“We stress our support for holding the World Cup in Qatar – the first Muslim nation to host an event of this kind,” reads the statement released by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), representing 57 countries with a total population of some 1.5 billion Muslims. If so, soccer’s 2022 World Cup is not just another worldwide sporting (and economic) event – it’s an arena for possible confrontation between Islam and the West.
The organization didn’t forget to include a statement about the decision made during its 10th conference, held in Tehran in 2014, which criticized “Western media tendentious campaigns” that cast doubts on Qatar’s right to host the event, calling the event an achievement for all OIC member states.
Taking arguments about the World Cup from the legal sphere – where suspicions are being investigated that Russia and Qatar bought the 2018 and 2022 events through bribery – and into the nationalist-religious realm is nothing new. Sport is a nationalistic religion. Among the Arab public soccer teams are judged by their nationalistic affiliation. They even represent varying political movements.
What is new, however, is the widespread Muslim support for the event being hosted by Qatar, which until recently had been a target for harsh criticism from all Muslim states in general, and the Gulf states in particular.
In lashing out at the Western media, the OIC has apparently forgotten the virulent reports in Saudi Arabian newspapers about the way Qatar won the tournament. These reports came before the reconciliation agreement last November between Qatar and the Gulf states, of course, under which Qatar committed to cease interfering in their affairs – meaning their support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Since the reconciliation, Saudi Arabia has stopped attacking Qatar. But Egypt, which also agreed to reconcile with Qatar, has yet to forgive the harsh criticism of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi following the ouster of Mohammed Morsi in 2013. Last March, the Egyptian Football Association’s Azmi Moujahed said, “Qatar used its money to win the lottery that determined who would host the World Cup.”
But even these harsh critics know to refrain from crossing red lines that dictate what is and isn’t allowed in relations between Arab states – particularly Egypt and Qatar, which employs thousands of Egyptian workers. These red lines allow for writing about corruption and the World Cup, but not about the tragic situation facing foreign workers in Qatar.
For example, Nepal’s request to FIFA that it pressure Qatar to improve the conditions of some 400,000 Nepalis working on World Cup-related projects was not reported; nor was Nepal’s complaint that the Qataris didn’t allow workers home for funerals of family members who had perished in the recent earthquakes.
Qatar is currently embroiled in its greatest international struggles since establishing itself as a regional and international player. Hosting the World Cup is part of that struggle, which also includes investing billions in Western learning institutions, purchasing works of art and donating to charities. Hosting the World Cup is meant to be its greatest achievement in bringing Islam and the West together – an effort to portray itself as globally oriented yet still preserving radical Islamist rule, hosting foreign workers and providing for millions of poor people in Arab states.
Recruiting the support of the OIC for one of the smallest Muslim nations in the world is part of that same image-bolstering campaign.
If Qatar hosting the World Cup sparks international controversy, the response must also be at the global level – on which Qatar will put the entire West at odds with “Islam.”
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now