James Dorsey

91 Articles

James M Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg.

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Latest by James Dorsey


Turkey’s anti-Gulen campaign: strengthening militants and jihadists

A Turkish demand that Pakistan close 28 primary and secondary schools associated with controversial, self-exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen has put the government in Islamabad in a quandary as it attempts to get a grip on an education sector in which militant Islamists and jihadists figure prominently. Turkish ambassador to Pakistan S. Babur Girgin’s demand …

James Dorsey

Port Said emerges as Egypt’s focal point of soccer-driven protest

Port Said, the Suez Canal city associated with the worst incident in Egyptian sporting history, is emerging as a prime locus of soccer-driven protest in a country that does not brook dissent. Repeated protests in the city are laden with soccer’s tangled involvement and key role in the 2011 popular revolt that toppled president Hosni …

James Dorsey

US adds pressure on Qatar to move on labour reform

A recently published United States (US) State Department report on human trafficking provides Qatar with yet another roadmap to counter World Cup-related international criticism of its labour regime. The State Department’s annual review serves as a warning to Qatar, as the clock ticks on an ultimatum by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The ILO last May said that it …

James Dorsey

Jihad v soccer: the Islamic State’s convoluted love-hate relationship

If Islamic State (IS) was serious about attacking Euro 2016, its plans clearly never materialised. Leaked transcripts of the interrogation of one of the attackers of Brussels Airport in March leave little doubt however that soccer is featured prominently on the group’s target list. So does this month’s beheading of four Syrian players in Raqqa. …

James Dorsey

Egypt inches towards return of militant fans to stadium terraces

Egypt may be inching towards a return to the stands of soccer fans who played a key role in the 2011 toppling of former president Hosni Mubarak, and have been barred entry into stadiums for much of the last five years. Clubs, players, and fans see a 28 June CAF Champions League match between storied Cairo …

James Dorsey

Kuwaiti rulers fight their internal battles on the sports field

Political infighting within Kuwait’s ruling family is about to take a dramatic turn with reports that the Gulf state plans to dissolve its national sports organisations in a blatant illustration of the incestuous relationship between sports and politics. The expected Kuwaiti move, part of an effort to sideline Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, a member of …

James Dorsey

Turkish soccer brawls: the battle for the future of the Kemalist state

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan dresses up his increasing authoritarianism with nationalist and religious overtones, sparking battles over the future of the Kemalist state. Those battles, pitting nationalist and conservative forces against secularists and Kurds, are nowhere more evident than on Turkish soccer pitches. A series of incidents in recent months highlighted the mounting tensions …

James Dorsey

Part II: Putting one’s ear to the ground: rumblings of mounting discontent

(The following is a transcript of a lecture presented at the Middle East Institute’s conference “The Middle East peace process after the Arab uprisings”.) Israeli Palestinian youth hold a racist Israeli society responsible for their plight but feel a Palestinian society that refuses to acknowledge their plight is equally guilty. Abed recalls a childhood friend …

James Dorsey

Part I: Putting one’s ear to the ground: rumblings of mounting discontent

(The following is a transcript of a lecture presented at the Middle East Institute’s conference “The Middle East peace process after the Arab uprisings”.) When Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, returned to Jerusalem earlier this month, he was asked by colleagues what story he would be covering. The story seemed evident to Jeremy. …

James Dorsey

Playing politics: the AFC gets tied up in knots

Two recent incidents involving the refusal of Arab teams to play their Palestinian counterparts on Palestinian soil highlight the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) willingness to play politics at the Palestinians’ expense at times with the connivance of the Palestine Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. The incidents further spotlight the consequences of the incestuous relationship …

James Dorsey

Turkey and Egypt: the battle to control dissent pitches fans against autocrats

Battles for the control of stadiums and other public spaces in Turkey and Egypt have pitched militant soccer fans against authoritarian leaders determined to limit supporters’ ability to challenge their authority. As a result, a struggle that comes on the back of years of confrontation in the stadiums and mass, watershed anti-government protests that in …

James Dorsey

The Bin Ladens: A Saudi bellwether

The past year has not been good to Osama Bin Laden’s brothers, owners of the Saudi Binladen Group, one of the kingdom’s leading construction conglomerates. Tumbling oil prices that have forced the government to delay payments have left the group no choice but to lay off tens of thousands of employees. The layoff sparked rare …

James Dorsey

Turkish stadiums: a contested political battleground

  Last month’s opening of storied Istanbul soccer club Besiktas JK’s renovated Vodafone Arena stadium was laden with political symbols ranging from clashes between police and militant fans, to fans being banned from attending the opening, to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan using the event to his political advantage.   Celebrations of the opening reflected …

James Dorsey

Women: a benchmark of Saudi and Iranian reform

With Saudi Arabia announcing plans for a major restructuring of the kingdom’s economy and Iran gearing up to become a regional hegemony, women’s sports are emerging as a benchmark of reform, and one that so far is less than promising. Saudi Arabia’s recent outline of plans for large scale economic reform away from the kingdom’s …

James Dorsey

Egyptian football fans set stage for growing anti-government protests

Militant, street battle-hardened Egyptian football fans set the stage for growing protests against the government of general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi when, earlier this month, they forced their way into a stadium, in protest against the country’s long-standing ban on supporters attending football matches. The storming of the pitch in the Borg Al-Arab stadium in the …

James Dorsey

FIFA, human rights, and politics: one step forward, two steps back

World football body FIFA’s creation of a watchdog to monitor the living and working conditions of migrant labour employed in World Cup 2022-related construction sites is the second time in a month that Qatar has been warned that it needs to demonstrate sincerity in its reform of the Gulf state’s controversial labour system. The announcement …

James Dorsey

Amnesty International criticism returns Qatar to square one

A new report from Amnesty International slams Qatar for not living up to promises to improve workers’ rights and adds to growing international criticism of Qatar’s inability to properly implement adopted policies. World Cup host Qatar and FIFA are back to square one in terms of public diplomacy, with the Amnesty International report taking the …

James Dorsey

ILO to Qatar: Put your money where your mouth is or else

The International Labour Organization has put Qatar on notice, by giving it 12 months to implement labour reforms, that it no longer can delay acting on promises made in the wake of its successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup. The ILO warning rings stark as the UAE, Qatar’s main competitor, steps up efforts …

James Dorsey

Jihadist football: Contrary visions of a future Syria

A football star-turned-protest leader-turned-jihadist encourages peaceful anti-Bashar Al-Assad protests in Syrian rebel-held territory. Nearby, in “Islamic State” (IS)-controlled territory, young boys play football with decapitated heads. The contrast is rife with symbolism. It potentially offers alternative ways of understanding the parameters within which at least some Syrians who joined jihadist groups operate. It also provides …

James Dorsey

Saudi Arabia’s Future: will Al-Saud-Wahhabi partnership hold?

Saudi Arabia is confronting a perfect storm of challenges: economic, political, social, ideological, and geopolitical. How it weathers the storm will likely depend on how it handles the inevitable restructuring of the problematic partnership between the Al Saud ruling family and the Wahhabi ulama or religious scholars, on whom the former rely for their legitimacy. …

James Dorsey

Bahraini’s soccer defeat: A cautionary tale for autocrats

  A failed election campaign for the presidency of world soccer body FIFA by Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa has further tarnished the image of his native Bahrain as well as his own reputation. It holds a cautionary tale for Middle Eastern, North African, and other autocrats who see sports as a way to project …

James Dorsey

Conviction of Egyptian football fans slams door on potential political dialogue

Fleeting hopes that Egypt’s militant, street battled-hardened football fans may have breached general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s repressive armour were dashed with this week’s sentencing of 15 supporters on charges of attempting to assassinate the controversial head of storied Cairo club Al-Zamalek SC. Although the sentences of one year in prison handed down by a Cairo …

James Dorsey

Iran’s litmus test: sports and air transport

Sports and air transport are likely to serve as indicators of whether Iran has the flexibility to become a major node in an increasingly globalised world. The country’s willingness to relax strict gender segregation, dress codes, and its ban on alcohol will be at the core of Iranian efforts to become a global sports and …

James Dorsey

Mired in problems, Egypt’s president reaches out to Ultras

Best known for his brutal repression of critics, Egyptian-general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has invited the members of the Ultras, the militant anti-government football fans, to participate in the court proceedings related to a 2012 politically loaded football brawl in which 72 supporters of storied Cairo club Al-Ahly SC died. Al-Sisi’s invitation contrasted starkly with Al-Ahly’s …

James Dorsey

China and the Middle East: Tilting towards Iran?

President Xi Jinping went from Riyadh to Iran this month to become the first foreign leader to do so following the lifting of international sanctions against the Islamic republic. Saudi leaders could not have been pleased. China and Saudi Arabia (and Egypt) signed $55bn worth of cooperation agreements during Xi’s visit, including a nuclear cooperation …

James Dorsey

Pressure builds on Sheikh Salman to respond to human rights allegations

Pressure is building on Asian Football Confederation president and world soccer body FIFA presidential candidate Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa to respond with chapter and verse to allegations that he played a role in the detention and abuse of athletes during the 2011 popular uprising in his native Bahrain. The revolt was brutally squashed …

James Dorsey

The Middle East: China Venturing into the Maelstrom

Chinese President Xi Jingping has effectively acknowledged that, increasingly, China will be unable to remain aloof to multiple crises in the Middle East in his decision to visit the region – at a time that two of its major powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are at loggerheads. It was only last year that Xi dropped …

James Dorsey