In troubled times and under pressure from a government with powerful social networking analysis capabilities, the mere preliminary act of searching for co-conspirators and linking with them carries a lot of risk. Care in maintaining a anonymity reduces that risk, but the proper use of secure online communication tools is cumbersome, their use itself hints at subversive activity and the anonymous procurement of devices and mobile telephony accounts is yet another drag on the enthusiastic would-be clandestine operator.

In summary, proper risk mitigation techniques are beyond the casual level acceptable for fomenting mass action. As a result, frustrated citizens rising up fall back on existing social networks that were not designed for that purpose. The use of family relationships is the archetypal example though a dangerous one: even  if your government does not emulate Stalin by deporting your entire family after suspecting a single member, it makes tracing very easy using genealogy software as was the case during the USian occupation of Iraq. What is needed is an organization which is more distributed and capable of achieving critical mass fast.

This week, Algeria’s Football Federation has called off a planned friendly with neighbours Tunisia under the rather difficult to believe pretext that “the only two stadiums capable of hosting the match are both unavailable”. The real reason is actually the wave of massive protests that is currently rocking the Middle East. But what does football have to do with it ?

Paul Woodward reports an interview by the prominent Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah on Al Jazeera in which he made the interesting observation that the uprising’s most effective organizational strength comes from a quarter that has been ignored by most of the media: soccer fans known as ultras :

“The ultras — the football fan associations — have played a more significant role than any political group on the ground at this moment,” Alaa said. “Maybe we should get the ultras to rule the country,” he joked.

Cited by Paul Woodward, James M. Dorsey, an expert on soccer in the Middle East, writes:

Established in 2007, the ultras—modelled on Italy’s autonomous, often violent fan clubs—have proven their mettle in confrontations with the Egyptian police, who charge that criminals and terrorists populate their ranks.

“There is no competition in politics, so competition moved to the soccer pitch. We do what we have to do against the rules and regulations when we think they are wrong,” said an El Ahly ultra last year after his group overran a police barricade trying to prevent it from bringing flares, fireworks and banners into the stadium. “You don’t change things in Egypt talking about politics. We’re not political, the government knows that and has to deal with us,” he adds.

The involvement of organized soccer fans in Egypt’s anti-government protests constitutes every Arab government’s worst nightmare. Soccer, alongside Islam, offers a rare platform in the Middle East, a region populated by authoritarian regimes that control all public spaces, for the venting of pent-up anger and frustration.

This has not escaped Libya either, as this Google Translation excerpt of an Al Jazeera article mentioned by Zero Hedge attests : among other measures that are part of the state of emergency and security alert imposed since the outbreak of the revolution in Tunisia, the Libyan government abolished the league matches of Libyan Football Association which was to be organized during the following month.

When political organizations are crushed and political life driven underground and dispersed, only apolitical organizations remain – and they end up being politically involved because in the end, everything is political.