On December 18, football fans in Algeria and across the region celebrated the national team’s victory in the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup held in Qatar. Meanwhile, in Paris, the “City of Light”, Algerian supporters were violently attacked by French police and arrested by the dozen.
The Paris police headquarters banned “supporters of football teams from Algeria, Egypt, Qatar or Tunisia, or those who behave as such” from congregating in a setting established around the famous Champs-Elysees avenue. The order was made in anticipation of the celebrations that would follow a Tunisian or Algerian victory in the Arab Cup final.
This contrasted sharply with the measures taken by the French police to organize the festivities after France’s victory at the 2018 World Cup. Rather than banning the fans, the then police chief greeted them on the Champs-ÃlysÃ©es and instead ordered a police perimeter for their protection.
That the French police resort to racial profiling under the pretext of ensuring “public safety” is hardly surprising. Yet criminalizing “Arab behavior” represents a surprisingly outspoken form of racial discrimination.
Clearly, in France, it is “liberty, equality, and fraternity”, unless, of course, you are of Arab or African origin. It is a country where generations of marginalized communities from former colonies have been subjected to undue scrutiny and scrutiny, racist vitriol from establishment politicians, and systemic barriers to work, labor and employment. education and public life, such as the various veil bans and closures of Mosques and Muslim organizations.
Attempts by Algerian supporters to celebrate in Paris despite the police ban must therefore be seen as a form of protest and resistance to what it means to be Arab, Muslim, Maghreb or black in France. Underlying this protest is also a critique of the racial logic underlying the post-colonial notion of Frenchness.
This was demonstrated by the degree of support received by the Algerian team, which played in the Arab Cup. Called team A ‘, it is composed only of players from the Algerian or Arab national leagues, who have no formal contractual link with France. While the “first team”, which participates in the Africa Cup and the World Cup, often relies on players who have been developed or are currently playing in the French and European national leagues, this Cup team Arab is completely “independent”.
For example, the importance of Amir Sayoud – who started his career in Algerian clubs ES Guelma and ES SÃ©tif before playing for historic clubs USM Alger and CR Belouzdad – scoring the winner of the match in the final – and no, say, $ 8.3million Manchester City star Riyad Mahrez – was not lost on fans.
Indeed, for many, Team A ‘came to represent a rejection of one of the main characteristics of neocolonialism – the continued dependence and domination of the former colonies on colonial powers, even after independence. formal.
In addition to this pride in national achievement, the celebrations among North African supporters demonstrated a remarkable policy of inclusion throughout the tournament. Fans of Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor town, where the final match was played, carried banners with the flags of all participating nations sewn together. In the Tunisian and Algerian stands, the supporters carried side by side the flags of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, symbolically representing the Greater Maghreb. Supporters also waved the Amazigh flag alongside national flags.
Perhaps most notably, fans throughout the tournament were keen to hoist the highest Palestinian flag of all. One of the tournament’s most famous Algerian players, Youcef BelaÃ¯li – who played as a young player in the Algerian national league with MC Oran – asked supporters for a Moroccan flag and waved it with the Algerian flags and Palestinian. And after the final match, Algerian coach Madjid Bougherra said: âWe dedicate the Arab Cup to the Palestinian people and our people in Gaza.
At the heart of this inclusive politics exposed at the Arab Cup is resistance to the legacy of European colonial divide and rule policy which created modern national borders and then sowed divisions within various nation states. .
If the French authorities have tried to present Maghreb citizens and immigrants as separatists, it is in fact the logic of colonial modernity that employs division and exclusion.
On the other hand, the spirit of resistance among Algerians in France and the policy of inclusion among many supporters and players of the tournament have only demonstrated a deep sense of the flexibility of borders and a welcome from the margins.
Moreover, the players have shown that they are not simply gladiators at the mercy of the state, but rather ambassadors with political and historical power. They help imagine a future that celebrates the uniqueness of the national experience, accompanied by a deep sense of inclusion.
The lesson and the challenge that the Algerian victory poses to all – including those leaders in France who seek to ban celebrations – is to broaden the notion of belonging to make the border between oneself and the other porous and to cultivate a ethics of coming âto know another.â This ethics is linked to a policy of resistance, as demonstrated by the Maghrebian partisans in Paris, who resisted the edicts which seek to exclude them and to expel them from the public space .
In my own country, Algeria, this policy and ethics should challenge us to consider our own attitude towards migrants and refugees, which has not always been welcoming, and to extend our spirit of inclusion not only through the Maghreb and as far as Palestine – as it should be – but also south to the rest of the African continent.
While French President Macron spoke of the common history between the north and the south of the Mediterranean, one may wonder why the celebrations of “supporters of football teams from Algeria, Egypt, Qatar or Tunisia” could not be a reason for French celebration. , also.
In France, the displayed inclusion policy will surely be a cause of consternation among the political establishment, which sees its right-wing candidates fighting to outdo themselves in racist vitriol. But this demonstration of inclusion during the Arab Cup could also offer them an opportunity for reflection.
For what the display of inclusion by players and fans demonstrates is that the former colonies are no longer willing to subscribe to a colonial and divisional nationalist policy. The possibilities that adopting an inclusive policy could bring could be profound.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.