DOHA, Qatar — For a short second after Saudi Arabia’s Salem Aldawsari fired a ball from simply contained in the penalty field into the again of the online to seal a World Cup win in opposition to Argentina, Arabs throughout the divided Center East discovered one thing to rejoice.
Such Arab unity is difficult to come back by and fleeting when it arrives. However Qatar’s internet hosting of the World Cup has supplied a second the place many within the Arab world have rallied by Doha and the Saudi group’s win.
Whether or not that momentum continues might be examined on Saturday as Saudi Arabia faces Poland – and as regional tensions, spiritual variations and renewed financial competitors between international locations resume.
“All Arabic international locations are celebrating as a result of one Arab group gained,” mentioned 27-year-old Saudi Rakan Yousef after Arab followers congratulated him in Doha, Qatar, on the Inexperienced Falcons’ win. “Even the emir of Qatar attended our match. … There’s this sense now that we’re all brothers. That’s why I’m speechless.”
The Arab world’s division begin even with the Arabic language.
Spoken Arabic modifications regionally, with the Berber-infused Arabic of North Africa, the rapid-fire Egyptian heard in films and tv comedies, the gentle Levantine drawl and the guttural dialect of the Gulf Arabs.
PHOTOS: Flashes of Arab unity at World Cup after years of discontent
Faith is one other differentiator – there are Muslims, each Sunni and Shiite with subgroups inside, and minority Christians, Druze, Baha’i and others. Completely different views on faith and regional rivalries bleed into conflicts, comparable to the continued conflict in Yemen.
However regardless of an try by al-Qaida to fire up extremists, the monthlong World Cup in energy-rich Qatar up to now has seen unity among the many Gulf Arab nations. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the heads of state in two international locations that just some two years in the past had boycotted Qatar, attended the event’s opening match.
Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, known as Qatar’s internet hosting of the event “a milestone for all Arabs” and likewise attended the opening. That feeling was shared by others as properly.
“We’re proud to be right here for the primary World Cup in an Arabic nation,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui mentioned.
Jordan’s Overseas Minister Ayman Safadi equally praised Qatar whereas dismissing the criticisms of journalists – and by extension, rights teams.
“Qatar did an incredible job organizing a World Cup. … Qatar by no means claimed it was excellent,” Safadi mentioned. “We now have variations in opinion, we now have variations in views however that ought to not take away from the truth that Qatar has actually put collectively a World Cup that’s distinctive in each sense of the phrase.”
However the largest shock got here two days later as Saudi Arabia surprised Argentina by profitable their opener within the event, with Aldawsari doing a cartwheel and a flip. Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, attended the match and wore a Saudi flag round his shoulders.
One veteran Saudi sports activities journalist, Majed al-Tuwaijri, even wept on air after the match.
“That is probably the most stunning and essential second in my life and my 30-year media profession,” he mentioned, his voice choking up. “I discover myself failing to precise myself due to the complexity of my emotions towards this nice historic victory.”
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman declared Wednesday a public vacation to commemorate the win. Within the kingdom and outdoors of it, individuals cheered and waved the nation’s inexperienced and white flag to rejoice.
The Saudi flag itself carries two pictures that present its difficult place within the wider Arab world. It bears a white sword and the Arabic inscription of the shahada, a Muslim declaration of religion: “There isn’t a god however Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” After the demise of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 A.D., Islam unfold from the austere desert reaches of the Arabian Peninsula that later would grow to be Saudi Arabia.
At the moment, Saudi Arabia maintains beheading as a type of execution and is among the world’s high enforcers of the demise penalty. The dominion additionally has used its oil cash because the Nineteen Eighties to export an ultraconservative view of Islam known as Wahhabism into mosques all over the world. Extremists have exploited Wahhabi organizations receiving Saudi funding as properly.
That historical past, in addition to regional politics, make a wholehearted embrace of Saudi Arabia extra difficult for Arabs within the Mideast. Whereas some celebrated Saudi Arabia’s win within the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian enclave blockaded by Egypt and Israel is dominated by the militant group Hamas. The dominion, whereas not diplomatically recognizing Israel, now permits Israeli airways overflight rights.
The bounds additionally may be seen in Yemen, the place Saudi Arabia has been preventing the nation’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels since 2015. Houthi Data Minister Daifallah al-Shami on Twitter provided “a thousand congratulations” to Saudi Arabia for putting “Arab soccer again on the map.” He later deleted the tweet and apologized.
“There are purple traces that no social gathering or particular person ought to cross,” al-Shami wrote.
The Saudi win, which the every day newspaper Okaz described as “restoring the glories” of the dominion, additionally suits into the brand new, extra nationalistic Saudi Arabia forming below Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Because the prince has risen to energy, the dominion has socially liberalized by permitting girls to drive, reopening film theaters and curbing its morality police. His feedback to the group forward of the event, urging them to “take pleasure in” the matches, have been repeated always in Saudi Arabia’s tightly managed press.
However Prince Mohammed additionally led a self-described corruption crackdown concentrating on anybody with energy within the kingdom. U.S. intelligence businesses consider the brutal slaying of Washington Submit columnist Jamal Khashoggi on the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul got here at his orders, one thing denied by the dominion.
In the meantime, financial competitors between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia has been rising as Riyadh tries to attract worldwide enterprise from Dubai. Qatar, which confronted a Saudi-led boycott solely two years earlier, has embraced the dominion whereas solidifying ties with the US as hedge. The inconclusive conflict in Yemen nonetheless rages.
Soccer gives a respite, however no panacea for these woes.
“You’d must have a historic lobotomy to assume it is a secure area,” mentioned David B. Roberts, an affiliate professor at King’s Faculty London who lengthy has studied Gulf Arab nations.
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