Morocco's success at the World Cup in Qatar is bringing the Arab people together in a significant way. The Atlas Lions' victories in the sporting competition - especially against former world champions Spain - have caused a strong sense of pride to spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The entire Arab world is rooting for Morocco and hopes that it will continue to make history after qualifying for the quarter-finals for the first time.
Even in Algeria, which severed diplomatic ties with Morocco in August 2021, there is strong support for the Moroccan team. For decades, relations between Rabat and Algiers have been fraught with tensions over the latter's support for the Polisario Front. However, political differences are overshadowed by the Moroccan victory which, for a large part of the region, is a victory for the entire Arab people.
As in Morocco and other countries with large Moroccan communities, many Algerian cities celebrated Ashraf Hakimi's goal in the penalty shootout against Spain that sent the Moroccan national team into the quarter-finals. "Morocco is like Algeria, I hope the Moroccan national team goes far in the World Cup," a shopkeeper from Oran told AFP, saying he "goes with Morocco" in the competition, as do many other Algerian citizens.
"Politics is for politicians, but the people have only one heart," he adds. Another citizen, Mohamed Reda - quoted by Middle East Eye - agrees, saying that the people and the government are "different entities".
Morocco made history on Tuesday as the first-ever Arab country to qualify for the World Cup quarterfinals. Fans of Morocco football celebrated the victory around the world. 🇲🇦⚽️ pic.twitter.com/GCqxxBx774— NowThis (@nowthisnews) December 10, 2022
Despite the media silence, Algerians follow Morocco's World Cup matches with emotion and pride. "The Moroccans have honoured us," says Reda. The official media do not broadcast images of Algerian citizens celebrating Morocco's victories, but there are numerous videos on social networks of fans euphoric about the successes of the Atlas Lions, as in many other Arab countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia and Libya. In the latter, they even celebrated Morocco's victory with fireworks despite internal strife. In Syria, on the other hand, a dentist announced that, due to the Moroccan victory, he would provide free treatment for a few days.
"Morocco represents a beautiful Arab dream that makes us all happy," a young Egyptian man wrapped in a Moroccan flag in Doha told AFP. "It doesn't matter which team makes it to this stage, as long as there is an Arab team there is hope," said another Egyptian who travelled to Qatar to enjoy the sporting competition. "This is a matter of pride, we are all happy for Morocco," he added.
People around the world joined in an outpouring of pride and joy over Morocco’s World Cup win against Spain. https://t.co/xAz8MaHZiP pic.twitter.com/y95eXUHv1e— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 7, 2022
Moroccans feel the warmth and support of other Arabs during the football tournament. "The huge number of Arabs supporting us makes me feel like I am in Casablanca or Rabat," acknowledged a Moroccan student who travelled from Paris to watch the matches.
In the next match, the Atlas Lions will face Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal for a place in the semi-finals. However, the Portuguese star is not intimidating the Moroccans, who face the match with optimism. "If Morocco can beat Spain who have been world champions, they can beat Ronaldo," a Moroccan resident in Qatar told the news agency. Portuguese fans, meanwhile, recognise that Morocco have a large share of the support. "We're playing Morocco at home, which makes the match even more difficult," a Portuguese man told AFP ahead of the game.
Whatever happens during the match, Morocco have already made history. In addition to being the first Arab country to reach the quarter-finals, the Moroccan national team has managed to unite all Arab people despite the many differences and political rivalries.