Qatar's victory in the Asian Football Confederation tournament was not just about winning a football match; it was a victory for free will and Qatar's independence and sovereignty, which has refused to bow down to the recklessness of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Despite being besieged by the former's Mohammad Bin Salman and the latter's Mohammed Bin Zayed, Qatar neither gave in nor surrendered.
Instead, the government has stood firm and rallied its people under the strong leadership of the Emir of Qatar. Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani stood his ground and adopted a strong position against the blockade of his country by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. The small Gulf State of Qatar continues to punch above its weight, not only in terms of health, education and media, but also in standing up for vulnerable nations and people.
In the media field especially, Doha-based Al Jazeera is dominant in presenting news and views from a non-Western perspective. It is ironic that none of the dozens of channels launched by the ruling families in Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been able to compete with Al Jazeera in terms of coverage, credibility and professionalism.
On the way to the final of the Asian Cup, Qatar beat both the Saudi team and the UAE team, the two countries which dominate the blockading axis. This is why all of the other Arab nations were overjoyed by Qatar's convincing victory against Japan in the final, despite the injustice it is being subjected to. People took to the streets with Qatari flags and expressed their support for the small state. Ordinary people always have and always will stand with the oppressed and this has angered the UAE, which now collaborates with Israel and still lives in the era of vendettas and tribal wars, despite its tower blocks, luxurious hotels and theme parks. Its rulers may have thought that by building such things they would create a great state, but they forgot about developing a modern mindset. They are stuck in the tribal dark ages and are filled with thoughts of hatred, revenge and retaliation.
Thus, Emiratis threw shoes at the Qatar football team — a massive insult in the Arab world — whereas Israeli sports teams have been welcomed with flowers. The UAE authorities did not allow the aircraft carrying the Qatari team to land in any of its airports so the players had to go to neighbouring Oman and make the difficult journey by road. Furthermore, Qatari citizens were not allowed to travel to the UAE to cheer on their team, even though the conditions for hosting international competitions insist that tickets are sold to fans of all participating countries. On top of all of this, the UAE police pursued a fan living in Abu Dhabi for waving a Qatari flag during the game and rooting for Qatar.
Such petty vindictiveness was echoed by the UAE media, which jettisoned professionalism in their coverage. Al-Bayan newspaper's headline was "Japan loses Asian Cup", as if the Japanese team had played against itself and there was no winner on merit. Qatar, it must be pointed out, went through the whole tournament without a single defeat or draw in seven consecutive matches; its players scored the most goals — 19 — while Almoez Ali won the Golden Boot, scoring nine goals, one more than the previous record of eight. It was truly a major victory for Qatar, and great timing in advance of it hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
According to normal practice, the head of the state hosting the tournament attends the final and hands the trophy to the winning team. This did not happen in the UAE; the Bin Zayeds didn't go to the stadium, opting instead to stay in their palaces and, no doubt, seethe with rage at Qatar's victory.
Arab fans have rarely, if ever, supported a non-Arab team against one of their own, but in the tribalist mindset of the blockading states, that is exactly what their media did, announcing their support for Japan against Qatar. However, the Arab people didn't take such a shameful lead, demonstrating a popular consciousness that is bigger and more rational than any of the craven state-run media. This is why the Arab people were happy for the Arab state of Qatar and rejoiced in its victory. This was not only an Arab football team winning a major international football tournament, but also a victory for the Arabism which too many people want to take away from us.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.