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Sneakernets, Football Hooligans, and the Arab Spring Online

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, August 23 2011

Go read John Pollock's insightful, well-written explanation of how online activists in Egypt and Tunisia used a mix of technology and tactics to foment revolution, which appears online and in the September/October edition of MIT's Technology Review.

Pollock bases his article largely on interviews with two anonymous Tunisians going by the names "Foetus" and "Waterman." The pair, per Technology Review, were among the co-founders of Takriz, what he describes as an activist organization that began as a sort of "cyber think tank" in 1998 and grew into one of the catalysts of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions earlier this year.

Based on days of interviews with Foetus and reporting from the North Africa, Pollock outlines Takriz's involvement in the revolution — from civil disobedience to organized violence. Here's a snippet outlining how Takriz introduced die-hard soccer fans — who would become organized ground troops for the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt — into their political sphere:

The mosque and the soccer pitch have been the only release valves for anger and frustration among the young under autocratic Middle Eastern rule, says James M. Dorsey, senior fellow at the Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, who writes a blog called The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. "Soccer gets little attention," he says, "because soccer fans don't bomb World Trade Centers." They fight local battles instead, often against the police.

The inspiration for turning that spirit to political ends came after several Taks, including Foetus and SuX, were at a 1999 Tunisian cup match that erupted in violence. Scores were injured and several died. Ben Ali was appalled, but exiled Taks soon saw an advantage in working with Ultras, as the most extreme fans of soccer clubs are known. Over several seasons, SuX, who had a particular rapport with the fans on the terraces, developed a Web forum for Ultras from different teams, hosted by Takriz. A distinctive North African style of Ultra—one with more political character—spread quickly among Tunisia's soccer-mad youth and then to fans in Egypt, Algeria, Libya, and Morocco. When the revolution began, the Ultras would come out to play a very different game. They were transformed into a quick-reaction force of bloody-minded rioters.

The whole article is a worthy long read.