directly related to the situation of Morocco’s youth. Most ultra members in Morocco are between 13 and 33 years old. The kapos, the leaders and lieutenants who rally and lead the others in activities, are also predominantly under the age of 35.
Amid these concerns and issues, young people in Morocco have few places to turn. Many youth activists I interviewed between 2017 and 2020 perceived political parties as corrupt and non-inclusive. Despite the democratic reforms pledged in 2011, they felt little had changed and questioned the point of engaging with the formal political arena. Electorally, youth voter registration and participation has continued to decline over the past decade and remains the lowest of all demographics, reflecting an aversion towards participatory politics.
Even the “informal” sphere, where youth political engagement has been concentrated, faces growing limitations. Participation in human rights organizations, discussion and debate forums and cultural and social associations, as well as protesting and online activism, have been increasingly subject to repressive measures. For example, the Interior Ministry has actively monitored and created licensing obstacles for associations, deterring youth participation in civic organizations. One interviewee from a Rabat-based youth social forum argued that the authorities’ regulation and oversight over topics of discussion for his association’s events dissuaded many from joining and encouraged others to leave.
It should come as little surprise that stadiums have emerged as sites for expressing grievances. After all, football clubs have long been sites for class, regional and cultural identification. In addition to Raja’s working-class origins, professional clubs based in cities like Tetouan and Al-Hoceima are intimately linked to the historically poor and marginalized Rif region. Since 2011, youth activists have broadly shifted their engagement from nationwide political actions like Feb20 towards more locally concentrated campaigns, including the Hirak al-Rif (2016–2017) and similar civic protests in Jerada (2017–2018) and Zagora (2017). As local focal points, football clubs represent important auditoriums for community-specific matters.
Stadiums likewise provide a space for young Moroccans to develop as individuals. A Green Boy noted how proud he felt when leading chants in the stands, rallying others and writing club posts on social media. He also said he knew of others who developed their interests in the arts and graphic design through creating match tifos.
The Covid-19 Pandemic and the Return of Spectators
Young people suffered substantially under Morocco’s strict lockdowns, losing out on education and jobs while sacrificing their social lives. Though the economy is now rebounding, youth unemployment remains high at 33.4 percent in March 2022. Forecasts are further tempered by the global rise in living costs, a prolonged drought affecting the country’s agricultural sector and food insecurity from the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Parties closely aligned to the palace roundly trounced the Justice and Development Party (PJD) in the 2021 general election, with the new government headed by prominent billionaire businessman and ally of the king, Aziz Akhannouch. Youth turnout dropped from approximately 9 percent in 2016 to 8.35 percent, despite an overall increase among the wider electorate. The newly elected prime minister had previously been the target of youth discontent. In 2018, many young people participated in a social media-organized boycott of basic goods like bottled water, milk and gasoline that targeted large companies and business figures, including Akhannouch himself. While the boycott was generally aimed at the cost of living and magnates perceived as enriching themselves, Akhannouch was a main target given his title as the richest Moroccan businessman and his position, at the time, as Agriculture Minister in the government.
The victory of Akhannouch and pro-palace parties in the elections signals a firm, decisive shift back to a government and parliament favorable to the regime after ten years of “opposition”-led governance by the PJD, which rode in on the back of the 2011 mass protests. In early 2021, the regime used the public health emergency to increase repressive measures, including banning or further curbing protests in the capital and major cities, such as the demonstrations by teachers who, since 2019, had demanded greater employment security. Security forces have increasingly arrested and detained journalists critical of state policies and harassed social media users.
Authorities and media outlets were quick to blame ultras. Many, however, including the ASFAR’s Black Army, the so-called “king’s team,” countered with accusations of heavy-handedness and instigation by state authorities. They argued that the “failing state”—by not providing sufficient education and opportunities for youth—was responsible for the violence.
Since the pandemic, football and the stadium have become even more critical bastions for public expression. The regime has few options left to fight back. Renewed restrictions or bans on ultras will likely fail and result only in uniting the opposition, as was the case with the 2016 ban, which remains fresh in ultras’ memories. Violence and repression by authorities only exacerbates the situation, pushing even ultras of the “king’s team” to become more vocal against the status quo.
Unlike their counterparts in Egypt, ultras in Morocco have been relatively subtle in their confrontations with the state, preferring to avoid violent or aggressive encounters. This light-handed approach may soon change, however, as Moroccan youth seek avenues to confront increasing marginalization, socio-economic precarity and state violence.
[Christopher J. Cox is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies, University of Exeter.]
 Carl Rommel, Egypt’s Football Revolution: Emotion, Masculinity and Uneasy Politics (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2021).
 Abderrahim Bourkia, “Ultras in the City. A Sociological Inquiry on Urban Violence in Morocco,” The Philosophical Journal of Conflict and Violence 2/2 (2018).
 “THE BEST CHANT OF THE WORLD (Kenitra AC – TODAY 13.12 AND FOREVER With Translation),” YouTube, March 1, 2021.
 Hamza Mekouar, “North African football stadiums double as political arenas,” AFP, February 3, 2020.
 Shawki El-Zatmah, “From Terso into Ultras: the 2011 Egyptian revolution and the radicalization of the soccer’s Ultra-Fans,” Soccer & Society 13/5–6 (2013),” p. 805.
 Mamer Alomari, “Political Activists or Violent Fans? Understanding the Moroccan Ultras Perspective through Social Media Discourse Analysis,” Capstone Collection 3161 (2019), pp. 35-36.
 Interview with a youth activist, March 13, 2020.
 Interview with a youth activist, March 5, 2020.