Another innovation is Takriz’s strong relationship with soccer fans. The mosque and the soccer pitch have been the only release valves for anger and frustration among the young under autocratic Middle Eastern rule, says James M. Dorsey, senior fellow at the Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, who writes a blog called The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. “Soccer gets little attention,” he says, “because soccer fans don’t bomb World Trade Centers.” They fight local battles instead, often against the police.
The inspiration for turning that spirit to political ends came after several Taks, including Foetus and SuX, were at a 1999 Tunisian cup match that erupted in violence. Scores were injured and several died. Ben Ali was appalled, but exiled Taks soon saw an advantage in working with Ultras, as the most extreme fans of soccer clubs are known. Over several seasons, SuX, who had a particular rapport with the fans on the terraces, developed a Web forum for Ultras from different teams, hosted by Takriz. A distinctive North African style of Ultra—one with more political character—spread quickly among Tunisia’s soccer-mad youth and then to fans in Egypt, Algeria, Libya, and Morocco. When the revolution began, the Ultras would come out to play a very different game. They were transformed into a quick-reaction force of bloody-minded rioters.