Fifa World Cup: Morocco's historic victory ushers in new era of pride, joy for Arab world

How everyone in the region has lapped each other’s victory speaks volumes of the bonhomie beneath the surface



AFP
AFP

By Ehtesham Shahid

Published: Thu 8 Dec 2022, 4:52 PM

Last updated: Thu 8 Dec 2022, 10:35 PM

Some moments stand out for their collective display of joy and pride. One of them unfolded in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday evening. As Achraf Hakimi nonchalantly made his penalty count in Morocco’s World Cup match against Spain, a small crowd gathered near a television erupted with a roar. They feverishly clapped, hugged each other, and recorded the sights and sounds on their mobiles for social media posts.

As soon as the match ended, a young man emerged from the crowd, thumping his fist in the air in one final act of celebration. He quickly composed himself before rushing to his workstation, a multi-brand sports gadgets store with customers waiting. Noticing his wide grin, he was asked: “Congratulations. Are you Moroccan?” “No, I am from Egypt. But it doesn’t matter; we are all Arabs,” he said matter-of-factly.

In his celebration and subsequent admission, the young man had inadvertently displayed a collective sense of joy and pride the Arab world is experiencing with a fascinating World Cup being played in its backyard. It is difficult to recall when was the last time such an outpouring of affection for each other unfurled across the streets of this region. It is for sociologists to decode whether this is just football or whether the region was waiting for an event like this to unleash such a public display of affection.

Numerous such stories have emerged from different parts of the region. In an office somewhere in the UAE, someone decided to serve a lavish lunch to celebrate Morocco’s victory. A large cake with the Moroccan flag was brought in. The assumption: a proud Moroccan wants to share the moment of joy with colleagues. The reality: there is no Moroccan working in this office. A familiar response followed. “We are all Moroccans today,” said one of them, burying his head to find the best portion of the mandi dish.

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This has not been the case of success having many fathers. The region has collectively owned up to failures, too, and with grace. It is also not as if all the Gulf, Middle East, and North African teams have made giant strides in the competition. Most of them have flattered to deceive, and some, like Morocco, have done the region proud. The hosts, Qatar, the smallest country ever to host a World Cup, spent a fortune putting together a team that matches the occasion.

While Qatar’s football team failed to deliver on the pitch, the country has taken pride and invested resources in organising the event, while its neighbours have rejoiced and basked in the reflected glory. This football carnival has been more than just an opportunity for Qatar’s neighbours to dash in on special flights to watch their favourite stars in action. They have also expressed solidarity with Qatar while it faced a barrage of attacks on its organisational abilities. There have been measured responses and not necessarily apologists’ retorts to all things negative.

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How everyone has lapped each other’s victory and expressed pride in hosting the event speaks volumes of the bonhomie beneath the surface that seemed waiting to emerge. The value of this bonhomie exceeds the proceeds from close to three million tickets sold for the World Cup’s 64 matches. In a deeply divided region, scenes like these have come as a breath of fresh air since the carnival started on November 20.

The overarching story of the World Cup transcends triumphs and failures. They have unfolded at various levels. For instance, the additional flights across the region to Doha tell stories of prospects, connectivity, and commerce. We are still determining whether this bonhomie will continue after the trophy is lifted, but it has been good while it lasted. Cut through the hype surrounding the event and a campaign by some quarters to malign it, and you will find solidarity stronger than what meets the eye.

There is no dearth of passion for football in this part of the world. The talent is abundant, too. Soccer players from the region, including the likes of Mohammed Saleh, Sadio Mane, Riyadh Mehrez, and Achraf Hakimi, to name just a few, are as popular as any. Many passionate football lovers in this part of the world boost their popularity.

The region is investing heavily in world football. Gulf ownership of clubs such as Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, and Newcastle United have gone beyond trophy investments to serious participation in the future of the sport, building soft power. With fans descending from all parts of the world, the stereotypes defining the region are being addressed.

With the World Cup under its belt, the region will send more players to the world stage and hopefully attract big names to play here too.

So, as thousands fly out to merge into the Doha streets en route to stadiums for the last few remaining matches, they would be reiterating a statement of bonhomie far beyond football. Those watching from home or thronging into cafes, cinema halls, and fan zones would cheer for a new era of collective joy and pride few had anticipated.

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