Unusual suspects: “Ultra’s” as political actors in the revolution


University of Amsterdam

Among the more surprising actors in Egypt’s revolutionary 18 days were the so-called Ultra’s or hard-core football-supporters. Apart from the recognition of the Ultra’s role in forming and safeguarding popular masses (Teti & Gervasio, El-Wardani), little analysis has been conducted thus far.  More attention has been paid to the role of social media, youth and the Muslim Brothers, three factors that are – rightfully or not – more commonly identified as potential buildings blocks for political change. This paper starts from the premise that for a revolution that came unexpectedly, and took an unprecedented shape (Bayat), it is useful to look at the role of ‘unusual suspects’ in the unfolding of events. The role played by the Ultra’s may be seen as one example of the way in which political agency was transformed in the early months of 2011. In light of the sobering that followed later in the year, when political change slowed down and was perhaps even reversed, the question arises what remains of the capacity to recreate political pressure through massive popular gatherings. Questions to be asked would be: has the politicization of the Ultra’s lasted after the revolution? Have the Ultra’s taken particular political allegiances (liberal, leftist, ikhwânî), possibly divided between Ahly-fans and Zamalek-fans? Can they be expected to continue to play a role in the remaining period of Egypt’s transformation? In addition, it is interesting to look into the Ultra’s extensive transnational ties, given the broader developments in the Arab world (Ultra’s were established in Libya and Tunisia in the early 1990s). The paper will mainly be based on a recently published book (Kitâb al-Ultrâs) written by Muhammad Jamal Bashir (a self-declared Zamlakâwî Ultra), documentary material such as those published by Al-Ahram Strategic Studies Centre, analyses  and interviews with Ultra’s and (other) eyewitnesses of the Ultra’s performance during the revolution and thereafter.