DOHA: Saudi Arabia’s unexpected World Cup victory over giants Argentina sparked a rare moment of shared celebration across the fractured Arab world, including among the Qataris – less than two years after a regional feud raged.
A convoy of Qatari cars, honking their horns, drove through the streets of Doha after the Saudis’ famous 2-1 victory over the South American champions, one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.
Such scenes would have been unimaginable during the nearly four-year Saudi-led blockade that has severed Qatar’s diplomatic, trade and transport ties with its closest neighbors over disputed claims of backing extremists and because it is too close to Iran.
Complex regional relations were forgotten as Tunisians, Moroccans, Egyptians, Lebanese and Jordanians joined the throng of Saudi fans who took to the Qatari capital.
“This is a historic victory for Saudi Arabia and a great victory for all Arabs,” Jordanian Ahmed Al-Qassem, 24, with his country’s flag draped around his shoulders, told AFP in Doha’s fan zone.
He added in a calm voice, “I may not support the policies of the Saudi government, but I am happy with this great football victory.”
This victory was the largest for Saudi Arabia since its first appearance in the World Cup finals in 1994 and the first for a country from the Middle East in this year’s tournament, which will be launched for the first time on Arab soil.
The outpouring of joy followed a series of bitter controversies over human rights that prompted angry responses from Qatari organizers, including accusations of anti-Arab racism.
Some Qatari fans flew the conservative kingdom’s flag alongside their own, and even the Emir of Qatar watched the match wearing a Saudi scarf – days after the de facto Saudi leader donned the Qatari colours.
“There was a political dispute between the two governments, but it ended and in the end, we are one people,” said Anoud, a Qatari who asked not to be identified except by her first name.
“We have turned the page and the blockade is behind us,” she told AFP outside a shopping mall in Doha.
Tributes were paid off across the region, with many Arab leaders expressing their congratulations on Twitter.
Two skyscrapers in Doha lit up their glass facades with the green colors of the Saudi flag, as did Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Celebrations were seen in Gaza, and there were fireworks in Yemen, where powerful neighbor Saudi Arabia has led a military coalition since 2015 in support of the internationally recognized government.
On social networks, Saudi Arabia’s victory topped regional trend charts and inspired a flurry of congratulatory messages as well as sarcastic memes mocking Argentina.
Nevin Massaad, a professor of political science at Cairo University, described the victory of Saudi football as an “extraordinary emotional moment”.
“Perhaps political Arabism is no longer possible, but there are different forms of Arabism among people,” she told AFP, including “sports Arabism.” The Arab world is not short of divisive issues that divide the region, including the wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya.
The differences were exacerbated by sectarian tensions between the two main camps of Islam which added fuel to the fire.
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia orchestrated the blockade of Qatar along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt and also severed ties with Doha. The dispute was only resolved in January 2021.