“La Casa Del Mouradia”, a supporters' song, has become the anthem of demonstrations in Algeria. For Akram Belkaïd, journalist at Le Monde Diplomatique, the contribution of Algerian football supporters is not limited to this song.
On Friday, February 22, 2019, among the tens of thousands of people who took to the streets of Algeria to protest against the candidacy of Mr. Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a fifth presidential term, a large number then discovered a song hitherto unknown to them. Sung by the youth of the capital who are accustomed to following the matches of the national football championship, it is "La Casa del Mouradia" which will very quickly become one of the anthems of Hirak, the national protest movement, popular and peaceful. This song was born in 2018 in the spans of the Omar Hamadi stadium (ex-Bologhine, ex-Saint-Eugène) where the Union sportive de la médina d'Alger plays at home (USMA, ex-Muslim Sports Union of Algiers) . Its authors are members of the group of supporters "ultras" Ouled el Bahdja, the children of the "radiant" (nickname of Algiers), created in the mid-1990s.
Reflecting the despair of youth in the face of a lack of social and economic prospects, the words of “La Casa del Mouradia” are above all political.
If they refer to the use of prohibited substances as a palliative and a means of escaping the harshness of everyday life, they above all constitute a severe indictment against the four terms of the contested president. “They got us with the black decade” says the song about the first exercise (1999-2004) referring to the conditions under which Houari Boumediene's former foreign minister was elected. After several years of bloody violence, his coming to power and his first decisions in favor of an amnesty were accepted by the population against the promise of a definitive return to peace. Thereafter, it is the warning against a return to this period any challenge or demand for political change.
The song then hardens the tone about the second mandate (2004-2009) "The story has become clear, the Casa del Mouradia" she claims, referring to the very famous television series "La Casa del Papel" which evokes the actions of a gang of gangsters specializing in armed robbery. El Mouradia being the district where the Algerian presidential palace is located, the allusion is clear: power is nothing but a kleptocracy run by bandits. And it is logical that, during the third term (2009-2014), "the country lost weight [by] the fault of personal interests". Finally, concerning the fourth mandate (2014-2019), the supporters prove to be ruthless by evoking a "dead doll", understanding a sick, bedridden president who has become a toy in the hands of those around him.
During the first months of the protest, “La Casa del Mouradia” acted as a unifying element between different categories of Algerians. This song united the crowds gathered against the security forces and created solidarity between generations united by a single watchword: the refusal of a political system incapable of questioning itself and understanding that the project of a fifth term has represented too much provocation. This anthem also constituted the safe-conduct thanks to which the youth of the stadiums gained respectability in the eyes of a society hitherto quick to criticize, and above all to fear, its verbal excesses and its usual outbursts before, during and at the end of the season. outcome of the meetings. By way of example, we can cite the situations of tension linked to the derby between the USMA and the Mouloudia club of Algiers (MCA), the confrontation between the rivals in the northern districts of the capital regularly interrupting traffic and forcing traders to lower the curtains several hours before the start of the match.
The success of "La Casa del Mouradia" has, in large part, made people forget all that. And if they sing it in unison, Algerians and Algerians, all social classes combined, also take up La Liberté every Friday by rapper Soolking, whose real name is Abderraouf Derradji, known until 2013 under the pseudonym of MC Sool. Here again, this other Hirak anthem is an adaptation of the song Ultima Verba by the ultras of Ouled el Bahdja where one of the verses wishes “that the State and those who built the highway fall”. Here, in addition to power, it is Mr. Ali Haddad, entrepreneur, businessman and close to the presidential clan who is implicated, his status as owner of the USMA not having spared him the anger of the supporters.
The precedents of 2018 and 1977
The influence of football supporters in the Hirak is not limited to a simple musical contribution, however political it may be. Accustomed to confronting the police, the ultras certainly gave a festive color to the processions but they also ensured, at least initially, security and discipline. While many Algerians hesitated to approach the human barriers set up by the anti-riot forces, it was the young people in the stadiums who made contact, most often managing to force their way through without using violence. but simply by strength in numbers. Likewise, their creativity in terms of slogans, the tempo given by the songs, the adaptation of known melodies to the political demands of the moment, all this gave a certain consistency and coherence to the protest. Perhaps even too much for the taste of some observers who would have liked the "stadium atmosphere" not to be so significant and for the ceremonial of the Friday marches to be more measured and more political. That being said, we must also insist on the prior role of this youth in the birth of the Hirak.
It is easy, a posteriori, to find the warning signs of this citizen revolt against the Algerian power. The many cases, including that known as "cocaine" in May 2018 involving many officials announced a disintegration at the top of power and suggested that the question of the fifth term would not be easy to manage. Regarding football, one event deserves to be reported. On May 1, 2018, the workers' day holiday, the Algerian Cup final takes place between the Jeunesse sportive de Kabylie (JSK) and the Union sportive madinet Bel Abbès (USMB). As is the case in many other countries, it is traditional for the Head of State to attend this meeting and present the trophy to the winners. But President Bouteflika is ill, having not spoken in public since 2013. In his place, officials stand in the center of the field and brandish a frame in his effigy towards the public, a practice inaugurated during the electoral campaign for the presidential election of 2014. This is too much for many supporters, especially those of the JSK. The whistles sound and the insults too. As the frame bearers slip away, the bronca escalates and reaches levels unmatched in verbal violence and homophobic vulgarity. The presidential platform but also those where the contingents of soldiers come to watch the match are present are directly targeted: "You have niq ... the country, band of 'donors' [passive homosexuals]! »Intones for long minutes the crowd which then attacks, in harsher terms, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia. It will be noted in passing that the slogan quoted in the foregoing was adopted, with the same angry intonation but in a much more acceptable version, by the Hirak to become "you have eaten the country, band of thieves!" ".
What happened on May 1, 2018 was not an isolated incident and the Algerian authorities certainly did not draw the consequences of the expression of this anger. The thing was not new because the latter always thought that he could always control the fed up expressed in stadiums deliberately transformed into outlets. In the history of independent Algeria, marked by a continuous restriction of freedom of expression, football matches have constantly served as a safety valve. But sometimes, like the meeting between the JSK and the USMB, unexpected events caught the regime off guard. This was the case on June 19, 1977, the anniversary – and public holiday – of Colonel Houari Boumediene's coup against Ahmed Ben Bella (1965). Here too, the facts took place during a final of the Algerian Cup between Nasr Athletic Hussein Dey (NAHD) and JSK. Present at the July 5 stadium on the heights of the capital, the Algerian president had to endure throughout the match the incessant chants of JSK supporters who demanded official recognition of their culture and the Amazigh identity of Algeria. And it is a closed-faced Houari Boumediene, barely containing his anger, who will then present the trophy to the captain of a Kabyle team that will be celebrated by an entire region. There too, the Algerian power should have taken the measure of the determination of the supporters who had dared to defy the austere colonel and the repression of the Military Security. It did not happen. Less than three years later, the bloody demonstrations of the "Berber spring" broke out in Kabylia. It is also with a reference to this 1977 final that the song Pouvoir assassin begins, a veritable pamphlet by the Berber singer Oulahlou, the title of which is one of the slogans chanted today in the stadiums and in certain Hirak processions.
The stadiums, relay of the Islamist claim
It will be understood, politics has always been present in Algerian stadiums. This was the case in the mid-1980s. Even before the events of October 1988 which would lead to the end of the reign of the single party of the National Liberation Front (FLN) and an increased visibility of the Islamist current, the platforms expressed both a fed up with the power of President Chadli Bendjedid, an adherence to the politico-religious discourse conveyed in mosques not controlled by the state and a glorification of the first groups who took up arms against the regime, including that of Mustapha Bouyali (1982-1987). After the bloody repression of the October 1988 riots (nearly 600 dead, thousands injured and intensive use of torture in the weeks that followed), most Algerian stadiums became an important relay for the demands of the former Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). To the “dawla islamiya!” ("Islamic State!"), chanted almost everywhere, were added in the capital the "Bab-el-Oued Ecchouhada", the "martyrs" of Bab-el-Oued, homage to the young people of this district who fell under the bullets of the army. This slogan on youth broke in the prime of life, the Hirak of 2019 brought it up to date, proof that what happened in October 1988 is still remembered.
Since February 22, 2019, the Friday demonstrations have always had an impressive moment: it is when the processions from the south and the north converge on the city center after the great prayer. In both cases, stadium regulars are at the forefront. In March, supporters of the Union Sportive Madinet El Harrach (USMH) caused tension with other demonstrators by chanting Islamist and belligerent slogans. Called to order by those wishing to defend the peaceful nature of the movement, they did not insist but this episode shows to what extent the politico-religious claim remains a reference among many football fans.
If he sought to make stadiums a place of release, the power, for his part, never ceased to exploit the passion for sport-king. Before him, the nationalist movement had understood the same thing. Many clubs, born during the colonial period, were created to affirm the Algerian identity. This was the case of the teams bearing the name of Mouloudia (Algiers, Oran or Constantine), formed on the eve of the mawlid ennabaoui, a religious festival celebrating the birth of the prophet Mohammad. After the Second World War, teams like the MCA were the unofficial mouthpiece of nationalist and independence demands. In April 1958, more than four years before independence, the defection of thirty professional players who left their clubs in the French championship without notice to join the FLN team had the effect of a bomb and offered the fight for independence a valuable propaganda tool. Despite the bans and threats from the International Football Federation (FIFA), the "eleven of independence" made several tours around the world, the craze for the round ball allowing him to better publicize the Algerian cause. The fact that several talented players, including Rachid Mekhloufi, gave up playing the World Cup in Sweden in the tricolor jersey to join the "eleven of independence" had a considerable impact in Algeria but especially in France where part of the Public opinion considered itself little concerned by what was happening in Algeria at the time.
After independence, the political power has always tried to take advantage of the fusional passion of Algerians for this sport. In 1982, the first participation of the national team for a World Cup (Spain) allowed the authorities to forget that Algeria would not act to save the Palestinians threatened by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In 1986, for the second qualification (Mexico), it was an opportunity to divert attention from the effects of the economic crisis caused by the fall in oil prices. However, this qualification did not prevent students from the east of the country, notably in Constantine, from revolting against the system (November 1986). A protest heralding what would happen two years later in Algiers.
But it was especially in 2009 and 2013 that the authorities took great political advantage of the qualification of the "Greens" in the queen event of the round ball. In the first case, the last qualifying round pitted Algeria against Egypt. The return match in Cairo was marked by incidents including the stoning of the Algerian players' bus. On both sides there was an outpouring of chauvinistic passions and anathemas. In the end, the Algerian victory in a support match in Sudan provoked enormous popular jubilation to the great benefit of Mr. Bouteflika who could thus make people forget his controversial re-election in the spring, which had been made possible thanks to a reform that abolished the constitutional lock limiting the number of presidential terms to two. In the fall of 2013, the validation of the ticket for the Brazilian world (2014) allowed the regime to make people forget a less than rosy reality. Added to the president's illness was the fact that the country was barely recovering from a major terrorist attack in a major gas center in the south of the country (January 2013). With the qualification for this Brazilian World Cup, there was an outpouring of official propaganda, of various incitements to chauvinism, including in the world of advertising, all of which created the artificial feeling of belonging to a booming country envied by its neighbors or even the whole world. This feeling that pushes many Algerians to refuse any criticism has a name: “wanetoutrisme”, born from the famous slogan “One, two, three, long live Algeria”.
The role of ultra culture
How then did we go from “wanetoutrisme”, chauvinistic and belligerent, to full participation in the Hirak? This is the result of a fundamental trend born in the early 1990s. At that time, Algeria was plagued by violence and clashes between the government and armed groups. It is also the time when the Algerian football championship is bogged down. The level is low, the meetings are insipid, corruption is raging, fights between supporters break out regularly forcing the police to intervene. This is the time when some young people who go to the stadium – and who, moreover, discover the Internet – “import” the methods of organization and celebration of Western supporters, especially Italians. As in Milan, Turin, Rome or Naples, the bends, in other words the stands at the corners of the field, become the places of expression of a specific culture, mixing sports songs but also political and social considerations. In Algiers, the supporters of the USMA, already very advanced in terms of musical conception, will totally identify with their counterparts from AC Milan, an Italian club where some of the ultras have always been committed to the extreme. -LEFT. The colors of the two clubs are also identical: red and black. For the ultras of the USMA, including the Milano Group, predecessor of Ouled El Bahdja, "El Milano", AC Milan is the ultimate reference. Moreover, the popular Algerian expression “Rome rather than you” – title, moreover, of a film by director Tariq Teguia (2006), refers to this identification. For an ultra from the USMA, Rome (the sworn enemy of AC Milan and therefore of the “usmists”) will always be worth more than the Algerian power.
Confection of "tifos" (giant banners), adoption of an attitude hostile to power, pro-Palestinian songs, the ranks of the ultras of USMA and other clubs in the country offered young people the opportunity to practice their speech protester. As in Tunisia or Egypt where the popular protests of 2011 owe much to the commitment of the "ultras", there too more able to deal with police violence, the Algerian "bends" were thus a place of maturation and political socialization. , a role that stadiums have often played in the history of independent Algeria. It should be noted before concluding that the ultra phenomenon also affects Morocco, the supporters of the Wydad Athletic Club (WAC) being known for their ruthless songs against the corruption that reigns in the Makhzen and the resulting social inequalities. For their part, the ultras of the Raja Club Athletic (Raja, or RCA) do not hesitate to proclaim their adherence to a united Maghreb and to express their fraternity to the Algerians and the Palestinians. As we can see, football, to use a famous slogan, is more than a sport. In many respects, the Algerian Hirak of 2019 owes a lot to the youth of the stadiums among whom, far from the influence of totally absent opposition parties, forged the conviction that the power in place was lying to the Algerians and that it was time to work for change.
Akram Belkaïd is a journalist for Le Monde diplomatique, columnist for Le Quotidien d'Oran and member of the editorial board of the online newspaper OrientXXI.
This article was published in the magazine Maghreb-Machrek n ° 245.