The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt and football’s peculiar hold on national identity.
The African Cup of Nations (Afcon), hosted by Egypt this year, is in its decisive stages. For football fans, this is an opportunity to watch the game together, to sing the anthem of their country together, to conspire against your opponent and insult the referee who is always too hard on our team and too tolerant of the opposition. The atmosphere requires the antagonism of “us” versus “them.” It’s all part of the game and the show. Nothing bad in itself because it starts from a very good feeling.
For Moroccan fans everyday life seems more or less to stop on match day. The Afcon reveals, beyond the symbolic stakes, the fundamental characteristics of our society: the merit of certain players to be on the field, the construction and representation of collective identities, socialization, solidarity between Moroccans and the projection of the socio-economic structuring of a large part of society onto the players.
This competition indeed represents a major event from a political, economic and cultural point of view. According to French sociologist Marcel Mauss, this “total social fact” mobilizes and exposes all the resources of those that participate in it. Participation costs a lot of money. Enough to fuel discussions and fire up detractors on the technical choices of the coach. This is not what concerns me here. Instead, I am concerned here with the expression of the passion, especially by our compatriots and our Maghreb neighbors. This nationalism that emerges from exchanges amongst each other around a football match.
Yes, seriously, football contributes to strengthen the membership of the “nation.” We can even say that football is the nation. I have seen fans in the cafes chanting slogans that extol the merit of Tunisia or Algeria. My compatriots do the same. Friends have also invited me to share these moments in front of small screens to live the same emotions and enjoy these warm moments in this cold period. Otherwise we do not have so many opportunities to find each other. With tight schedules, opportunities are very rare, and the national team playing is of course a very good excuse. It is basically the only time we get to communicate around the Moroccan flag. The match begins and we are already dreaming of crushing Cameroon or Ghana by 3-0. This strengthens our sense of belonging and shared national feeling.
During those 90 minutes, we experience the same range of emotions. We move from one feeling to another: anguish, hatred, admiration, and joy in case of victory. And of course, we are stating all this on social networks. The red flag and the green star float and submerge the canvas and the profile photos on social media take on more vivid colors. We feel comfortable together as we participate in a national epic.
During those 90 minutes of the match, Moroccans from here and elsewhere are able to forget the daily problems, the heat wave, the cold, the human coldness, the flavorless meals, and collective experience the feeling of the “Nation” found again. We sing psalms and praises. As long as it lasts throughout the Afcon and a little more afterwards.
Morocco was knocked out in the Round of 16 by Benin on penalties, after they were pre-tournament favorites.