World Cup favorites Morocco’s Cinderella run inspires Arab pride as they wave the Palestinian flag
DOHA, Qatar — The horns began to blare and the joyous voices rang out around 8 p.m. here in an apartment block of Al Aziziya, a multicultural Qatari neighborhood over 3,000 miles from the celebratory epicenter of the 2022 World Cup.
Tournament favorites Morocco had beaten Portugal in a landmark quarter-final on Saturday. As tension erupted in joy at Al Thumama Stadium and parties began in Rabat and Casablanca, they also erupted across Doha, across an entire football-loving region and among groups of often marginalized people around the world.
Because Morocco’s semi-final run, the first by an Arab or African team in World Cup history, as +25,000 underdogs before the tournament, was far more than a source of Moroccan joy.
“We make our people, a continent and the Arab world happy,” head coach Walid Regragui said via translator after Saturday’s overwhelming victory. “We make the whole world happy.”
They triggered euphoria new York, London and Paris, but especially in North Africa and the Middle East, in places like Gaza that some Westerners associate primarily with conflict. They have inspired a region full of vibrant people, oppressed by governments and economic instability, who are often overlooked and underrepresented in the world’s most popular sport.
At the region’s first World Cup, Morocco has reignited a pan-Arab pride many believed had been fractured by politics or simply gone dormant. And they, the 26 players who have come to represent billions of people – Africans, Muslims, immigrants and more – have provided a platform for a multi-voiced appeal.
“I support all Muslim countries. We are all one brotherhood,” a Muslim fan named Shakib, who traveled to Qatar from California, told Emox News a few days after he roared Morocco to a round of 16 win over Spain.
And as he spoke, draped around his neck was a prong, the Brotherhood’s unofficial colors, the emblem symbolizing the pride that surrounds this Moroccan team: the Palestinian flag.
It’s everywhere here in Qatar, from Moroccan team photos to the upper deck of the Lusail Stadium during a game between Argentina and the Netherlands. It was panned by fans and Politicianof players and protesters.
“I want to make the statement,” Shakib said, “that people should know what’s going on in Palestine.” He felt that the Western media ignored the Palestinian plight or portrayed the Israeli occupation as a conflict between the two sides. The World Cup, he said, is the perfect opportunity to step up the Palestinian cause.
Ironically, Morocco was one of five Muslim-majority countries to sign a 2020 deal to normalize ties with Israel. But polls showed and still show that the so-called Abraham Accords were extremely unpopular among Moroccans. It was political maneuvering that obscured a reality on the ground, a reality that this World Cup has put in the spotlight: many Muslims and Arabs still care deeply about the Palestinians.
They came to Doha to enjoy the first World Cup in their midst, but also to spread the word. They have carried the Palestinian flag through the streets and into stadiums, or sported it on T-shirts, bracelets and keffiyehs, the traditional headdress. When they met Israeli journalists, especially those on live television, they expressed their opinions as clearly as possible.
“There’s nothing called Israel, it’s just Palestine, and you just took the land from them,” one fan told an Israeli reporter in a controversial exchange. “Bro, there is nothing called Israel. Israel does not exist.”
you also have broke out in public singing, and even in stadiums. Hours after five Palestinians were killed in the occupied West Bank, Fans at Qatar’s last game chantedin Arabic: “With spirit and blood we will redeem you, Palestine.”
Arab teams themselves have also focused on the Palestinian cause, flying the flag at celebrations. Perhaps encouraged by playing and living on quasi-homeland, with calls to prayer wafting across the city and mosques around every corner, in a country where support for the Palestinians and contempt for Israel are unchallenged, these naturally have each other spread unchallenged from political statements. (Critics of FIFA and Qatar, meanwhile, point out that other statements in support of Iranian women’s and LGBTQ rights have been suppressed, an apparent double standard.)
About 1,100 miles away, the Palestinians were touched by the support and in return joined the Moroccan cause. “I swear it’s like Palestinians playing,” one fan told the Associated Press of a huge Watch party in Gaza. “We are all Morocco.”
And all of this will be a legacy of Morocco’s run, which will either continue or end on Wednesday (2pm ET, Fox/Telemundo) against France.
It has allowed unhindered public gatherings in a region largely constrained by authoritarian rule.
It has proved that there is a common humanity and common ground among people whose governments often insist on strife.
And its colonial setting has not been forgotten. Wins over Belgium, Spain and Portugal have felt like “a revolutionary rebuttal” to the author and Wayne State University professor Khaled Beydoun tweeted. For as long as he wrote, so many Arabs and Muslims living in a colonized Western world feel that their “distinct identity means ‘different’ or ‘inferior'”.
Here, perhaps more than ever before at the World Cup, it will be embraced and embraced and most importantly associated with persistent and talented football. The victories, in turn, have given Islam global visibility. The players’ celebrations, which never end without a bow in prayer on the pitch, were significant, particularly for Muslims, who practice their religion as a minority in predominantly Christian spaces.
The run also united Africa, a vast and culturally diverse landmass of 1.4 billion people. Its importance for the continent and for the Arab world could obviously coexist.
And this dual meaning has fueled a team of dreamers.
“I think there was an energy – the Africans and the Arab world gave us that energy,” said Regragui, the Moroccan coach, after the quarter-finals. “At that moment, everyone wanted this team to win.”