New york times qui parle du Mouloudia
Born in Protest, a Soccer Team Hailed by the People and the Government - NYTimes.com
They are the fans of Mouloudia Algiers, the doyen of soccer in Algeria and the beating heart of the nation. Even though the club does not always win the national championship, Mouloudia is by far the most popular team in the country and the one that politicians, and the government, want on their side.
Thousands of Mouloudia fans rocked a city stadium for a local match on a recent weekend, jumping and chanting in unison to African drum beats for hours before kickoff and throughout the game. Police officers with batons and helmets stood guard in the stands and escorted the referees on and off the field. Scores of police riot vehicles lined the streets outside the stadium. But the fans departed in good humor this time — Mouloudia won the match, 1-0.
Founded nearly 100 years ago, Mouloudia is deeply tied into the country’s history and politics, a force in the war of independence against France and a powerful political tool for the government in the decades since.
The club was created by four soccer enthusiasts who gathered one day in a cafe on a narrow alley of the Casbah, the medieval walled city that still forms the citadel of Algiers, on the hillside above the original Phoenician port. The four had the idea to form a soccer club for Algerians. In French colonial Algeria, that alone was a revolutionary act. Muslims were second-class citizens in their own country, and until then a club without French participation was not permitted.
“They decided to make a Muslim club,” said El-Hadi Domeche, the president of Mouloudia’s fan club and a lifetime fan. “It was an act against colonialism.”
The day they founded the club was the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, a day known as Mouloud in Arabic, so they named their club Mouloudia, an unbeatable name in Muslim Algeria. The club rapidly won supporters among the conservative, working-class population of the Casbah and beyond, for it combined three things Algerians cared passionately about: freedom, religion and soccer.
The team struggled at first, too poor to buy uniforms. The French colonialists called them the “Chiffoniers,” the ragmen.
Many of the team’s fans still live in and around the Casbah, and the leaders of the fan club meet in a cafe on the seafront in the shade of the quarter’s oldest mosque, the Jamaa Lekbir. They tell tales of the war of independence against the French Army in the 1950s, when the Casbah became the center of an urban guerrilla campaign made famous by the 1966 movie “The Battle of Algiers.”
Independence fighters conducted hit-and-run attacks on the French Army and the police, and left bombs in cafes and offices in the French quarter. The Casbah, with its warren of narrow stairways and closely packed houses, provided myriad escape routes and hiding places for the fighters.
Fighters could even escape across the rooftops, jumping from one terrace to another, because the houses were jammed in so close to one another. “You could go for two kilometers,” said Djilali Tchicha, a resident of the upper Casbah, whose family hid two resistance leaders in an upper room during the war.
Mr. Tchicha’s elder brother was a resistance fighter who was killed in a shootout with French troops. The same night soldiers surrounded their house, broke down the door and took away four other brothers. Mr. Tchicha, then 10 years old, avoided arrest, but he says he never forgot the face of the informer who accompanied the French troops that night.
The tightly knit community of the Casbah protected the guerrillas. Women, who were not searched at checkpoints, would carry the weapons and explosives to assignments for them. Old men and boys worked as lookouts. Mouloudia suspended play through those years, from 1956 to 1960.
Residents are reluctant to talk about the civil war that tore Algeria apart in the 1990s. Mouloudia fans, and people of the Casbah, were once again caught in the middle. They had overwhelmingly voted for the Islamists who swept the elections in 1992, and opposed the government coup and crackdown that followed.
But when Islamist guerrillas infiltrated the Casbah and atrocities mounted, the people turned against the insurgents and pushed them out. The Casbah, long an area to avoid, has returned to calm.
Mouloudia, too, has found an even keel, with government support and financial backing over the years from the state oil company, Sonatrach. The fan club supported President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the 2009 elections and showed signs that it would do so againdespite his increasing infirmity. Mouloudia fans were the first to call for Mr. Bouteflika to run for a fourth term — in a chant during a soccer match.
That may be one step too far for the freedom-loving fan club. The head of the fan club at the time, Hakim Boukadoum, resigned in protest. “Mouloudia is revolution,” he explained.
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