The World Cup, The Palestinian Issue and Middle Eastern Politics

December 27, 2022

The World Cup, The Palestinian Issue, and Middle Eastern Politics

As expected, given that the 2022 FIFA World Cup was in Qatar, the media and the political discourse throughout the Middle East linked the World Cup with the Palestinian issue.

Indeed, there were signs of support for the Palestinians during the games – including Arab fans and players on the Moroccan national team waving Palestinian banners and flags. Some in the Arab media interpreted this as an authentic expression of the centrality of the Palestinian cause within Arab public opinion. Others interpreted it as an expression of broad opposition in the Arab world to Arab countries normalizing (tatbie in Arabic) relations with Israel.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey said that Portugal’s national star, Cristiano Ronaldo, hardly played because of “political pressure” (which Erdogan did not elaborate on) due to the fact (according to Erdogan) that Ronaldo supports the Palestinian cause.

There is no doubt that the issue of Palestine and the Palestinian cause occupies a prominent place in the media, political, cultural, public, emotional, and intellectual discourse in the Middle East. One of the main reasons for the centrality of the Palestinian issue is that the many Arabs hope the Palestinian cause will unite the Arab world, which is divided by hatred and rivalries. However, this is wishful thinking that time and again crashes on the ground of reality….

Support for the Palestinians and solidarity with the Palestinian cause in the Arab world is to a large extent a facade.

Arab and non-Arab Muslim leaders pay lip service to the Palestinians. And at the same time, they cynically exploit the Palestinian cause for their political ambitions and gains.

Arab public opinion is not disturbed by the fact that most Arab countries apply a discriminatory, exploitative, and humiliating attitude toward the Palestinians.

As for the Palestinians, they are aware of this truth. And they will continue to manipulate and navigate the regional political system to advance their interests. 

The World Cup was a time-out for the Middle East. Conflicts, Politics, and struggles throughout the region were “put on pause” for a month. However, now that the games are over, everyone across the region is returning to face the challenges and the complex reality beyond the pitch.

The Arab world and the Palestinians have a complicated and complex relationship. A duality of shared destiny on the one hand – and hostility on the other. This reality will continue.

For the Palestinians who are aware of this duality, their brothers’ momentary demonstrations and expressions of support and identification during the World Cup were a source of encouragement and satisfaction – even if it was temporary.

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Avi Melamed
Avi Melamed
Avi Melamed is an expert on current affairs in the Arab & Muslim World and their impact on Israel & the Middle East. A former Israeli Intelligence Official & Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Fluent in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence & Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities & communities - often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. He is the Founder & CEO of Inside the Middle East | Intelligence Perspectives - an apolitical non-partisan curriculum using intelligence methodology to examine the Middle East. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides Intelligence Analysis, Briefings, and Geopolitical Tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policymakers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs.

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