The three friends from Palestine, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia at Souk Waqif in Doha. Photo:Rituraj Borkakoty
An old man wearing what looked like an Atletico Madrid jersey with its famous red and white stripes was becoming the centre of attention in the wee hours of Tuesday night at Souk Waqif in Doha.
He was exchanging pleasantries in Arabic with each one of them as they smiled and took pictures.
In the middle of the Arab world’s first football World Cup, I wondered hy he was sporting the colours of Atletico Madrid, the third biggest club in Spanish football after Real Madrid and Barcelona.
I could not resist my curiosity anymore.
“May I know your name?” I asked him.
“Mohammed, Morocco,” he replied with a voice as soft as Lionel Messi’s first touch.
“Okay, are you from Morocco?
He nodded his head to my second question.
“So why are you wearing this jersey here? Are you an Atletico Madrid fan?” I prodded him.
But he just gave me a blank look, similar to the one that my grandfather used to give me sometimes.
That’s when a young Arab man appeared on the scene, volunteering to be my translator.
His name was also Mohammed, a Palestinian who lives in Saudi Arabia.
Mohammed’s love for football brought him back to Qatar with his Saudi friend to support Morocco.
It was only after the Palestinian’s help that I finally understood that the Moroccan in the Atletico Madrid jersey was not a supporter of the Madrid-based Spanish club.
He was from Tétouan, a port city in northern Morocco.
“This is the jersey of his club from the city, Moghreb Tétouan. You see the shirt is very similar to Atletico Madrid’s, but it’s of Moghreb Tétouan, and he says he has been a lifelong supporter of the club,” the young Palestinian fan told me.
Only a true blue sports lover can feel the gravitas of the occasion here, seeing an old man in the middle of the night bringing the colous of his beloved club from his hometown to the carnival that is the World Cup.
And for that, I felt a deep sense of gratitude to this young and unassuming Palestinian man.
The Moroccan man slowly disappeared from my sight, but I ensured that the Palestinians did not.
Perhaps, the old Moghreb Tétouan devotee was my mystic connection to Palestine and their presence in this World Cup, without them even kicking a ball.
The Moroccan national team’s gesture of celebrating their historic World Cup victory over Spain with the flag of Palestine to support the cause of the troubled country has now captivated the Arab world.
As a Palestinian, Mohammed feels incredibly blessed to witness such support for the people of his country at the World Cup.
“I believe that we are all part of the Arab world. So I am here to support the Moroccan team who are now in the quarterfinals,” he said. “As Arabs, we feel for Morocco and we support their team, and they also have the same support for us.
“This is a very big international stage and it’s a very good opportunity to present our identity and our case.”
Arab bonding according to Mohammed, has grown even stronger with the rousing success of the World Cup in Qatar.
“When Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar played in this World Cup, we all supported them. We all wanted to see them win and we celebrated Saudi and Tunisia’s victories against Argentina and France,” he said.
“The names of our countries are different, our flags are different, but we are the same people. I know as a Palestinian that they will not only support our cause, but they will support us in all aspects to help the people of Palestine.
“But honestly, if you ask me, seeing this support for us from all Arab people at the World Cup, it was expected. It’s not something that has surprised me at all.”
Remarkably, Mohammed was soaking up the incredible atmosphere at Souq Waqif with two of his friends, who were also named Mohammed.
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