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Hirak: football at the heart of the dispute

“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 Algerian streets 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 follow the matches of the national football championship, it is “La Casa del Mouradia” which will quickly become one of the hymns of Hirak, the national, popular protest movement. and peaceful. This song was born in 2018 in the spans of the Omar Hamadi stadium (ex-Bologhine, ex-Saint-Eugène) where the Sports Union of the Medina of Algiers (USMA, ex-Muslim Sports Union of Algiers) plays at home. . Its authors are members of the group of supporters "ultras" Ouled el Bahdja, children of the "radieuse" (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 are above all a severe indictment against the four mandates of the disputed president. "They had us with the black decade" thus affirms the song about the first financial year (1999-2004) by referring to the conditions under which the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Houari Boumediene was elected. After several years of bloody violence, his arrival in power and his first decisions in favor of an amnesty were accepted by the population against the promise of a definitive return to peace. Subsequently, it is the warning against returning to this period any dispute or demand for political change.

The song then hardens the tone about the second term (2004-2009) "The story has become clear, the Casa del Mouradia" she proclaims 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 other than a kleptocracy ruled by bandits. And it is quite logical that, during the third term (2009-2014), "the country has become thinner [through] the fault of personal interests". Finally, concerning the fourth term (2014-2019), the supporters are ruthless in evoking a "dead doll", including a sick president, bedridden and 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 in front of the security forces and created solidarity between generations united by a single slogan: the refusal of a political system incapable of questioning itself and of understanding that the project of the fifth term has represented provocation too much. This hymn also constituted the safe-conduct thanks to which the youth of the stadiums gained in respectability in the eyes of a society until then quick to criticize, and especially to fear, its verbal excesses and its usual excesses before, during and at the beginning. 'outcome of the meetings. As an example, we can cite the situations of tension linked to the derby between the USMA and the Mouloudia club d'Alger (MCA), the clash between the rivals of 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 us forget all of this. And if they sing it in the heart, Algerians, all social classes combined, also cover every Friday La Liberté by rapper Soolking, whose real name is Abderraouf Derradji, known until 2013 under the pseudonym MC Sool. Here again, this other Hirak hymn 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 questioned, 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 fans in the Hirak is not limited to a simple musical contribution, however political it may be. Used to confronting the police, the ultras have certainly given a festive color to the processions but they also ensured, at least initially, security and discipline. While many Algerians hesitated to approach the human roadblocks set up by the anti-riot forces, it was the young people from the stadiums who came into contact, most often managing to force their way without using violence. but quite simply by the force of 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 of this gave a certain consistency and coherence to the protest. Perhaps even too much to the taste of some observers who would have liked the “stadium atmosphere” not to be as significant and that 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 believed 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, round-ball matches have constantly served as a safety valve. But, sometimes, as with the meeting between the JSK and the USMB, unexpected events took the regime by surprise. This was the case on June 19, 1977, anniversary - and holiday - of the coup d'état by Colonel Houari Boumediene against Ahmed Ben Bella (1965). Here too, the facts took place during an Algerian Cup final between Nasr Athletic Hussein Dey (NAHD) and JSK. Present at the stadium of July 5 on the heights of the capital, the Algerian president had to endure throughout the match the incessant chants of the supporters of the JSK who demanded an official recognition of their culture and the Amazigh identity of Algeria. And it is a Houari Boumediene with a closed face, hardly containing his anger, who will then present the trophy to the captain of a Kabyle team which 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 brave 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 moreover with a reference to this final of 1977 that begins the song Pouvoir assassin, a real pamphlet by the Berber singer Oulahlou whose title is part of the slogans chanted today in the stadiums and in certain processions of the Hirak.

The stadiums, relay of the Islamist claim

It will be understood that politics has always been present in Algerian stadiums. This was the case in the middle of the 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 forums expressed to 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 riots of October 1988 (nearly 600 dead, thousands of wounded and intensive use of torture in the weeks that followed), most of the Algerian stadiums became an important relay for the demands of the former Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). To the "dawla islamiya!" »(« Islamic State! ») Chanted everywhere were added in the capital the« Bab-el-Oued Ecchouhada », the« martyrs »of Bab-el-Oued, tribute to the young people of this district fallen under the bullets of the army. This slogan on young people mowed in the prime of their lives, the Hirak of 2019 has brought it up to date, proof that what happened in October 1988 is still remembered.

Since February 22, 2019, the Friday demonstrations have known an always impressive moment: it is when the processions from the south and the north converge towards the city center after the great prayer. In both cases, the regulars of the stadiums are at the forefront. In March, supporters of the Union sportive madinet El Harrach (USMH) were at the origin of tensions 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 how the politico-religious claim remains a reference among many fans of the round ball.

Permanent instrumentalization

If he sought to make stadiums a place of unwinding, the power, for its part, has never ceased to exploit the passion for the sport-king. Before him, the nationalist movement understood the same thing. Many clubs, born during the colonial period, were created to affirm the Algerian identity. This was the case for the teams bearing the name of Mouloudia (Algiers, Oran or Constantine), formed on the eve of mawlid ennabaoui, a religious festival celebrating the birth of the prophet Mohammad. After the Second World War, teams like the MCA were the unofficial spokespersons for nationalist and independence demands. In April 1958, more than four years before independence, the defection of thirty professional players who left their French championship clubs without warning 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" toured the world several times, the craze for the round ball allowing him to raise awareness of 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 "independence eleven" had a considerable impact in Algeria but especially in France where part of the public opinion felt 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 then 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, particularly in Constantine, from revolting against the system (November 1986). A protest announcing 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 round ball test. In the first case, the last round of qualifying opposed Algeria to Egypt. The return match in Cairo was marked by incidents, in particular the cobbling of the Algerian players' bus. On both sides there was a surge of chauvinistic passions and anathemas. In the end, the Algerian victory in a support match in Sudan provoked enormous popular jubilation for 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 which removed 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 Cup (2014) allowed the regime to forget a gloomy reality. In addition to the president's illness, the country was just 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, it was a surge of official propaganda, various incitement to chauvinism, including in the advertising world, all creating the artificial feeling of belonging to a booming country jealous of its neighbors, even by the whole world. This feeling which pushes many Algerians to refuse any criticism has a name: "wanetoutrism", born from the famous slogan "One, two, three, viva l'Algérie".

The role of ultra culture

How then did we go from “wanetoutrism”, chauvinistic and belligerent, to full participation in Hirak? This is the result of a fundamental trend born in the early 1990s. At that time, Algeria was undermined by violence and clashes between the authorities and the armed groups. It was also the time when the Algerian football championship got bogged down. The level is low, the meetings are tasteless, corruption is raging, fights between supporters regularly break out 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 modes of organization and celebration of Western supporters, especially Italian supporters. As in Milan, Turin, Rome or Naples, the bends, in other words the stands at the angles of the ground, become places of expression of a specific culture, mixing sports songs but also political and social considerations. In Algiers, the supporters of USMA, already very advanced in terms of musical design, will fully identify with their counterparts from AC Milan, an Italian club of which 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 USMA ultras, including the Milano Group, predecessor of Ouled El Bahdja, “El Milano”, AC Milan is the ultimate benchmark. Moreover, the popular Algerian expression “Rome rather than you” - the title, moreover, of a film by director Tariq Teguia (2006), refers to this identification. For an ultra of the USMA, Rome (the sworn enemy of AC Milan and therefore of the "usmists") will always be better than the Algerian power.

Making "tifos" (giant banners), adopting an attitude hostile to power, pro-Palestinian songs, the ranks of the ultras of the USMA and other clubs in the country offered young people the opportunity to practice their speech. protestor. As in Tunisia or in Egypt where the popular protests of 2011 owe a lot to the commitment of the "ultras", again more able to face police violence, the Algerian "turns" were thus a place of political maturation and socialization. , a role that the stadiums have often played in the history of independent Algeria. Before concluding, we will point out that the ultra phenomenon also affects Morocco, the supporters of the Wydad Athletic Club (WAC) being known for their ruthless chants against the corruption that reigns in the Makhzen and the social inequalities that result from it. For their part, the ultras of the Raja Club Athletic (Raja, or RCA) do not hesitate to proclaim their adhesion 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 ways, the Algerian Hirak of 2019 owes a lot to the youth of the stadiums in whom, far from the influence of completely absent opposition parties, forged the conviction that the power in place was lying to 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.

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