Flashes of Arab unity at World Cup after years of discontent

Nov 25, 2022, 10:14 AM | Updated: Nov 26, 2022, 12:20 am
FILE - Palestinian soccer fans wave Qatari and Palestinian flags as they watch a live broadcast of ...

FILE - Palestinian soccer fans wave Qatari and Palestinian flags as they watch a live broadcast of the 2022 World Cup opening match between Qatar and Ecuador, at a covered gymnasium in Gaza City, on Nov. 20, 2022. For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia's Salem Aldawsari fired a soccer ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair, File)

(AP Photo/Fatima Shbair, File)

              FILE - Argentina soccer fans watch the team lose to Saudi Arabia at a World Cup Group C soccer match played in Qatar, on a large screen set up for fans in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos, Aires, Argentina, on Nov. 22, 2022. For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia's Salem Aldawsari fired a soccer ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello, File)
            
              FILE - Fans of Saudi Arabia celebrate their team 2-1 victory over Argentina in a World Cup group C soccer match, outside the Lusail Stadium in Lusail Qatar, on Nov. 22, 2022. For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia's Salem Aldawsari fired a soccer ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. (AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)
            
              FILE - Saudi supporters celebrate after Saudi Arabia won the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on Nov. 22, 2022. For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia's Salem Aldawsari fired a soccer ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)
            
              FILE - Saudi Arabia's Abdulelha Al-Malki celebrates at the end of the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on Nov. 22, 2022. Saudi Arabia won 2-1. For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia's Salem Aldawsari fired a soccer ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan, File)
            
              FILE - Saudi Arabia's Salem Al-Dawsari celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on Nov. 22, 2022. For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia's Salem Aldawsari fired a soccer ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan, File)
            
              FILE - Saudi Arabia's fans celebrate their victory after the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on Nov. 22, 2022. For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia's Salem Aldawsari fired a soccer ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz, File)
            
              FILE - Fans of Saudi Arabia celebrate their team 2-1 victory over Argentina in a World Cup group C soccer match, outside the Lusail Stadium in Lusail Qatar, on Nov. 22, 2022. For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia's Salem Aldawsari fired a soccer ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. (AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)
            
              FILE - Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts disappointed during the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on Nov. 22, 2022. For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia's Salem Aldawsari fired a soccer ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)
            
              FILE - Saudi Arabia's Salem Al-Dawsari, right, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on Nov. 22, 2022. For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia's Salem Aldawsari fired a soccer ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)
            
              FILE - A general view of the stadium prior to the start of the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on Nov. 22, 2022. For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia's Salem Aldawsari fired a soccer ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)
            
              FILE - Soccer fans watch the World Cup Group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia on a large screen, at a fan zone in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on Nov. 22, 2022. For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia's Salem Aldawsari fired a soccer ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
            
              FILE - Saudi women supporters celebrate after Saudi Arabia won the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on Nov. 22, 2022. For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia's Salem Aldawsari fired a soccer ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)
            
              FILE - Palestinian soccer fans wave Qatari and Palestinian flags as they watch a live broadcast of the 2022 World Cup opening match between Qatar and Ecuador, at a covered gymnasium in Gaza City, on Nov. 20, 2022. For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia's Salem Aldawsari fired a soccer ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair, File)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia’s Salem Aldawsari fired a ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a World Cup win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate.

Such Arab unity is hard to come by and fleeting when it arrives. But Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup has provided a moment where many in the Arab world have rallied by Doha and the Saudi team’s win.

Whether that momentum continues will be tested on Saturday as Saudi Arabia faces Poland — and as regional tensions, religious differences and renewed economic competition between countries resume.

“All Arabic countries are celebrating because one Arab team won,” said 27-year-old Saudi Rakan Yousef after Arab fans congratulated him in Doha, Qatar, on the Green Falcons’ win. “Even the emir of Qatar attended our match. … There’s this feeling now that we are all brothers. That’s why I’m speechless.”

The Arab world’s division start even with the Arabic language.

Spoken Arabic changes regionally, with the Berber-infused Arabic of North Africa, the rapid-fire Egyptian heard in movies and television comedies, the soft Levantine drawl and the guttural dialect of the Gulf Arabs.

Religion is another differentiator — there are Muslims, both Sunni and Shiite with subgroups within, and minority Christians, Druze, Baha’i and others. Different views on religion and regional rivalries bleed into conflicts, such as the ongoing war in Yemen.

But despite an attempt by al-Qaida to stir up extremists, the monthlong World Cup in energy-rich Qatar so far has seen unity among the Gulf Arab nations. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the heads of state in two countries that only some two years ago had boycotted Qatar, attended the tournament’s opening match.

Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, called Qatar’s hosting of the tournament “a milestone for all Arabs” and also attended the opening. That feeling was shared by others as well.

“We are proud to be here for the first World Cup in an Arabic country,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi similarly praised Qatar while dismissing the criticisms of journalists — and by extension, rights groups.

“Qatar did a tremendous job organizing a World Cup. … Qatar never claimed it was perfect,” Safadi said. “We have differences in opinion, we have differences in views but that should not take away from the fact that Qatar has really put together a World Cup that is unique in every sense of the word.”

But the biggest surprise came two days later as Saudi Arabia stunned Argentina by winning their opener in the tournament, 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 around his shoulders.

One veteran Saudi sports journalist, Majed al-Tuwaijri, even wept on air after the match.

“This is the most beautiful and important moment in my life and my 30-year media career,” he said, his voice choking up. “I find myself failing to express myself because of the complexity of my feelings toward this great historical victory.”

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman declared Wednesday a public holiday to commemorate the win. In the kingdom and outside of it, people cheered and waved the country’s green and white flag to celebrate.

The Saudi flag itself carries two images that show its complicated place in the wider Arab world. It bears a white sword and the Arabic inscription of the shahada, a Muslim declaration of faith: “There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 A.D., Islam spread from the austere desert reaches of the Arabian Peninsula that later would become Saudi Arabia.

Today, Saudi Arabia maintains beheading as a form of execution and is one of the world’s top enforcers of the death penalty. The kingdom also has used its oil money since the 1980s to export an ultraconservative view of Islam called Wahhabism into mosques around the world. Extremists have exploited Wahhabi organizations receiving Saudi funding as well.

That history, as well as regional politics, make a wholehearted embrace of Saudi Arabia more complicated for Arabs in the Mideast. While some celebrated Saudi Arabia’s win in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian enclave blockaded by Egypt and Israel is ruled by the militant group Hamas. The kingdom, while not diplomatically recognizing Israel, now allows Israeli airlines overflight rights.

The limits also can be seen in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been fighting the country’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels since 2015. Houthi Information Minister Daifallah al-Shami on Twitter offered “a thousand congratulations” to Saudi Arabia for placing “Arab football back on the map.” He later deleted the tweet and apologized.

“There are red lines that no party or person should cross,” al-Shami wrote.

The Saudi win, which the daily newspaper Okaz described as “restoring the glories” of the kingdom, also fits into the new, more nationalistic Saudi Arabia forming under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

As the prince has risen to power, the kingdom has socially liberalized by allowing women to drive, reopening movie theaters and curtailing its morality police. His comments to the team ahead of the tournament, urging them to “enjoy” the matches, have been repeated constantly in Saudi Arabia’s tightly controlled press.

But Prince Mohammed also led a self-described corruption crackdown targeting anyone with power in the kingdom. U.S. intelligence agencies believe the brutal slaying of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul came at his orders, something denied by the kingdom.

Meanwhile, economic competition between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia has been increasing as Riyadh tries to draw international business from Dubai. Qatar, which faced a Saudi-led boycott only two years earlier, has embraced the kingdom while solidifying ties with the United States as hedge. The inconclusive war in Yemen still rages.

Soccer provides a respite, but no panacea for those woes.

“You’d have to have a historical lobotomy to think this is a stable region,” said David B. Roberts, an associate professor at King’s College London who long has studied Gulf Arab nations.

___

Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre and Gerald Imray in Doha, Qatar, and Renata Brito in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this report.

___

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The logo for OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, appears on a mobile phone, in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 31...
Associated Press

Cheaters beware: ChatGPT maker releases AI detection tool

ChatGPT is trying to curb its reputation as a freewheeling cheating machine with a new tool that can help detect if artificial intelligence wrote it
19 hours ago
This undated photo provided by the Grants Pass Police Department shows Benjamin Obadiah Foster. Fos...
Rio Yamat and Andrew Selsky, Associated Press

Oregon kidnap suspect previously released the day he arrived at prison

A man at the center of an intense police search in Oregon after a violent kidnapping last week was released from custody in October 2021 by Nevada prison officials on the same day he was transferred to the state's custody to serve a kidnapping sentence, authorities said Monday.
19 hours ago
The final Boeing 747 sits on the tarmac outside of the factory at a ceremony for delivery, Tuesday,...
Associated Press

Boeing bids farewell to an icon, delivers last 747 jumbo jet

SEATTLE (AP) — Boeing bid farewell to an icon on Tuesday, delivering its final 747 jumbo jet as thousands of workers who helped build the planes over the past 55 years looked on. Since its first flight in 1969, the giant yet graceful 747 has served as a cargo plane, a commercial aircraft capable of […]
19 hours ago
seattle police...
Associated Press

Name of Seattle officer in crash that killed woman released

Police have released the name of a Seattle police officer who was responding to a medical call when his patrol SUV hit and killed a 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula last week in a city crosswalk.
19 hours ago
In this image made from a video, cheesecakes made with CBD, CBD powder and water-soluble CBD sold b...
Associated Press

Hong Kong bans CBD, forcing businesses to shut or revamp

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong banned CBD as a “dangerous drug” and imposed harsh penalties for its possession on Wednesday, forcing fledging businesses to shut down or revamp. Supporters say CBD, or cannabidiol, derived from the cannabis plant, can help relieve stress and inflammation without getting its users high, unlike its more famous cousin […]
19 hours ago
Las Vegas police work near the home of former actor Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse, who goes by Natha...
Associated Press

‘Dances With Wolves’ actor arrested in Nevada sex abuse case

NORTH LAS VEGAS (AP) — Las Vegas police on Tuesday arrested and raided the home of a former “Dances With Wolves” actor turned alleged cult leader accused of sexually assaulting young indigenous girls during a period spanning two decades, according to police records obtained by The Associated Press. Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse, who goes […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Flashes of Arab unity at World Cup after years of discontent