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Qatar has delivered the FIFA World Cup, now let it bring peace to Palestine

November 30, 2022 at 9:55 am

The Al-Jabir Towers in the Lusail City area in the Qatari capital Doha lit up with the Palestinian flag, 10 August 2022 [@PalCyberNews/Twitter]

The International Federation of Football Associations, FIFA, is a flawed governing body which has chosen to ignore a whole raft of corruption allegations — all denied — that it “sold” the world’s greatest-ever sporting event to super rich Qatar. The astonishing allegations were published by the prestigious Insight Team of investigative journalists at the Sunday Times in London.

If the claims are true, then Qatar should not have hosted the ongoing tournament. The evidence has been submitted to a British House of Commons select committee in the wake of a global dirty tricks campaign to sabotage the tiny Gulf State’s chances of hosting football’s greatest event. Mind-boggling sums of money are said to have been spent to grease the palms of FIFA officials. The rumours will not go away and sports fans find themselves torn between following the epic sports event on TV and boycotting it.

To compound the problems further, the Western media has gone into overdrive to demonise Qatar, with the result that its citizens have been caught up unfairly in the crossfire. What’s more, with 17 of the 22 FIFA Executive Committee members who handed the 2022 World Cup to Qatar back in 2010 now banned or indicted over allegations of corruption and wrongdoing, the controversy doesn’t look like ending any time soon. FIFA could find itself damaged irreversibly by the ongoing scandals although I’m sure it will get comfort from netting a record £6.3 billion from what has become the most divisive of all football tournaments.

OPINION: The FIFA World Cup in Qatar demonstrates that Palestine is still the issue

If we are to believe just a fraction of what is being claimed, then Qatar has spent billions preparing to host the World Cup while its rivals, including the jealousy-fuelled UAE and Saudi Arabia, have thrown correspondingly eye-watering amounts to sabotage the tournament.

I despair. I truly despair. Not just as a supporter of the Beautiful Game but as a Muslim and a passionate upholder of human rights, aspiring to live in a world in which everyone is treated as an equal. A bit Utopian, perhaps, but a worthy aspiration nonetheless.

All life has been on display in the fabulous arenas built by armies of construction workers whose families across Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are among the poorest in the world and yet take so much pride from the fact that their sons and daughters work in the Gulf States for penurious wages that we would baulk at in the West.

So why, instead of sports washing and investing so much time and energy promoting their soft power to the West, don’t the Arab countries take a lesson from the Beautiful Game? The degree of interaction and friendly rivalry displayed by football fans at the tournament in Qatar has been impressive. As is seeing players and supporters from around the world interacting positively on and off the pitch.

If Qatar and other Gulf States really want to impress their allies in the West, the first thing that they should do is put on a united front and cast aside their costly rivalries which have seen the region’s royal playboys and petulant princes buying up rights to host the most prestigious sporting events, including Formula 1 racing — which has also had its share of corruption allegations over the years — boxing, golf and football. What the Arab world really needs is someone who can bring an end to the endless wars in the region, a true lightning rod of a leader who can exert an honest, moral code in the cause of world peace.

Arabs snub Israel media at Qatar World Cup - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Arabs snub Israel media at Qatar World Cup – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

According to Palestinian journalist and political analyst Lamis Andoni, there has never been an Arab leader “as capable of moving the Arab street or shaping Arab political thought” as Gamal Abdel Nasser, the President of Egypt between 1954 and 1970. According to her, Nasser personified anti-colonialist, modern Arab political thought, and that made him one of the most influential world leaders of his time. His advocacy of Arab independence and support for revolutionary movements around the globe placed him and the Arab world at the forefront in representing the emerging countries of the Global South against an imperialist North, nowhere more so than in occupied Palestine.

“Our path to Palestine will not be covered with a red carpet or with yellow sand,” said Nasser. “Our path to Palestine will be covered with blood… In order that we may liberate Palestine, the Arab nation must unite, the Arab armies must unite, and a unified plan of action must be established.”

Sadly, such titans with worthy places in the history books no longer walk across the Middle East-North Africa region. Instead, we have bombastic rulers who are more obsessed with tall buildings, such as the 1,292ft Iconic Tower in Egypt. Size, it seems, is everything to military dictator Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi who overthrew democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Another well-known — and despised — name in the annals of Middle East history is that of Lord Arthur Balfour, the British peer who issued the poisonous Balfour Declaration which can be said to have ruined the lives of millions of Palestinians. Dated 2 November, 1917, it is credited with paving the way for the establishment in Palestine of the Zionist State of Israel built upon terrorism, ethnic cleansing and brutal military occupation.

Do the current crop of Arab leaders not have the imagination to consider how much kudos they would get by being heralded as the one who brings peace to the Middle East? Again, you may say that I’m being Utopian, but it isn’t inconceivable if as much time and effort spent on staging the FIFA World Cup 2022 on the sands of tiny Qatar could only be invested in peace and justice for the Palestinians; the rewards and benefits would be immeasurable.

Palestine is not forgotten by the people of the Arab world who almost universally support the legitimate rights to self-determination and return for the Palestinian refugees displaced in the Nakba and their descendants. More than a few Palestinian flags and scarves have been prominent in Qatar held aloft by fans alongside the national flags of Qatar, Tunisia and Morocco. There was even evidence of Palestinian support during the match between England and Wales. Infamously, of course, FIFA banned the Palestinian flag from being on display at Glasgow Celtic’s matches – and fined the club for allowing it — so I’m surprised but pleased that the fans in Qatar have got away with showing their love and support for Palestine so easily, as reported in MEMO.

The arrogant FIFA President Gianni Infantino was right to accuse the Western media of “hypocrisy” over a deluge of reports about Qatar’s human rights record when he addressed a news conference in Doha in which he spoke passionately in defence of Qatar for more than an hour. Angry that the tournament was in danger of being overshadowed by issues such as the heavily-reported deaths of migrant workers and the treatment of LGBT+ people, the Swiss-born Infantino said that Europe should apologise for acts committed in its own past, rather than focussing on migrant workers’ issues in Qatar. He opened by saying: “Today I have strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, [and] I feel a migrant worker.”

I would have been more impressed if he’d added “I feel Palestinian”, but his astonishing display of white privilege did not extend that far. I wonder how much of his monologue was driven by FIFA’s insistence that the World Cup was delivered to Qatar in an honest and transparent manner.

Qatar’s rulers certainly achieved the impossible by bringing the World Cup to their country against all the odds. So where do they go from here?

READ: ‘There’s no Israel, only Palestine’, Saudi fan tells Israel reporter he is not welcome at Qatar World Cup

There are plenty of people in Tel Aviv prepared to hold out their grubby palms for some “Gulf grease”. Incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — yes, he’s back — has been under investigation for alleged bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies all charges, of course, but here’s the thing: Because Israel’s corruption and hypocrisy is blatant and on display for the whole world to see — and such predilection towards bribery and corruption is, sadly, in the DNA of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah — I’m convinced that the Qataris and their expert diplomats are more than qualified to persuade their cousins about the futility of war, violence and the ongoing military occupation of Palestine.

The prestige of bringing peace to the Middle East would propel the individual behind such an ambitious project into the stratosphere of global politics, and completely dwarf the magnificent achievement of hosting the World Cup in Qatar. Their name would surely go down in history alongside the likes of Nasser. Following the success of this World Cup, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, is ideally placed to build on it and take the lead in the quest for peace in the Middle East. All else will pale into insignificance, and he would not only win the admiration of the Arab world, but also remove a long-running thorn in the side of his allies in the West.

So while offering congratulations to Qatar for a brilliant World Cup tournament, I call on the Emir to harness its momentum to achieve the seemingly impossible dream of peace in occupied Palestine and the rest of the region. Use Qatar’s wealth for long-term benefits across the region instead of soft power and sports washing to please the hypocrites in the West. Qatar has delivered the FIFA World Cup; now let it bring peace to Palestine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.