Morocco’s national team celebrated their historic World Cup achievement by waving the flag of Palestine instead of their own. When celebrating qualifying for the quarterfinals — an unprecedented milestone for an Arab country — the players posed on Tuesday (6) for a photo with a red, black, white and green pennant.
The Qatar Cup is establishing itself as one of the most visible moments of solidarity among Arab nations in recent years. Not only Morocco’s games, but also those of Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, were followed in the region as opportunities to set foot in a world that colonized, discriminated against and sidelined them. As the only survivor in the football dispute, Morocco now carries that weight alone.
This type of fraternization has become increasingly rare. After all, the years of the charismatic Arabism of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) are long gone. Hence, in part, the surprise and catharsis caught these days in Doha.
It is not unexpected that the feeling of Arab solidarity takes shape around Palestine. For decades this cause has united countries of disparate cultures, histories and politics, demanding an end to the Israeli occupation and the formation of a new state.
The creation of Israel in 1948 led to the expulsion of tens of thousands of Palestinians. The event is known in Arabic as “nakba”, or “catastrophe”. In 1967, Israel took over the West Bank, which it has colonized ever since, building settlements.
There is immense international criticism against the expansion of Israeli control in this territory, done to the detriment of Palestinian freedom of movement. Israel justifies its presence, in part, as being necessary to ensure its security. In recent decades, Palestinian groups have carried out terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens.
These are the events that Arab fans evoke at the World Cup. Not only with the Palestinian flag, a popular figure in Qatar, but also with anthems. Videos circulate on social media, with fans chanting classic formulas like “with our soul / with our blood / we defend you, O Palestine”. Another recording shows people in the street singing “to our beloved Palestine / where are the Arabs? / are they sleeping? / oh, most beautiful of countries / resist”.
Arab fans have also protested against Israeli journalists working in Doha. On one occasion, for example, a group of Lebanese left in the middle of an interview to discover that the reporter—who spoke fluent Arabic—was Israeli. “Israel doesn’t exist,” one of them said as he walked away.
This type of video has almost become a genre of its own on the internet. On social media, there are countless threads compiling public demonstrations against Israeli journalists. There are, it should be said, no reports of any instances of physical violence against these reporters.
Supporting the Palestinians is not only a show of solidarity, but also a popular protest against some of the governments in the region. In 2020, countries like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco signed rapprochement agreements with Israel – a geopolitical advance that weakened Palestinians by isolating them. The so-called Abraham Accords were one of the great victories of former US President Donald Trump, also celebrated by his successor, Joe Biden.
But the manifestations of support for the Palestinians, so evident in Doha, are a clear message that the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab countries is an immense challenge that does not depend only on treaties signed by the rulers. Antagonism persists in the streets, and threatens political machinations.
This is quite clear in another of the videos that went viral in this Cup, recording yet another protest by Arab fans against Israeli journalists. In one of the images, a group of young people wrapped in the Moroccan flag leave in the middle of an interview. The reporter shouts several times: “But you signed a peace agreement!” It doesn’t convince them, and they don’t come back.