Carl Rommel, Associated Researcher at Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin

Conflating Realms: Football, politics and unpredictable affect in the wake of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution

In the wake of the 2011 Revolution, Egyptian football was plunged into a deep popularity crisis. The emotional hype around the game that had permeated the last years of the Mubarak era was gradually replaced by indifference, repulsion and affective discharge. Among football journalists and fans in Cairo, this development was generally understood through two linked, but in part contradictory, tales: on the one hand, football was seen as too banal and non-political to care for in the midst of a burning revolution; on the other, the sport was perceived as losing its lure because of it being too overtly political. In the light of this conundrum, this paper sets out to interrogate how and why emotions for football waned and withered in the revolutionary years. Based on twenty months of fieldwork in Cairo between 2011 and 2013, its ethnography takes off from the assumption that emotions are at the core of all political projects (cf. Stoler, 2004; Mazzarella, 2010). More specifically, the paper suggests that the blatant contrast that Egyptian football representatives typically presupposed between playful game and serious politics collapses if due attention is given to the inherently unpredictable occasions and rhythms that the affect of football and politics thrive on. Thus, the paper concludes, my ethnography allows us to anthropologise not only the emotions of football but also the ever-present notion of ‘politics’. Through its exploration of a series of conflating realms that effectively cancelled out the sport’s emotional specificity, the paper nuances our understanding of the affectivity of Egyptian ‘politics’, in the revolutionary years as well as in the present period of counterrevolutionary backlash.

Carl Rommel earned his PhD in Social Anthropology from SOAS, University of London in September 2015. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among football supporters, players, club officials and journals in Cairo between 2011 and 2013, his doctorate explores transformations of the emotional politics of Egyptian football from the late Mubarak era into the post-revolutionary years. Based at Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin, Rommel is currently working on a series of journal articles that draws on material from his doctorate. In parallel, he is also in the process of turning his dissertation into an ethnographic monograph. In a new research project, he examines the Egyptian state bureaucracy’s mobilisation of sports to shape the ‘youth’ ethically, emotionally and bodily. The project will be based on fieldwork at a handful of Cairo’s ‘youth centres’: a nationwide network of state-run cultural, educational and sporting institutions.

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