Morocco Win in World Cup Brings Celebration Across Africa and Middle East

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Just after Achraf Hakimi dinked a penalty kick into the net in Education City Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday evening, capping a major upset that made Morocco the first majority Arab team to qualify for a World Cup quarterfinal, a Moroccan journalist in the press box burst into tears.

A Moroccan security guard at the stadium hid his face in his hands. A roar went up in Casablanca, in Cairo, in Gaza City, in Algiers, in Riyadh, in Sana, in Paris, in Turin, and even in Madrid, the capital of the country that was supposed to win not only this match, but maybe even the whole tournament.

But it was Morocco that had won instead, sending millions of Moroccans at home and in the global diaspora into a lung-emptying, horn-tooting, flag-waving frenzy. Their joyful yells were amplified by those of Arabs across the Middle East and beyond, whose Pan-Arab solidarity, if sometimes absent or muted when it comes to political matters, has thrived on a series of shock wins by Middle Eastern teams this tournament.

On Wednesday morning, having partied through the night, Moroccans in Casablanca were still congratulating one another.

“Congratulations to us,” they greeted each other, smiling. “Dima Maghreb!” — “Always Morocco,” the rallying cry of Morocco fans. Their Parliament opened its Wednesday session with a rendition of the national anthem.

“My joy is indescribable,” said Zoubida Boutaleb, 40, a communications professional in Casablanca and longtime soccer fan. “I’m still on cloud nine!”

For certain fans, the Disney-prince-like looks of Yassine “Bono” Bounou, the Moroccan goalkeeper who saved three Spanish penalty kicks at Tuesday’s match, may have contributed to the euphoria.

But the joy had even overtaken the professional dispassion of Moroccan sports journalists, several of whom took the microphone at the post-match news conference to pose questions that were more like mash notes to Mr. Bounou and Walid Regragui, the French-Moroccan coach, who keeps his remaining hair close-cropped and is fondly known to Moroccan fans as “avocado head.”

“I don’t have any question,” one said, going on to thank them for the victory. “I am speaking, and I have tears in my eyes.”

In the Spanish city of Murcia, home to a large community of people of Moroccan descent, the reaction was more two-sided.

A local Spanish far-right group posted a photo on Twitter of a municipal building lit up in red and green, the colors of the Moroccan flag, saying that it would be demanding an explanation from the mayor. By Wednesday morning, after a “popular outcry” and a “commotion,” the group announced, the City Council had switched off the lights. But local media later reported that the lights were actually meant to celebrate Christmas.

“It’s amazing to see all Moroccans happy for once, especially after trying so many years to reach this stage,” said Laila Berchane, 35, an entrepreneur in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, ticking off all the triumphs and disappointments: 1986, when Morocco upset Portugal but then lost narrowly to West Germany; 1998, when it almost qualified for the knockout stage; 2018, when it lost to Portugal.

“Especially in a year of economic uncertainties, global conflicts and recovering from the pandemic crisis,” she said, “this win was so much needed.”

Morocco’s win was the fourth time in this World Cup that an Arab team had beaten a heavily favored opponent, including Saudi Arabia’s group-stage defeat of Argentina, Tunisia’s victory over France and Morocco’s own win over Belgium.

At a time when their leaders are divided or listless on the causes that used to unite them the most strongly, many Arabs and North Africans, who share a language (if one split into many dialects), a religion (in most cases), elements of a proud history and, often, a common sense of injustices perpetrated by the West, seemed joined in one regionwide cheer.

Neither the Saudis nor the Tunisians, nor the host Qatar, advanced to the round of 16, leaving the Moroccans to take on the next set of matches alone.

When they won on Tuesday evening, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, wearing a red team jersey in Rabat, waved the Moroccan flag in celebration. So did the emir of Qatar, up in his V.V.V.I.P. box in the stadium. Egypt’s Cairo Tower lit up in red and green, and Iraq’s most prominent Shiite leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, tweeted “Morocco hope for Arab victory” as a hashtag.

“The lions of the Atlas are the joy of the Arab world,” blared the headline in Al-Ahram, Egypt’s flagship daily. “Morocco enters history after overthrowing the Spanish matador.”

One of Egypt’s foremost talk show hosts, Lamees el-Hadidi, also got in on the act on Tuesday evening.

“I, as an Arab and an African, am very happy for Morocco,” she said on her show. “Arab streets from the ocean to the Gulf are cheering for Morocco.”

Many Africans, too, were rooting for the country in the continent’s northwestern corner.

“Africa United behind Morocco — the last man standing,” the Ugandan singer and politician Bobi Wine tweeted, along with a picture of himself in a Morocco T-shirt.

This being the world’s most-watched event, where young men come to stand for countries and causes find their way onto the pitch, politics have been in the background — or sometimes right at the fore — in several of the games involving Arab teams.

Colonial overtones were hard to escape in the match between another North African nation, Tunisia, and France, in which a former colony defeated its former colonizer, a favorite to win the tournament.

When Morocco played Spain, at least one Twitter commentator labeled it the “Al-Andalus Derby,” referring to the fact that Muslims ruled Spain from the eighth to the 11th centuries, when European Christians conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula.

But attention turned promptly to current events when the Moroccan players unveiled a Palestinian flag mid-celebration on Tuesday night.

Given that their country’s government was one of the first to normalize relations with Israel in the Trump administration-brokered agreements of 2020, the statement was all the more pointed.

The Israeli defense minister, Benny Gantz, was among those who joined the online celebrations on Tuesday night, posting a tweet in Arabic that congratulated “our Moroccan friends.”

He was met with a cascade of photos of the Moroccan team holding the Palestinian flag.

Sumber: www.nytimes.com

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