Sport, Politics and Society in the Arab World, by Mahfoud Amara. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 208 pages. $85.
During the late 1950s several leading North African footballers abandoned their thriving careers and place on the French national team, choosing to cast their lot with the Algerian liberation movement and form a team representing the national movement. In July 2007, the Iraqi national football team won the Asian Cup, its spirited never-say-die attitude offering a fractured nation a sense of unity and a measure of hope for co-operation. In the recent Arab Spring uprisings, athletes and fans have been at the forefront of the calls for greater freedom, leading protests and community building, a continuation of the role that sport has played for many years as one of the few places where political resistance and organizing were voiced and honed.
These are some of the events underscoring sport's special place and importance in the Arab world and which Algerian scholar Mafoud Amara notes in his Sport, Politics and Society in the Arab World, an important contribution to the small but growing field of scholarship about sport in the region.
Aiming at providing "a critical reflection on sport in the polity, society and history of the Arab world" (p. 1), the book has six chapters: development and sport; sport politics and policy in North Africa; Soccer in Algeria, post-colonialism and towards post conflict; the politics and business of sport and TV broadcasting; sports and business and politics in the Gulf states; and the Muslim perspective on sport. Each chapter contains a theoretical framework and ample examples. Together, the chapters demonstrate the role sports play in the formation of national identity, nation-state building, and international relations; and the way the commercialization of sport and the growth of sport media are changing Arab societies. The book's breadth is evident in the index with references to the Hamas movement, Halal, Franz Fanon, Rupert Murdoch, and Orientalism.
Considering the long and rich history of sport in the Arab world and its importance to individual lives and societies, it is surprising that until recently Middle Eastern historians as well as sport scholars have mostly ignored the subject. While there were novels and films (both narrative and documentary) about sports in the region (stretching back to Togo Mizrahi's 1937 Egyptian film Shalom al-riyadi [Shalom the Athlete] about a Jewish soccer manager), academic work was sparse. Exceptions include the work of Houchang Chelahabi on Iranian football and politics, Abdul Karim Alaug and Thomas B. Stevenson on the important role football played in ending hostilities between the warring states of Yemen, and Israeli sociologists on Arab football in the Jewish state. Gradually, more studies have appeared in publications such as The International Review for the History of Sport, Sport in Society, Soccer and Society, and The International Review for the Sociology of Sport, as well as general sociological journals. Recent additions to the field include Muslim Women and Sport, edited by Tansin Benn, Haifaa Jawad, and Gertrud Pfister, and two works (in Arabic) by Egyptians writers: Yasser Thabit's Hurub kurat al-qadam (Soccer Wars), a study of Egyptian soccer history from its origins to the recent conflict between Algeria and Egypt on and offthe field, and Mohamed G. …