Turkish Football history
Fans of Besiktas (Black-White), Galatasaray (Yellow-Red) and Fenerbahce (Yellow-Blue) wave Turkish flags during an anti-government protest in Istanbul on June 2.
Mark Twain's maxim that "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme" is echoing in the streets of Istanbul. The echo is heard in everything that makes Turkey resemble a sequel to the 2011 Egyptian Revolution that toppled assumed President-for-Life Hosni Mubarak.
Turkey and Egypt are of course two very different countries with different leaders, different political systems and different histories. But the revolt of the highly intense, usually apolitical "ultra" football-fan clubs must be noted.
As in Egypt, for years, the ultra football clubs in Turkey have been places where young, alienated men could express aggression without fear of serious retribution from the state. They were places a young man could release steam, get in a brawl with other fan groups or the police, and receive a beating at worst.
In contrast, attending a political demonstration - or writing an article about the political demonstration - could land you in prison. For the state, ultra clubs have been seen as ways to channel anger in a direction that doesn't threaten their power. After the last two years, they may need to revise their playbook on how to manufacture consent.
There are differences between the ultra revolts in Egypt and Turkey. Unlike in Egypt, the Turkish football fan clubs have historically been a magnet for people wanting a more liberalised, secular rule of law. Perhaps because they share this connective tissue, there is another critical difference: unlike in Egypt, the Turkish ultra clubs have all united in very rapid order.
This isn't Tahrir, where for days, rival ultra clubs would organise on opposite sides of the square, until their hatred was worn down by the need to stand together against the police. In Turkey, from the start, the ultra clubs hailing from the city's most pugnaciously oppositional clubs - Besiktas, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce - marched arm-in-arm under the slogan "Istanbul United".
For the people occupying in Taksim, their entry was not only welcome, it was desperately needed. Bagis Erten, a reporter for Eurosport Turkey, was quoted by Middle Eastern soccer blogger James M.Dorsey as saying, "It was a critical moment. Supporters of all the big teams united for the first time against police violence.
"They were more experienced than the protesters, they fight them regularly. Their entry raised the protesters' morale and they played a leading role."
This development must be giving Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan night sweats.
The ultras normally interact only when they're trading chants, curses or blows. Instead, they arrived looking more like mass-street-combat groups than anything that could be described antiseptically as "fans". They set up barricades, threw back tear gas canisters and protected the core of protesters from violence.