Qatar is living through one of the thousand and one nights, which people thought was a fantasy but can now see with their own eyes. It has become a reality, with a dazzling display that is capturing hearts. This small country is throwing a large party for countries from around the world; two million people are expected to visit Qatar for the FIFA World Cup, carrying their national emblems alongside the host nation's distinctive flag. Billions in the global TV audience are tuning in to watch a tournament at which no expense has been spared. It is the most costly in history.
This is a major turning point for Qatar and the Arab relationship with international sport. The tournament is being held in an Arab Muslim country for the very first time. The hosts have risen to the challenge, having won the right to stage the World Cup in December 2010.
The opening ceremony was sophisticated and well prepared and directed, showcasing Arab creativity. The whole nation should stand behind this global sporting event.
All of this has been done in the face of a coordinated and unprecedented campaign regarding alleged human rights abuses and other issues. From concerns about the temperature in the Gulf State to allegations about supporting terrorism and bribery in winning the right to host the World Cup, a whole propaganda machine has been wheeled into action. Rebuttals from the government in Doha and what it has achieved over the past few years have been ignored or simply brushed aside.
The blockade imposed on Qatar by the neighbouring Gulf countries in 2017 added to the dirty propaganda war to have the tournament boycotted, or taken elsewhere. The propaganda didn't end with the reconciliation and 2020 Al-Ula agreement signed in Saudi Arabia. With the global pandemic in full swing, followed by this year's Russian war against Ukraine, it was a golden opportunity for so-called sister countries to spread rumours about cancelling the 2022 World Cup. Their media lackeys spread and fanned such rumours, and when they realised that this was not going to happen, they turned instead to mocking Qatar for spending so much money on the tournament.
Latterly the focus has been on equality laws in Qatar, especially those which differ from those in the West which protect LGBTQ+ people. The Qatar authorities insist that everyone is welcome to attend the tournament; acknowledge and respect the fact that customs and rights are different in other countries; and ask visitors to respect Qatar's customs, traditions and moral standards as well.
In all of this, the West has exposed its racist, colonial and hate-filled face. Its attacks are not motivated by concerns about terrorism, human rights, gay rights, women's rights, workers' rights or any other rights. How could they be, given that the West supports Israel and its daily violations of human rights and international law?
The real reason for the opposition is that the World Cup is being held in an Arab Muslim country. It is anti-Arab racism, open and vile.
Nevertheless, the tournament has kicked off figuratively and literally, amid calls for the focus now to be on the football, rather than political issues. The overlap between politics and sport is an old-new matter, and the fierce attacks on Qatar are clear manifestations of football's politicisation. The FIFA World Cup is no longer just a football tournament, but is also a huge platform for showcasing variant ideologies and identities. Against Qatar we have seen a massive orientalist onslaught to impose Western values and morality on an Arab Muslim state. In doing so, critics have shattered the belief that football in general, and the World Cup in particular, can bring people together in a way that is not possible in other events. Qatar, meanwhile, seeks to preserve its own values, traditions, culture and Arab-Islamic identity while being open and welcoming to visitors from around the world.
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, expressed his regret that his country has been subjected to unprecedented slander that no other World Cup host country has had to face. "Hosting the World Cup is an occasion in which we portray who we are, not only in terms of the strength of our economy and institutions, but also in terms of our civilisational identity," said the Emir. "We accepted this challenge out of our faith in our potential, we the Qataris, to tackle the mission and make it a success, and due to our awareness of the importance of hosting a major event such as the World Cup in the Arab world."
Try as its critics might, they have not been able to stop Qatar from working hard over the past twelve years to build the infrastructure for the tournament and address some of the concerns by making amendments to Qatari laws. Billions have been spent on ensuring that visitors are accommodated comfortably and can travel to football matches with minimal difficulties and delays, despite the logistical problems of moving huge numbers of people around what is a very small country. The latest technology has been harnessed to provide instant updates on congestion and suggest alternative routes, for example. This "smart city" system is a first in the Arab world and will benefit fans, teams and locals alike.
"We have always said that Qatar will deliver the best-ever FIFA World Cup," said FIFA President Gianni Infantino. "The world is excited. Qatar is ready. The stage is set. Together, we will deliver the best World Cup ever on and off the field."
Indeed we hope so. Sports bring people together. Reconciliation is important. We have seen the Egyptian and Turkish presidents shaking hands, despite the difficult relationship between them. We have seen the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, wrap a Qatari flag around himself and be one of the first to visit his neighbour. He also instructed the Saudi government to support Qatar's World Cup hosting efforts. The leader of the UAE, however, was conspicuous by his absence.
So the next few weeks is an Arab celebration, not just a Qatari celebration; Qatar's success is a success for all Arabs. I only wish the Zionist Arab regimes would realise this, and rejoin the fold.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.