As World Cup wraps, Morocco inspires Arab unity around the world

“MuiTypography-root-233 MuiTypography-h1-238″>As World Cup wraps, Morocco inspires Arab unity around the world

Morocco’s Atlas Lions have a lot to celebrate at this year's World Cup in Qatar. They became both the first Arab and the first African team to reach the semifinals, inspiring Arab unity around the world.  

The WorldDecember 19, 2022 · 4:30 PM EST

Palestinians react as they watch a live broadcast of the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Morocco and France played in Qatar, in Gaza City, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. 

Fatima Shbair/AP

The World Cup wrapped on Sunday with Argentina clinching the 2022 championship title. 

But Morocco’s Atlas Lions still have a lot to celebrate. They became both the first Arab and the first African team to reach the semifinals, inspiring Arab unity around the world.  

In Barcelona’s old quarter, a small, boisterous group of fans watched Morocco play against Spain, in a restaurant called El Rincon del Raval. The owner, Mustafa al-Kantah, is Moroccan. The exuberant crowd represented a wide array of Arab nations — and beyond. 

“We’ve got fans from Algeria, Morocco, Pakistan — from everywhere,” Kantah said from behind the counter. “For us, this is fantastic. Everyone’s here having a great time.”

It was a gut-wrenching game. Suffering through it together were Abdul Kihalo, from Algeria, and Zacaria Chachout, a Moroccan. They sat elbow to elbow, mint teas in hand, on the edge of their seats. 

“I hope for Morocco,” Kihalo said. “Algeria and Morocco, all people, same brother. All people, family!”

“As people, we love each other,” Chachout said. “But the governments, it’s another issue. It’s politics.”

In a Moroccan restaurant in Barcelona, Arab fans with origins across Africa came together to cheer on the Atlas Lions. Viewers said politics often divides nations but sports bring people together.  

Credit:

Gerry Hadden/The World

Politics between Morocco and Algeria are strained, to put it mildly. Morocco has recognized Israel, whereas Algeria refuses diplomatic ties with them. And Morocco has tightened control over the disputed Western Sahara, which Algeria wants to see independent. 

It was perhaps inevitable that soccer would get caught up in the animosity. In Algeria, official media have been omitting any and all news on the Moroccan World Cup squad until the director of one public TV station, Chabane Lounakel, broke the silence. He reported Morocco’s win over Spain in the quarter finals. He was fired the next day.  

And a group of young Algerian soldiers are being courtmarshaled for posting a clip to TikTok, echoing Algerian spectator Abdul Kihalo: Moroccans are their brothers, they said. The soldiers then danced a bit in their barracks. For their impromptu display of good-neighborliness they’re looking at 10 years in prison. 

But in Spain, where cheering for your political enemy is not a jailable offense, Arabs from across North Africa rushed to a Barcelona square after Morocco’s elimination. They played drums and danced and set off fireworks together.   

Morocco fans celebrated in Barcelona after their team’s defeat to France in the 2022 World Cup semi-finals. 

Credit:

Gerry Hadden/The World

Moroccan Zacaria Chachout said the celebration was almost enough to forget politics for a while.

“It’s been a long time since Arabs got connected to each other,” he said. “Hopefully it will last. This is something we’ve been waiting for, for a long time.”

It was a moment of unity in a fractious world.

Related: Argentina hailed World Cup champions after dramatic win

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