Are Soccer Fans the Unsung Heroes of Egypt's Uprising?

Everyone from the Muslim Brotherhood, to labor unions, to Wikileaks are being credited for contributing to Egypt's uprising. But what about hardcore soccer fans? These guys are better at tangling with cops than just about anyone.

When asked about the role of political groups in organizing protests, prominent Egyptian blogger Alaa abd El-Fatah told Al Jazeera today: "The ultras - the football fan associations - have played a more significant role than any political group on the ground at this moment."

Chief among these are supporters of the team Al Ahly ("The National"). Al Ahly's history is intertwined with the protest of oppressive regimes: It was founded as a sports club in 1907, in part to give student unions a place to gather at a time they were organizing against British colonial rule. According to Middle East soccer expert James Dorsey, today's Al Ahly supporters are notorious for overwhelming police barriers at matches and their general toughness—in other words, they're well-suited to cut through tear gas in the streets, or to join the human chain protecting the Egyptian Museum from looters.

"Soccer fans constitute a well-organized and feared pillar of the marshalling grassroots coalition," writes Dorsey.

Al Ahly's most prominent fan club, Al Ahly Ultra, said it's politically neutral in a statement posted to its Facebook page. But, it added, "The group emphasizes that its members are free in their political choices." Now that anti-government protests are forcing match cancellations, many soccer fans seem to be refocusing their enthusiasm on taking down President Mubarak's regime. Anyone familiar soccer fans should know this will probably not turn out well for Mubarak.

This, after all, is what Al Ahly supporters look like when they're happy:

[Image of Egypt Fans Celebrating a 2010 World Cup qualifier victory via Getty]

[War in Context, Dominiquerdr, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer]