Unprecedented in its history, the Middle East World Cup has evolved into a display for the political conflicts rippling across the incessantly unstable region. The dubious role frequently played by Doha in the region’s issues is also under question.
During the matches of the Arab nations, pro-Palestinian sentiment among supporters has also spilled into stadiums. Even though Qatar has for the first time permitted Israeli supporters to fly in directly, Qatari footballers have worn pro-Palestinian wristbands.
Even the Emir of Qatar has performed politically significant deeds, such as wearing the Saudi flag following the country’s historic victory over Argentina. It was a significant show of solidarity for a nation with whom he has been repairing frayed relations caused by local unrest.
Such actions have raised the political stakes of a competition already dogged by debate over the exploitation of migrant workers and conducts on LGBT+ issues in the conservative host nation. Homosexuality is prohibited, igniting the disputes to start before the games had started.
The risks are serious for Qatar, which is counting on a successful event to solidify its position in the region, where it has managed to maintain its independence as a nation for half a century despite several geopolitical uprisings.
Qatar, as the first Arab country to host the FWC, has frequently seemed to be an outlier in the Middle East. Doha both supports the Palestinian Islamist organisation Hamas and has maintained trading ties with its enemy, Israel, in the past.
It has provided a voice to Islamist dissidents that Saudi Arabia and its allies view as a threat, while courting Iran, a rival of Riyadh, and holding the biggest American military facility in the area.
From Palestine, to Iran
The most politically sensitive match is going to be held between Iran and the United States. Supporters of the unrest in Iran have dared to extend their opposition to stadiums in Qatar. They have also shown to be problematic for Qatar, which has strong relations with Tehran.
The U.S. Football Federation momentarily posted Iran’s national flag on social media without the Islamic Republic of Iran’s symbol before Tuesday’s pivotal U.S.-Iran game in support of Iranian demonstrators. The game only increased the tournament’s importance for Iran, whose religious leadership has long referred to Washington as “The Great Satan” and accused it of inciting the nation’s present upheaval.
Palestinian flags, on the other hand, are frequently visible at stadiums and fan zones. The flags have sold out in stores despite the fact that the national team was unsuccessful in qualifying.
At their play on November 26 against Australia, Tunisian fans erected a sizable “Free Palestine” banner, although organizers did not seem to take any action in response. Arab supporters have avoided Israeli reporters who were in Qatar.
Football coach for the national team if Palestine Omar Barakat stated he had brought Palestinian flag into stadiums without getting prevented while in Qatar for the games. He declared, “It is a political statement, and we’re proud of it.”
Although hostilities have shown up during some games, the event has also served as a setting for some apparent gesture of rapprochement. At the Argentina match on November 22, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani wore the Saudi flag around his neck.
Due to Doha’s regional policy, Qatar’s relations with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt were placed on hold for years. The Turkish president shook hands with his Egyptian counterpart in yet another gesture of peace between nations whose relations were damaged in the past decade.