The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer


James M. Dorsey introduces the reader to the world of Middle Eastern and North African football — an arena where struggles for political control, protest and resistance, self-respect and gender rights are played out. Politics was the midwife of soccer in the region, with many clubs being formed as pro- or anti-colonial platforms and engines of national identity and social justice. This book uncovers the seldom-told story of a game that evokes deep-seated passions.

Football fans are shown to be a major political force and one of the largest civic groups in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood: their demands for transparency, social justice, and an end to corruption sparked vicious street battles that left scores dead and thousands wounded. Discontent in Algeria erupts regularly at matches where fans demand the ouster of military leaders. A folk-song crooning national goalkeeper leads protests in Homs, Syria’s third largest city and scene of some of the worst violence perpetrated by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. In a country that bans physical education for girls, Saudi women have established clandestine football clubs and leagues. The book further tells the story of Somali child soldiers turned soccer stars and Iranian women who dress as men to smuggle themselves into stadiums to watch matches.

Table of contents


A Historical Timeline


1. Bearing the Scars of Battle

2. The Battle for Greater Freedom

Scoring political goals

The stadium: soccer’s grunt school

Upholding dignity, breaking the barrier of fear

Soccer: a barometer of Morsi’s political fortune

3. Islamists Battle over Soccer

Soccer v. jihad

Islam v. Islam

4. From Struggling for Nationhood to Battling for Change

Bridging divides

Playing for nationhood

Sectarianism trumps soccer

Controlling soccer is mastering politics

5. Shattering taboos

(West) Asian football: a cesspool of government interference, struggles for power, corruption and greed




‘Blending journalistic reporting with in-depth political and historical analysis, Dorsey has published a book that will interest football fans while also adding to the political discourse surrounding the Middle East.’ — Bustan: The Middle East Book Review

‘A rare combination of scholar and journalist, James Dorsey offers us a fresh lens through which to look at contemporary events in the Middle East and North Africa. Insightful, provocative, and fun to read, this is a welcome addition to the meagre scholarship on sports and politics in this region.’ — Raanan Rein, Tel Aviv University, is the author of Fútbol, Jews, and the Making of Argentina

‘This might well be the single most important and informative book on the Arab Spring yet written. A must read for anyone who wants to understand the deeper social and cultural processes underlying the uprisings and counter-revolutionary processes that have shaken the region the last five years.’ — Mark Levine, Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine

‘Sports and religion are the two cultural prisms that help us understand societies and politics world-wide. No sport is more central to this dynamic than soccer, especially in today’s Middle East. In The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer James Dorsey masterfully conveys the complex machinations of politics and culture through his analyses of the words and actions of real people expressing their passions about their lives through the medium of “the kicking sport.” Sports fans and political junkies will greatly enjoy and learn from this fascinating book.’ — Louis W. Goodman, School of International Service, American University

‘The first-ever serious (and eminently readable) study showing just how useful a lens the sport offers for viewing the politics of the Middle East, and how deep the mutual effects. Read it if you’re interested in the football scene in the region, certainly. But read it especially for novel insights and vignettes on regional politics.’ — Gerd Nonneman, Dean, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar and Visiting Professor of Gulf Studies, University of Exeter

‘Dorsey’s book offers a unique and fascinating perspective of the Middle East by looking at it through the lens of its most popular sport. His many years of living in the region and his knowledge of its history and culture, combined with skilful storytelling create a unique work that will be of interest to scholars as well as the general public.’ — Alon K. Raab, co-editor of The Global Game: Writers on Soccer and of Soccer in the Middle East 


James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. He is Co-Director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture, a visiting scholar at its Institute of Sport Science, and author of the The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog.

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