Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
A memorial dedicated to ultra martyrs. Photo: Gigi Ibrahim
A few months ago, an Egyptian friend told me: ‘If you think the Muslim Brothers are well organised, then you should check out the ultras.’ The ultras are associations of hardcore football fans. Those of Cairo teams Zamalek and Al Ahly, now united in the Tahrir Square Ultras group, have played a crucial role in defending the revolution and politicising the youth from the slums.
On 2 February 2011, the ultras took a leading role in defending the sit-in in Tahrir Square against armed aggressors riding horses and camels, in what came to be known as the ‘Battle of the Camel’.
A year later, on 1 February 2012, there was another battle. The revolutionary youth didn’t believe for one second that the massacre of 74 Al Ahly ultras in the Port Said stadium of Al Masry was a mere accident. The police opened the barriers separating the opposing factions of supporters while the exits on the Al Ahly side had been welded shut. Then they just stood and watched the carnage.
The Al Masry ultras, accused by the media of carrying out the killings, pleaded innocence and pointed to a large presence of infiltrators, which has been confirmed by several witnesses. The Tahrir ultras interpreted the events as a retaliation, instigated by the ruling military council and other leftovers of the old regime, to punish the revolutionary ultras. The riot that followed tore down the wall built by the military in front of Cairo’s interior ministry but ended with 12 new martyrs.
The ultras movement is not the only youth counter-culture to come to the fore with the revolutionary events in Egypt. Hip hop and street art went through a similar process of radicalisation. During the months following ex-president Hosni Mubarak’s downfall, Cairo’s walls have been transfigured with graffiti celebrating the revolution, political slogans, logos of revolutionary groups and rebellious stencils. As the powers-that-be are too busy to take care of this sort of ‘crime’, the artists paint openly during the day and feel no need to conceal their identity, which is easily traceable on the internet. Among the most notorious vandals – who often reject the ‘street artist’ label – are Ganzeer, Sad Panda, Keizer and El Teneen.
In the west, El Général – a Tunisian – was the best-known symbol of the role played by rap in the Arab Spring protests. In November 2010 he released on YouTube the track ‘Rais Lebled’, denouncing Tunisia’s social miseries. During the uprising he openly attacked the elite with the piece ‘Tounes Bladna’. This led to his arrest on 6 January 2011, which in turn resulted in him becoming a national star and some sort of saint for western media.
Unfortunately, in the meantime, El Général became close to the Islamist right now in power. This alignment is exemplified by the track ‘Allahu Akbar’, which together with religious lyrics delivered in a quite aggressive fashion features a couple of unmistakably anti-semitic rhymes.
Fulvio Massarelli, journalist and Tunisia expert, explains: ‘All of his post-January 14 pieces are deeply conservative, and it’s not surprising that his new album is being funded by the government. After all, rap music is by now a traditional tool for Islamist propaganda among the youth, not just in Tunisia. The revolutionary movement has criticised and menaced him – he can hardly perform in Tunisia without being contested.
‘MCs that are authentically followed by the revolutionary movement are Klay BBJ, Hamzaoui Med Amine and Vipa.’
In Egypt, the Arabian Knightz fly the progressive flag. Their hits ‘Rebel’ and ‘Prisoner’ are among the most-listened-to soundtracks of the uprising, along with the songs by singer-songwriter Ramy Essam. In their recent interviews, they have shown their warm solidarity with the Occupy movement, which is perfectly in tune with the Guy Fawkes masks that appeared everywhere in the latest North African protests.
The more underground and militant movement is represented by the MCs and producers gathered around the label Revolution Records. Their last single ‘Kazeboon’ exposes the role of the military council in the massacres carried out by the security forces between October and December 2011. But the anti-military rule track to which I’m most attached is ‘Al Afan’ by Mohamed Aly Talibab. Aly says: ‘By using the voices of a kid aged 17 and of an old worker, I’ve tried to address the silent majority, especially the working class. To tell them how the military council is trying to manipulate them, to terrorise them by saying it’s either us or chaos.’
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Priti Patel's shady deals are business as usual. Enough is enough, writes Eleanor Penny
Boris Johnson is a local disaster and a national embarrassment. He must go, writes James Clouting
The global elite have been stealing from society on an unprecedented scale, writes Tom Walker
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum