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How Morocco’s improbable World Cup victory brought Arabs together

The Moroccan football team that rewrote history in the FIFA World Cup is known as The Atlas Lions. Their run has defied all predictions and taken them and every other African team further than they have ever been able to.

Mapmakers of the beautiful game are aware that Qatar has irrevocably altered the world football map.

A draw against the 2018 champions Croatia, a heartfelt victory over second-ranked Belgium, and another victory against Canada saw the Lions march to the top of their group are just a few of the remarkable moments Morocco’s development has generated. Images of the players kneeling on the field in prayer and the coach Walid Regragui being gleefully thrown into the air have become famous. But undoubtedly the most moving and heartwarming moments of the competition have been those of these battle-tested conquering heroes joyfully—and even silly—celebrating with their mothers.

Maher Mezahi, a North African football expert, told CNN that the success of a squad whose foreign-born players hail from six different nations has been greatly influenced by the players’ families. We all have distinct cultural baggage, but our parents are what tie us together, Coach Walid Regragui said to the group. And if our parents aren’t content, we won’t succeed,'” Mezahi said.

It’s a positive mood that has permeated far beyond the stadiums and streets of Qatar and contrasts sharply with the more prevalent story in an Arab region plagued by increased political unrest, youth unemployment, skyrocketing inflation, and high rates of poverty.

A PhD candidate in Northwest African history at UC Davis, Samia Errazzouki, told CNN that it is “a source of joy for an area that has been plagued by war and upheaval.” “I believe that everyone who is oppressed may relate to this moment of bliss.”

The success of Morocco has also given fresh life to a once-lost identity, as fans from all across the Arab world have praised the team’s accomplishments. People had claimed that Arab nationalism was gone and that we were no longer unified, according to Mezahi. “As silly a concept as it may seem, it exists, and we’re seeing it develop in real time,” the author said of the Olympics, Algeria’s World Cup run in 2014, and especially this.

This tournament has been marked by a constant presence of the Palestinian cause, which is essential to the identity of many Arabs worldwide. During their celebrations, the Moroccan team posed with the distinctive tricolour flag, giving the cause—which supports Palestinian self-determination—the oxygen of a broad media platform.

Walking around Qatar’s Souq Waqif on a Monday night found football supporters from all across the area wearing Palestinian and Moroccan flags. 15-year-old boys from Syria and Egypt, 17-year-old Sudanese females, an Algerian guy, and a third from the occupied West Bank city of Nablus all spoke with CNN. Anwar Ramadan, who was wearing a scarf that read “Free Palestine,” strolled through the Souq and declared, “All Arab countries, from the Gulf to the sea, are one body.” He explained to CNN that he does so to show the outside world that “Palestine is there in every nook.”

As the Emir of Qatar was able to do during the World Cup, Ramadan stated, “we hope that Arab leaders would be able to unite our area.”

Amro Ali, a sociology professor at Hassan II University in Casablanca, asserted that Qatar has provided supporters of the Palestinian cause with a forum where they may show sympathy with Palestinians living in occupied territory in a “unfiltered and unmediated” manner.

The West Bank and Gaza, where Israel still maintains a blockade with Egypt, are under Israeli occupation. Morocco was one of four Arab nations to normalise relations with Israel in 2020, breaking with a long-standing regional policy that required normalisation to be contingent on the end of the occupation. Massive acts of solidarity with the Palestinians serve as a reminder of the contradiction between those governments’ stated positions and their ongoing animosity towards Israel.

If anything, he claimed, “the World Cup has highlighted the sharp gap between the governing classes and the people they control.” Palestine was not overlooked.

Morocco’s victory in 2022 and the resulting rise in regional pride are at variance with the narrative that predominated in the run-up to this competition, which centred on violations of human and civil rights. While it was crucial to draw attention to these, the stark intensity of the stories left many Qataris and others in the region as a whole in shock. The criticisms have been charged with racism by many in Qatar.

After Morocco’s victories over Canada, Spain, and Portugal, CNN spoke with ecstatic supporters late into the night. They were from Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Orlando, and London, and frequently, in the midst of their euphoria over the outcome, they would unintentionally praise the tournament’s hosts. Before being carried away by the crowd, one man exclaimed, “I suppose I am definitely in a dream. Thank you Qatar for the excellent organising.” Then he said, “I want to thank Qatar for this event, bringing all different nationalities together, making us feel the same, like brothers.” Another supporter expressed his wish that Morocco might make the Arab area proud.

Midfielder Sofiane Boufal expressed gratitude to his fans a few days before he was photographed dancing with his mum. “All Moroccans anywhere in the world, all Arabs, all Muslims.” However, his coach has attempted to portray it as a victory for his region rather than Arabic-speaking people. According to Regragui, “I’m not here to be a politician.” “Like Senegal, Ghana, and Cameroon, we want to hoist the African flag aloft. We’re here to speak for Africa.

It may seem as though everything is predetermined. After defeating two of their former oppressors, Spain and Portugal, Morocco’s soccer team will now play France in the historic semifinal on Wednesday night.

Everyone can invent their own vision of Morocco’s route to greatness since it is a work of art.

Sport has always had the capacity to change the world, but regardless of what transpires during these four weeks in Qatar, the athletes, spectators, and media that cover the matches are aware that it doesn’t have to go beyond the sidelines to be noteworthy.

Because they are aware that in 40 years, future generations would expect a visceral recreation of these historical events, Moroccan sports journalists covering the games have stated that they are striving to soak up every single detail.

The tale will then have become a fable. The supporting cast, particularly the women, will be crucial to it, and the performers themselves will have nearly become mythological characters. We will never forget the moms’ pride of the Atlas Lions.

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