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More than Just Football! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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What is the reason behind the tremendous joy that reigns over the Arab public as a result of Egypt’s victory in the 2008 Cup of African Nations? Why was last Sunday a joyous Arab celebration, not just for the Egyptians, but for all Arabs who paid tribute to coach Hassan Shehata’s team in Ghana? Was it because of Arab football mania or did it stem from a sense of Arabism?

Indeed, the Egyptian team deserves praise and commemoration on every level. However; aside from that, it is my conviction that the Arab street is in search of joy and victory wherever it may be – even if it is on a chess board! This is not an exaggeration, this is the general sentiment we feel.

As one follows Arab media, on a daily basis, one will find cases such as the poisoned cake served to the Iraqi Air Force football team, or the exploitation of two mentally disabled women in suicide bomb operations in Baghdad. You will find that the Iraqi situation has plunged far beyond the abyss; animals and coffins are strapped with bombs and minds are corrupted. It has become a state in which places of worship, markets, schools and funerary gatherings are targeted and no one is exempt – all segments and classes of society are subjected to it.

In Algeria there is no news aside from what the treacherous hand of terrorism has dealt in terms of deaths and victims. All that one hears about this great Arab nation is suspicion and takfir (Muslims holding other Muslims to be disbelievers) without exceptions. News from the Palestinian territories arrives tainted with blood and destruction caused by the Israeli aggression.

But that’s not all; the news and events also reveal the extent of Hamas’ manipulation of the Palestinian cause and people. This manipulation does not stop there but rather extends to the Egyptian border, endangering Egyptian national security.

And after all this, all you need to do is turn towards a different direction to receive news of Lebanon; “president… no president”. News from Lebanon comes laced with phrases that have degenerated significantly. Beirut is witnessing a frenzied party of suspicion and threats that is fuelled by the people and the economy, in addition to a repetitive war that Lebanon has known before – just as Arab citizens know it too.

Today you witness futile talk about issues that we have been immersed in for years and which our Arab communities continue to orbit under various banners, from women’s issues to education, employment, hijab and what is religiously permitted or prohibited. It is as though we are newly born rather than having descended from a long historical heritage and a culture that has had an impact on the world in which we live.

So what’s left for the people to do? Of course they will go in search, by candlelight if they must, for a moment of joy, to experience happiness even if it were for a few fleeting seconds, from Tripoli to Manama and from the Sultanate of Oman to Saudi Arabia regardless of whether the celebration of the team, victory and coach were on behalf of Egypt.

Undoubtedly, Egypt deserves it since the success is a considerable one that was nationally supported and its victory was over some of Europe’s strongest professional players. However, the Arab joy denotes a happiness that is greater than football.

People in the Arab world are looking for happiness – even if it is in Ghana. This is the message and their state expresses their wish to quell the frustration.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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