The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged football
Penalty card for Qatar
Construction of a new stadium near Lusail in the desert of Qatar. December 16 2013 in Lusail, Qatar.  Philip Lange / Shutterstock.com

Construction of a new stadium near Lusail in the desert of Qatar. December 16 2013 in Lusail, Qatar. Philip Lange / Shutterstock.com

A "plot to buy the World Cup" comes to light, but will raking FIFA over the coals make a difference for Qatar's overheating guest workers?

During the Cold War, Taiwan and the People's of Republic of China routinely threw money at smaller countries in order to get them to switch their recognition from one China to the other at the UN. It was the most blatantly bullion-based diplomacy one could observe then, in a world of it. The World Cup bid involves some dynamics, except - since it is the World Cup - the stakes are even higher than the Two Chinas Policy. Brazil is hosting the next one; then Russia will do so in 2018, and to Qatar goes the 2022 honor. Some football officials have complained about the poor climatic prospects for players in the Gulf's summer heat on that date - yet the heat is even worse for the guest workers barred from organizing unions to protest the policies Qatar exercises over them. As the current controversy in Brazil shows, for the prestige of the World Cup, there are few prices that host countries politicians and their lobbyists won't pay to win that honor. 

So far, assertions that "football cannot tolerate a World Cup built on the back of workers’ abuse, misery and blood" have failed to derail the massive Qatari effort. Whether the latest round of scandal will make a difference is yet to be seen. And it is one whale of a scandal, even by FIFA's poor reputation. According to The Sunday Times, Qatar bought up votes from Confederation of African Football (CAF) member associations and important football executives worldwide ahead of the World Cup 2018/2022 vote with lavish junkets and "donations" cumulatively worth millions of dollars.† Potentially compromised parties in Asia, Europe, and Latin America have also been named in the Times, including the infamous (and now censured) Trinidadian ex-FIFA executive Jack Warner. Football associations in Somalia, Cameroon, Djibouti, Sudan, Burundi, the Gambia, Sao Tomé, Zambia, Liberia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Swaziland, Togo, and Nigeria were all specifically named in The Sunday Times' expose. 

So far, concrete proof of Qatari malfeasance in the run up to the 2010 bid for 2022 been hard to come by, though at least one associate of Qatari football supremo Mohammed bin Hammam was previously suspended and fined when he was caught bragging about the "millions" of pounds he was being offered by two unnamed countries to influence the vote. It is the sort of strategy straight out of the Soviet playbook for the non-aligned countries in the second twentieth century. But if the Times' allegations - drawn from a trove of emails leaked to the paper detailing all of this horse-trading - prove true, then that proof will finally exist. And none too soon for Qatar's competitors, since it is theoretically possible to redo the executive committee's vote or 2022, stripping Doha of its victory.

Bin Hammam, formerly the Qatari head of the Asian Football Confederation and owner of the Kemco construction company, is described as the point man for this effort, disbursing payments and promises here and there ahead of the voting - from personal kickbacks to weekend getaways to promises to back certain associations' pet projects in exchange for their support. Kemco allegedly helped pass some of the coney along, but much of it is said to have delivered personally to the recipients in cash payments of several thousands dollars a head, and via "10 slush funds" he set up for the campaign. Bin Hammam denies such charges, as do all of the people the Times says he wined and dined with in Kuala Lumpur (or elsewhere) to influence the bidding process several years ago. 

Once one of the most influential members of FIFA's executive committee, bin Hammam was banned for life from football in 2011 by FIFA after being convicted of bribing the Caribbean Football Union to support his campaign against Sepp Blatter, the incumbent President of FIFA. Mr. Blatter is no fiscal angel himself - the subject of past inquiries about his finances have gone in his favor, though - and even tried to make light of Qatar's human rights record by suggesting that LGBT fans "should refrain from any sexual activities" at FIFA 2022 in Doha. Like the rest of FIFA's executive committee, he now finds himself in hot water over the allegations that a disgraced official, acting behalf on the Government of Qatar, played FIFA like a flute. And strangely, despite his earlier support for the vote (and aforementioned flippancy) even before this scandal broke, Mr. Blatter conceded to persistent criticism that awarding the Cup to Qatar was actually a "mistake."

It goes without saying, but both FIFA and bin Hammam are denying The Sunday Times report, and further follow-up reporting. Qatar's own FIFA team denies any formal relationship with the blackballed bin Hammam. FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce, though, said the body should re-vote if FIFA's top legal counsel, Michael Garcia, finds a paper trail for the alleged bribes in the coming months (Garcia was in fact the lawyer who signed off on the findings that torpedoed bin Hammam's FIFA career, so has a good reputation in this regard).

A second vote would be a PR disaster for Qatar, and if it did not win back the cup in the process, Doha will have sunk millions into the planned city of Lusail and other venues to little gain. One can imagine all of the other Gulf states laughing derisively at the sight of vacant lots and roads to nowhere should this come to pass (construction has not yet advanced very far). That, according to Australian football officials, the United States could secure the 2022 bid if Qatar loses it would be the final insult.

The charges do little to help Qatar's international image since reports began airing over a year ago that hundreds of guest workers, almost all of them from South and Southeast Asia, have died on the job since the bid was won. These have not been for FIFA-related worksites, but general totals: over the past decade, thousands of guest workers have perished in the wider Gulf region. The deaths are not so obvious as fatal falls and electrocutions from high towers, but a combination of long hours in difficult climatic conditions with inadequate housing and healthcare. And there is the matter (difficult to quantify) of a general malaise among workers resulting from their isolation and impoverishment relative to full Qatari citizens. Not to mention their anemic legal rights in-country. But given the amount of work the World Cup is set to generate for foreigner laborers, there has been no slowdown in applications (legal or not) to come and build up Lusail despite the risks.

Qatar has not been handed a red card by FIFA. At best, it's been handed a yellow card, if even that. So, for now, Doha gets to stay on the field.


†Much of the effort was apparently concentrated among CAF members, who control four of the 24 executive committee seats which vote on bids. At least 12 votes are needed to win, and there are unofficial backdoor campaigns going on throughout the process to prevent voters from switching their support (this was a bitter point of contestation between Qatar and the UK, apparently). The 2022 vote actually involved only 22 committee members: 2 had lost their voting rights due to corruption scandals and were not replaced during the process.
Another update to football protests map

I went down to the area near the Ministry of Interior this morning (on both the protestors' side and the police's side) to see the new fortifications built in the last day or two. Two whole new concrete block walls have been built on Nubar St. and Mansour St., the main sites of confrontation in the last few days, but there were still a few hundred protestors shouting slogans against SCAF on Mohammed Mahmoud St. That makes it a total of four concrete walls blocking major Cairo thoroughfares, not counting the one on Mohammed Mahmoud St. that was destroyed a few days ago.

Above is the wall on Nubar St., where a nearby computer mall has its windows broken and its equipment gone (probably removed by the owners.)

This is the wall on Mansour St. which saw some of the most intense fighting. 

As this Ahram article notes, the police have gained the upper hand and returned the fighting to Mohamed Mahmoud, where it is faily contained. Of course large swathes of Downtown Cairo now look pretty apocalyptic, and local residents are not happy. I was talking to some people this morning and an elderly bearded man came who was pretty unhappy, and accused journalists like of making money off the pictures we take of all the fighting (which I suppose is true in a literal sense, but he meant it in terms of we're being paid to sully Egypt's image). I got out of there pretty quickly. No surprise that things are tense, and I'm sure the residents of Downtown Cairo think the protestors are hooligans.

This morning it was basically back to the situation in this last pic, taken two days ago, with uneasy tension between the police on the eastern side of Mohammed Mahmoud St. and the protestors from the Western side, leading to Tahrir. There have been multiple attempts at mediation that could still work, but I suspect it's not until we see some major political developments that the protests will ease. There are indications this is coming:

  • The Council of Advisors to SCAF is calling for early presidential elections and some of its members have resigned
  • MPs are increasingly also calling for early presidential elections, and signs of dissent on the issue have started among the FJP MPs – perhaps forcing the hand of the Muslim Brothers
  • An early presidential election should mean that the writing of the constitution will be for after the election, again removing some SCAF influence from the process
  • SCAF is making panicked moves that only seem to confirm its mistakes: moving Mubarak to a regular prison, separating the political prisoners from the former regime, imposing travel bans on personalities seen as close to the Mubaraks, etc.

The bottom line to all this is that SCAF appears to be losing credibility in the general public's eye – this is what an early presidential elections means – and hence its bargaining power is quite constrained. That's the case even if people will tire of protests. The danger at this point is that SCAF uses other issues, such as the prosecution of foreign NGOs, in order to divert attention away or even foment the conspiracy theory of a foreign hand being behind all the troubles. I don't think that Sam LaHood is about to be accused of being behind the Port Said stadium disaster, but unfortunately there is a lot of conspiracy theorizing on all sides – as if the football fans were not at least partly responsible for the disaster themselves, and only SCAF/regime remnants/invisible hands can be held responsible for things. This passing of the buck is a worrying aspect of the mentality of Egyptians on both sides of the revolution/stability divide, unfortunately. 

Map of Mansour St. protest (updated)

Speaking of the geography of the current street protests in Cairo, and my observations from this morning and this afternoon, here's a quick map that shows much of the city is now cordoned off.

Update: I've corrected some errors on the original map and added a couple of more details. See also this latest post on the fighting moving to Nubar Street, and some history of the names of these streets.

 

The geography of Cairo's street protests

Here's a take on the recent events in Egypt by Nate Wright, an Arabist reader and Cairo-based freelance journalist. My own take coming up soon. Update: see this map to get a better idea of where's where.

After a week of violent clashes between protesters and police forcesin November, the military moved in and built a concrete wall betweenthe two parties on Mohamed Mahmoud street, the main thoroughfarerunning from Tahrir Square towards the Ministry of Interior. Lastnight, activists toppled the wall using metal beams and ropes, and thebattle lines were dramatically shifted.

Now, police officers are facing down protesters on Mansour street.It's a good distance from Tahrir but a lot closer to the Ministry ofInterior. The sight of tear gas raining down, motorcycles ferrying outthe wounded and protesters standing their ground recalls the clashesin November on Mohamed Mahmoud street and again in December on anearby street. But these similarities mask the changing geography of the battle.

Mansour street is straighter and wider, making it a lot easier forspectators to watch from a distance. The slight bend in MohamedMahmoud street meant that in order for people to see the tear gasthemselves, they often had to be fairly close to the front lines. WhenI walked down Mansour street this evening it was clogged withthousands of people -- many more than I'd ever seen on Mohamed Mahmoud.

At the frontlines, protesters were able to hold their ground moreconsistently throughout the day, aided by a number of low buildingsand the width of the street. Tear gas that came down on protesters'heads was quickly thrown onto the roofs of nearby buildings and theair was more tolerable because the area was not nearly as cramped asMohamed Mahmoud.

The location weakened the effects of tear gas, exposed the clashes toa greater number of observers who likely went home feeling theyparticipated in some small way and pushed the security forces todefend a smaller patch of ground. None of this will be decisive in theface of a counter-attack, if it happens, with live ammo or increasedfiring of rubber bullets, but it does suggest that the clashesthemselves may be more sustainable where they are.

But while the location may favor the protesters tactically, it raisesa number of worrying issues for the evolving political geography ofstreet protests in Cairo. On Mohamed Mahmoud street, the activistscould at least credibly claim they were defending Tahrir square, a hubfor peaceful political protest that, while frustrating to manyCairenes when it is closed to traffic, is nevertheless seen as alegitimate site for demonstrations -- one that should remainoff-limits to the security forces.

As the center shifts away from Tahrir, so do the crowds. The squarewas not empty today, but neither was it packed. Had the peoplewatching on Mansour street been in Tahrir, the square would havelooked and felt pretty full. That matters because Tahrir is still, ayear later, in spite of divisive partisan disputes over who speaks onbehalf of the revolution, a powerful symbol of popular dissent. Awayfrom Tahrir square activists are pressing the police forces to defendshrinking piece of real estate as they try to dismantle the army'slegitimacy (a process I believe is happening, although it is difficultto say to what extent). But this shift mirrors the narrowingperspective of anti-Scaf activists fueling the battle, who no longerexpress an interest in seeking broad public support or leveraging thepopulist symbols of Tahrir square.

In past clashes, Tahrir's proximity gave the battles a reasonable linkto the square. With that link threatened, it may become more difficultfor anti-Scaf activists to argue that the fighting is anything morethan a partisan attempt to excercise the influence they were unable towin in parliamentary elections.

 

About the Port Said stadium massacre

I have an op-ed in The National about last night's events, in which I argue that beyond conspiracy theories, the event highlights Egyptians' profound sense of insecurity and the urgent need for police reform and civilian oversight of the security services.

Are these conspiracies within the realm of possibility? Perhaps - security at the stadium was certainly extremely lax despite warnings.

But the unproven speculation is distracting from the reality that Egypt needs an operational, authoritative (but not authoritarian) police force, as any state does. The question of police reform, and the rebuilding of its self-confidence, has yet to be tackled seriously, with the past year wasted on superficial changes. The new parliament needs to work with the government so that civilians finally get an understanding of what is behind all this violence - the old regime "remnants", "foreign hands" or perhaps more simply a state and a society that still has to forge a new, hopefully more humane, relationship.

I also have a post in the London Review of Books Blog about the political fallout, notably how it might affect the last few days standoffs between the protest movement and the Muslim Brothers over the latter's backing of SCAF's transition schedule:

Until yesterday, the top concern in Cairo was the mounting tension between revolutionary protesters and the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) now controls 46 per cent of parliament and is in a position to negotiate – alone if it wants to – the terms by which the military will transfer power to civilians later this year. The protest movement wants an immediate handover of power, either to a senior judge as interim president, to parliament, or to a president to be elected as soon as possible – and certainly earlier than 15 June, the date the generals have set for a presidential election. The Brothers, along with the more hardline Salafi Islamists, were sticking with the military schedule, but what happened last night has changed that.

In a special session of parliament today, the idea of forming a government of national salvation was discussed. MPs, including those of the FJP, also want to sack the interior minister and interrogate the chief of intelligence. It is as yet unclear whether they have the power – legally or practically – to do this, and what it might mean for the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). But it is a first sign of confrontation between the Brothers and the SCAF, and is encouraging the Tahrir protesters to hold fast to their demand for accountability and civilian rule sooner rather than later.

The idea that an Egyptian deep state has been manipulating public fear of chaos is not new. Convicted criminals were released during last year’s uprising in order to terrify ordinary Egyptians into rejecting calls for Mubarak’s resignation. The later violent crackdowns against anti-military protesters seemed to be fairly widely accepted, as people blamed revolutionaries for perpetuating the insecurity. But the reaction to the Port Said stadium massacre shows that the silent majority’s trust in Egypt’s military rulers is waning fast.

As clashes are now underway in the center of Cairo and more protestors converging towards the headquarters of the Interior Ministry, I have no doubt the situation will grow more complicated. It's going to be a long and, unfortunately, bloody night. But the bottom line is that politically, these events have the potential to change key actors' attitudes towards the military – most notably the Muslim Brothers and the so-called silent majority.

Links for 11.12.09 to 11.15.09
Violence Flares Ahead of Algeria-Egypt Soccer Match - The Lede Blog - NYTimes.com | The NYT's blog The Lede has a nice post about the Algeria-Egypt, game, so I don't have to do it as I don't even like football.
Daily News Egypt - Egypt Among States Attempting To Weaken Un Anti-Corruption Convention Enforcement Mechanism | Egypt and others against review mechanism for corruption convention.
The Young Brotherhood in Search of a New Path | Khalil al-Anani.
The Brotherhood vs. Al-Qaeda: A Moment Of Truth? | Jean-Pierre Filiu.
The Saturday Profile - An Arms Dealer Returns, Now Selling an Image - Biography - NYTimes.com | Profile of arms dealer Adnan al-Khashoggi, who apparently has fallen on hard times. Still, I'd like to know why he met with Richard Perle in 2002.
Blogging Imam Who Knew Fort Hood Gunman and 9/11 Hijacker Goes Silent - The Lede Blog - NYTimes.com | Can't believe this guy has not been arrested prior to leaving the US.
'Going Muslim' - Forbes.com | NYU professor "goes desi" after Texas massacre. Is this just Indian (I assume the professor is originally Indian or Sri Lankan) prejudice against Muslims? I wonder if the next time an Asian shoots people at a college we'll say, "going oriental"... Shame on you, Forbes.
Palestine: Salvaging Fatah | ICG's new report on Palestine. [PDF]

Abou Trika overooked for Ballon d'Or?
The latest international conspiracy against Egypt:

Scandalously, the France Football editorial team who selected the 30 players for whom their worldwide panel of journalists are allowed to vote overlooked the Al Ahly and Egypt playmaker Mohamed Aboutrika.

Fifa won't compensate for this offensive anomaly. Their shortlist doesn't include Aboutrika either. Nor anyone else from Egypt's recent vintage. Hardly surprising given that Fifa doesn't even rank Egypt, winners of the last two African Cups of Nations, as the best team in Africa. Not enough Europe-based players, perhaps.


[From Football: Paul Doyle on the nonsense of the Ballon d'Or]

(Thanks, X.)
Links for January 13th

Automatically posted links for January 13th: