Algeria’s African Cup of Nations final against Senegal will mark the climax not only of the Desert Foxes’ campaign on the field, but of their fans’ recent political campaign in the stands.
In April, long-standing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned after weekly Friday protests against his expected candidacy for elections, and football fans have been heavily involved in demonstrations.
When Algeria won their opening group game against Kenya on June 23, one fan was arrested, deported from Egypt and then jailed for a year after holding a sign with one of the anti-government movement’s slogans: “So they all go”.
Two others were also expelled for setting off smoke bombs during the match at the 30 June Stadium in Cairo.
During the semi-final victory over Nigeria on Sunday, the travelling fans chanted verses from ‘La Casa del Mouradia’ an anthem adapted by the Friday protesters to refer to the Algerian presidential residence.
On Tuesday, as Riyad Mahrez and his teammates trained, around a hundred faithful sang a rendition of track ‘La Liberte’ by Algerian rapper Soolking, which has also been heard on the streets on a weekly basis during the protests.
Demonstrations against 82-year-old Bouteflika, who had been in power for 20 years, have been held on 21 straight Fridays since late February and have their roots in the stands and terraces of football grounds across the country.
A banner displayed at a club match in 2017 depicting the Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and the US President Donald Trump as ‘Two faces of the same coin’ sparked a diplomatic incident.
– ‘Challenge the establishment’ –
Mahfoud Amara, a professor of social sciences and sport management at the University of Qatar, told AFP the political demonstrations at games trace their history further back.
“Since the 1970s-1980s stadia have been a place for political expression in Algeria, maybe more so than other countries where there are more checks and censorship,” Amara said.
“It’s where you can challenge the establishment, deconstruct the taboos of Algeria.”
The fans, Amara said, “contributed, a little bit, to the voice of the people at a time when there was a weariness with the political system”.
The political activism of fans has made football metaphors such as “It’s not a match, no to additional time,” and “People 3, Power 0” common on the streets of Algerian cities.
An additional 4,800 Algerians will arrive in Cairo for the final on military planes organised by Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, who has also been a target of the demonstrations.
Those supporters who have already helped claim a political victory over Bouteflika this year will now roar their country on as they aim to win their first Cup of Nations since 1990.