At the World Cup in Qatar, the tension in the Middle East spilled over into the stadiums



the first Globalism The Middle East Cup has become a showcase for the political tensions running through one of the world’s most volatile regions and the often murky role that host nation Qatar plays in its crises.

Iran’s matches have been the most politically charged with fans expressing support for protesters who are boldly challenging the religious leadership at home. They have also proven to be diplomatically sensitive to Qatar, which has good relations with Tehran.

The sympathy for the Palestinians among the fans has also extended to the stadiums where four Arab teams compete. Qatari players wore pro-Palestinian armbands, even as Qatar allowed Israeli fans to fly live for the first time.

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Even the emir of Qatar has engaged in politically important acts, wearing a Saudi flag during its historic defeat of Argentina — a remarkable support for a country with which he has been working to mend relations strained by regional tensions.

Such gestures added to the political dimensions of a tournament mired in controversy even before its launch over the treatment of migrant workers and LGBT rights in the conservative host country, where homosexuality is illegal.

The stakes are high for Qatar, which hopes a smooth tournament will cement its role on the world stage and in the Middle East, where it has remained an independent nation since 1971 despite numerous regional upheavals.

Qatar was the first country in the Middle East to host the World Cup, and it has often appeared to be a maverick in the region: it hosts the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, but previously had some trade ties with Israel.

It has given a platform to Islamist dissidents that Saudi Arabia and its allies saw as a threat, while befriending Riyadh’s enemy Iran – and hosting the largest US military base in the region.

inner struggle

Tensions in Iran, engulfed by more than two months of protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mohseh Amini, after she was arrested for breaking a strict dress code, have been reflected on and off the stadiums.

said Shayan Khosrvani, a 30-year-old Iranian-American fan who had intended to visit family in Iran after attending the Games but canceled that plan due to the protests.

But some say stadium security prevented them from showing their support for the protests. In Iran’s November 25 match against Wales, security denied entry to fans carrying the flag of Iran before the revolution and T-shirts bearing the slogans “Woman, Life, Freedom” and “Mahsa Amini”.

After the match, there was tension outside the ground between opponents and supporters of the Iranian government.

Two fans who argued with stadium security on separate occasions about the seizure told Reuters they believed the policy stemmed from Qatar’s relations with Iran.

A Qatari official told Reuters that “additional security measures have been taken during matches involving Iran following the recent political tensions in the country.”

When asked about confiscated items or detainees, a spokesperson for the Supreme Organizing Committee referred Reuters to FIFA and Qatar’s list of prohibited items. They ban items that contain “political, offensive, or discriminatory messages.”

Controversy has also centered around the Iranian team, which was widely seen to show support for the protests in its first match by refraining from singing the national anthem, only to sing it – if quiet – before its second match.

Kamras Ahmed, a 30-year-old Los Angeles attorney, told Reuters that Iranian fans are suffering from an “internal struggle”: “Do you root for Iran? Do you root for the regime and the way the protests have been silenced?”

Ahead of a crucial game between the United States and Iran on Tuesday, the US Soccer Federation temporarily displayed Iran’s national flag on social media without the Islamic Republic’s logo in solidarity with protesters in Iran.

The match added to the importance of the tournament for Iran, as the clerical leadership has long considered Washington the “Great Satan” and accuses it of fomenting the current unrest.

“proud” statement

Meanwhile, Palestinian flags are regularly seen in stadiums and fan areas and sold in shops – even though the national team has not qualified.

Tunisian fans at their November 26th match against Australia unfurled a huge “Free Palestine” banner, a move that did not seem to warrant a move by the organizers.

Omar Barakat, the football coach of the Palestinian national team who was in Doha to participate in the World Cup, said that he carried his flag in matches without stopping it. “It is a political statement and we are very proud of it,” he said.

And while tensions played out in some matches, the tournament also provided the stage for some apparent conciliatory actions, such as when the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, wrapped the Saudi flag around his neck in the November 22 Argentina match.

Qatar’s relations with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt were suspended for years due to Doha’s regional policies, including support for Islamist groups during the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.

In another act of reconciliation between countries whose relations were shaken by the Arab Spring, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shook hands with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi at the opening ceremony in Doha on November 20.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, professor of political science at Rice University’s Baker Institute in the US, said the lead-up to the tournament was “complicated by the decade of geopolitical rivalries that followed the Arab Spring”.

He said the Qatari authorities had to “tread a good balance” on Iran and Palestine, but in the end, the tournament “puts Qatar once again at the center of regional diplomacy,” he said.

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