Ultras in Morocco: "They consider us animals“

Article published on June 25, 2014
Article published on June 25, 2014

In Casablanca this year, bloody fights are being car­ried out be­tween ri­val­ing hooli­gans. Vi­o­lence is even di­rected to­ward one's own play­ers after ath­letic fail­ures. Visit a world in which foot­ball is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing some­thing to be taken rad­i­cally se­ri­ous. 

Said, Hicham and Is­mail* don't know each other, but it might be pos­si­ble that they've al­ready beaten each other up. "We would lay down our lives for the club," says Said with a cal­lous ex­pres­sion as he shrouds him­self in a cloud of hashish smoke. He doesn't laugh much, and what comes across as a hack­neyed phrase sounds alarm­ingly be­liev­able com­ing from his mouth. Said is a mem­ber of the Ultra Black Army, which is sup­ported by FAR Rabat. Hicham is a part of the 'Win­ners', the Ul­tras Wydad Casablan­cas, while Is­mail, his rival, is one of the 'Green Boys' of the local Raja Club Ath­letic. Their clubs are the most suc­cess­ful in Mo­rocco, their hos­til­ity the most em­bit­tered.

The arabesques on the wall pan­el­ing are ob­scured; too lit­tle light reaches the back­most cor­ner of the café in Rabat, Mo­rocco's cap­i­tal. "They con­sider us an­i­mals," says Said be­fore tak­ing an­other deep drag. He's sit­ting with four other Black Army mem­bers at the table — mid-twen­ties and strongly build, track suits and heavy sil­ver br­a­celets. They're scep­ti­cal about jour­nal­ists. They say that the press has too often re­ported false in­for­ma­tion about them, their image in so­ci­ety is too neg­a­tive. 

150 with knives and clubs

In re­cent years, Mo­roc­can Ul­tras have often stirred up a sen­sa­tion through vi­o­lence. Tragic no­to­ri­ety elicited the term 'Black Thurs­day': be­fore the con­fronta­tion be­tween Raja Casablanca and FAR Rabat in April 2013, hun­dreds of Ul­tras and other hooli­gans left be­hind a trail of des­o­la­tion in Casablanca. One year be­fore that, the 21-year-old Hamza Bakkali, a mem­ber of the 'Win­ners', died as a re­sult of riots. And just in March of this year, 150 'Win­ners', who were armed with knives and clubs, stormed the train­ing grounds of their own foot­ball team, threat­en­ing the play­ers and their coach in re­sponse to al­leged cor­rup­tion and a se­ries of ath­letic fail­ures. Af­ter­wards they ma­rauded the locker rooms, look­ing for any­thing that might be of value. 

Hicham was there and grins mis­chie­vously when he tells the story from that day. The 19-year-old is stand­ing on a flat roof full of clothes­lines in Casablanca. From here an ocean of satel­lite dishes makes it­self ap­par­ent. On a dis­tant wall a piece of 'Win­ners' graf­fiti, chip­ping in big chunks, is rec­og­niz­able. For Hicham the ac­tion was jus­ti­fied: "Af­ter­wards they fi­nally won!" Ac­cord­ing to him, it was a ben­e­fit to the well-be­ing of the club. 

Maybe Is­mail would en­dorse him. He tilts his head and squints his eyes, ducks under his cig­a­rette smoke and af­firms that sup­port­ing the club takes pre­cedence over every­thing else. He's large, hag­gard and al­ready 38 years old. Nine younger Green Boys are sit­ting next to him in the sparsely dec­o­rated café with its white-tiled floors, not far from Hichams roof. Proud, they show Youtube videos of chore­og­ra­phy in the stands, of chant­ing and ban­ners — this is what it's all about, they say, vi­o­lence isn't an end within it­self. They see Black Thurs­day as a mi­nor­ity's big, fool­ish mis­take. They don't want to be per­ceived as hooli­gans. They want to elicit re­spect from other Ul­tras; but if they don't re­ceive this re­spect, then vi­o­lence is oc­ca­sion­ally un­avoid­able.  

The Bon­bons Sau­va­ges: rage in­stead of pain

Vi­o­lence isn't a part of every Ultra mem­ber's mantra — whether or not as an end within itself. Some have scars on their faces and can't even count how many wounds they've had; after all, they don't talk about their brawls. Karim, a bulky mem­ber of the Black Army, just barely es­caped death after a foot­ball game in 2005 where he, hav­ing been beaten and kicked, felt mul­ti­ple knives rammed into his back while lying on the ground.

'Bon­bon sauvages' is what Hicham calls the pills that he often takes be­fore going to the sta­dium: ben­zo­di­azepine — a drug that re­places pain with wild rage. Even he af­firms that the Club is the focal point of his life. How­ever, he likes hear­ing him­self when he says things such as "we show no mercy on the bat­tle­field," or when he tells the story about one of the Green Boys who al­legedly cut off the chin of one of the Win­ners, who then fled to Sene­gal out of fear of death, or when he as­sures the un­scrupu­lous­ness with which he would mur­der one of the Ul­tras that comes from the cap­i­tal but who in the mean­time lives in his neigh­bor­hood. His mar­tial af­fir­ma­tions don't seem to fit his youth­ful ap­pear­ance. How­ever, the ca­su­al­ness with which he ex­plains all this, which he shakes off the next mo­ment by shrug­ging his shoul­ders and smil­ing, leaves be­hind a queasy feel­ing. 

Despo­tism and bru­tal­ity

De­spite the vi­o­lence in their im­me­di­ate en­vi­ron­ments, the Ul­tras feel are un­jus­ti­fi­ably vil­i­fied as a safety threat, es­pe­cially since the law was passed in Jan­u­ary 2011 that for­bade vi­o­lence in sta­di­ums. That re­stricts their free­dom of as­sem­bly — there are a list of spe­cial per­mits that they need for their ac­tions and events — and sim­pli­fies the gath­er­ing of their per­sonal data. Above all, it makes it eas­ier for po­lice to ar­rest Ultra mem­bers. Hicham, Said and Is­mail all re­proach the po­lice with the same thing: despo­tism and bru­tal­ity. Peo­ple are ran­domly beaten and im­pris­oned for weeks. 

Even though they like the role of rebels, one can't at­tribute a po­lit­i­cal di­men­sion to the var­i­ous groups. Ques­tions re­gard­ing the po­lit­i­cal protests in Spring of 2011 sparks noth­ing but in­dif­ference. "The the gov­ern­ment has noth­ing to do with me," says Hicham. Al­though they be­moan the dis­crim­i­na­tion against them being Ul­tras, many are sat­is­fied with the gen­eral po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Mo­rocco. Ul­tras aren't a lower class phe­nom­e­non; they come from nearly all parts of so­ci­ety. Said is un­em­ployed, Hicham is fin­ish­ing his school­ing via the in­ter­net and Is­mail is a lo­ca­tion scout for a film com­pany. Many oth­ers ei­ther study or have se­cure jobs.

De­spite how dif­fer­ent they may be and how much they'd like to hate each other, they are unan­i­mously proud of their lives as Ul­tras. They've found their niche be­tween the sta­di­ums and brawls; they can ex­press and de­fine them­selves out­side of es­tab­lished so­cial con­ven­tions. Some may be will­ing to die for their club, but they all live for their niche. "We're full-time Ul­tras," says Said. And for the first time all evening, a smile sweeps across the dim shadow on his face.

*All names have been changed. 

This ar­ti­cle was writ­ten in the con­text of the pro­ject "Eu­romed re­porter" casablanca in part­ner­ship with café babel and the Anna lindh foun­da­tion. Soon you will find all ar­ti­cles of the eu­romed re­porter on page one of ouR mag­a­zine.