On November 20, the FIFA World Cup will officially start at al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar. 32 nations, including Morocco, will compete at the international event. In addition to the Moroccan national team and its fans, Morocco will be represented by a team of cybersecurity agents who will assist the Qatari government to ensure the safety and security of the participants and spectators. This Qatari reliance on Moroccan stadium security expertise is partly related to its decades-long experience in the management of sports events and vigilance.
As early as 2005, Morocco saw the birth of some of the first organized associations of young, loyal and over-enthusiastic supporters of soccer clubs, dubbed as the ultras. They were first established in Casablanca by fans of the historical soccer Raja club and then expanded to other teams nationwide. While the phenomenon of ultras emerged in Europe and in particular Italy, they have developed local and regional identities in Morocco with a financial autonomy and independence from their own clubs.
While Moroccan ultras do not identify as political associations, their confrontation with security forces and criticism of governmental policies made them visible in local and international contexts especially as their songs on corruption, alienation, poverty and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict gained popularity across the virtual web. The following song by the Helala Boys — the official ultras of the soccer club of the town Kenitra, a port town north of Rabat — provides a clear summary of this social frustration. It reads:
This a song for all ultras around the world
All the people who have been robbed of freedom
This message is for the police and the government
From its injustice, we are already fed up
Only Our Lord is our witness!
In every week there are big parties in the Curva
Tifos, pyrotechnics, and banners
Messages that tell the truth
Our ideas here have no limit
Every day, they call us criminals
The media, society and the government
We hate you all, we are ready for war
Now study the story and learn what lies between the lines
From the handcuffed in the stadium to the imprisoned
They create fake news and accuse us of violence
In tears my mother did not sleep yesterday
I am sorry mom but your son is oppressed
In my country I am living like hell
In this country, the ultras spirit they never understood
The more they try to stop us the stronger we become
They made the 09/09 law (law against the ultras)
So disgusting you call that a law
Fucking law, they will never control us
We know our right and will never be silent
On corruption and authoritarianism, we will always speak
We will do everything to ensure freedom
This song will stay in your head
Never try to stop or be against my passion
Because my anger is the weapon against repression
Independence and freedom for ultras
We love the Green and White unconditionally
We will be with you in life and in death
I’ve been with you for days, months, and years.
I will never leave you, I say this with pride.
Since childhood, I love you like crazy.
I sing with joy and flares in my hands
With the balaclava and the green in my eyes
Turn on the flash and take a picture of me
A crazy fan who loves freedom
Finally, you have to open your mind.
Our God is great, our God is great
He will protect us from the oppressors
Our God is great, our God is great
Please God, protect us from the oppressors
Always protect us
Here we are ready for war
We don’t fear anyone and nobody can control us.
We will never be what they want us to be
We are not puppets to play at any time
With the green I can have a beautiful life
With my brothers, we will be in good and bad times with you.
This the life style I want to have
As an honor crazy and different
This is the end you will see again
Our God is great, our God is great
He will protect us from the oppressors
This long manifesto describes a feeling of distrust in the government and its bureaucracy among the ultras, who developed a culture of opting out of traditional social systems. These statements underscore anger towards the state’s repressive and corrupt system. Like other youth movements around the globe, these young ultras express a political disillusionment with the social and economic system in Morocco. The ultras are thought to be the outcome of a political void created by the authoritarian state, which discredited its own political processes and weakened political parties and unions over the years, confronting the street directly without any civic society to mediate its relationship to the people. As a result, and in the absence of institutions of mentorship, youth have opted out from the traditional bureaucracies of soccer clubs to seek refuge in the ultras because of their deep distrust of both government and political parties. Unlike the general perception of ultras as criminal organizations, their members see them as organizations that provide support to challenged youth.
Today, the Moroccan Professional Soccer League known as Botolo Pro includes the following ultras: Ultras Los Rifinos (Al Houceima), Orange Boys (Berkane), Fatal Tigers (Fes), Brigade Wajda (Oujda), Green Ghost (Khouribga), Crazy Boys (Marrakesh), Los Matadoes (Tetouan), Ultras Hercules (Tangier), Helala Boys (Kenitra), Askary (Rabat), Eagles (Casablanca), Imazighen (Agadir) and Winners (Casablanca). These ultras are autonomous, operating generally outside the direct purview of the boards of the clubs they claim to represent.
During the early years of independence, King Hassan II was able to transform soccer into a national sport and pastime, which Moncef Lyazghi, a sociologist and author of the Arabic book Makhzanat al-riyada fi al-maghrib: kurat al-qadam namudajan [The Makhzanisation of Sports in Morocco: Football as a Case Study], which includes the early militarization of its management and identification with nationalism. Football allowed Hassan II to divert the attention of Moroccan society from its internal political confrontations during the 1960s-1980s and social and economic malaise. It became part of the state ideology of soft surveillance to create docile citizens without obvious and major awareness of state structural violence that could trigger social resistance.
At the same time, soccer stadiums became a battleground of social and political resistance, where taboos are expressed and criticism of the government and its political elite is rarely sanctioned. The hidden social transcripts that are rarely mentioned in normal circumstances are easily heard. In December 1979, following the humiliating defeat of the Moroccan national team against Algeria, Abdelhafid Kadiri, the Minister of Youth and Sports, proposed a year’s suspension of the national competition to give the national football federation and club administrators and committees time to revamp their programs. Hassan II discounted the proposal, given the importance of football as a weekly ritual for the public to vent its political and social frustration that would otherwise be directed against the state. If football played a key role in the national liberation movement as a venue of political mobilization, it represented one of the few spaces available for angry fans, especially young unemployed youth, to express their frustration towards the postcolonial state and its failed economic policies.
Yet despite this limited license to protest the state in the stadium, the chair of the club and its board members maintained strict oversight over fans, which provided a strong connection not only to the players but also the administrative office of the club. This identity would fade away over the years. The large fandom base of clubs was not only limited to lower social classes but also to supporters from the middle and upper classes. The worsening of the economic conditions following the IMF and World Bank structural adjustment policies diminished the large revenue base of clubs. Fans lost their traditional connections to the clubs as their leadership became interested in financial gains — especially selling the rights of players to European clubs. The commercialization of soccer clubs and the industry of players negatively impacted the fans’ association with the team. A critical fandom emerged. For example, the Winners, the ultras of the Casablanca Wydad club, penned the following anthem of the club:
In the name of the oppressed people
On behalf of depressed people
I sing today… I speak
I clash with the government
Oppression goes beyond the limits
The truncheons beat us
The doors of freedom closed
In our stifled faces
At each match… each smoke
The cameras aim at me
Hooded, with hidden face
In case the DST (General Directorate for territorial Surveillance) films me
I’m just a supporter
What is my sin
They want us to be slaves
That we accept the situation
We don’t accept that even in a cell.
We will never give up
The lyrics of this song highlight the disenfranchised youth’s anger and frustration about the political and economic situation. It denounces the administrative abuse using the club ultra’s anthem as a political message directed at the club management and the government.
The commercialization of local clubs affected both sponsorship and mentorship of neighborhood teams, which turned to street culture including gangs, leading to instances of violence outside stadiums at the end of games. Clubs lost the privilege of oversight and turned to security for help which antagonized the fans and lead to a series of songs critical of the government’s economic policies, culture of corruption and mismanagement of national resources. In this example the Ultras Hercules of Tangier Club highlight the state of despair that led Morocco’s unemployed to consider illegal migration.
This is a country of humiliation
And tears were shed in
Life in it is bitter
They didn’t lie when they said
The government killed us with empty promises
We did not see anything in this country
In Mawazine [musical festival] Shakira
Was given a million
Our demands are small
You burnt us with increase prices
By God it’s a big mafia
Everyone has become a crook
In the local neighborhoods
Poor people have formed queues
A candle gives us light
Our only water is from communal taps
And the government laugh at us
And with our money they buy villas
Take us on a boat
Rescue us from this land.
The rise of ultras and youth culture that defy social and political norms are generally met with heavy security, particularly since the government introduced laws criminalizing the culture of ultras and fining clubs for acts of violence. The overly legal and security-focused approach to ultras culture is driven by panic and fear of an economy of youth violence. Members of ultras see this approach as reactionary because it fails to identity the social problems which reside in the breakdown of social norms related to sports education. These social norms are learned at school and are enforced by both the club and the family.
Ultras are not just delinquent or violent youth who seek to cause chaos. They are, in fact, bearers of a generalized socio-cultural crisis and conveyers of messages from the marginalized sections of Moroccan society. Until the roots of the political, social, and cultural issues they critique are addressed, these youth will continue to ridicule Moroccan governments in stadiums and destroy public and private property outside of stadiums in moments of frustration.