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Morocco’s World Cup success gives Arab youth a much-needed morale boost

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Doha, Qatar

They’re generally known as The Atlas Lions, the Moroccan football team that’s ripped up the historical past books on the FIFA World Cup. Their run has upended all expectations, advancing deep into uncharted territory, additional than they or any other African team has ever managed earlier than.

Cartographers of the gorgeous recreation know that the world soccer map has been completely redrawn in Qatar.

Morocco’s progress has produced some memorable moments, a draw towards the 2018 finalists Croatia, a stirring win towards second-ranked Belgium, and one other victory towards Canada noticed the Lions roar to the highest of their group. Pictures of the coach Walid Regragui being tossed joyfully into the air, and the gamers prostrating on the turf in prayer, have turn into iconic. However arguably probably the most highly effective and heart-warming scenes of the match have been of those battle-hardened conquering heroes celebrating so brazenly, and generally goofily, with their moms.

The gamers’ households have been integral to the success of a workforce whose foreign-born gamers come from six totally different international locations, North African soccer professional Maher Mezahi informed CNN. “Coach Walid Regragui informed them, ‘All of us have totally different cultural baggage, however the one factor that unites us is our dad and mom. And we gained’t have any success if our dad and mom aren’t completely happy,’” mentioned Mezahi.

Morocco's Youssef En-Nesyri, center, celebrates after scoring the only goal in his side's World Cup quarterfinal win over Portugal, at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on December 10, 2022.

It’s a feel-good vibe which has unfold far past the stadiums and streets of Qatar, and which is at odds with a extra frequent narrative in an Arab world riddled with rising youth unemployment, ballooning inflation, rising poverty charges and political violence.

It’s “a supply of pleasure for a area that’s been marred by violence and upheaval,” Samia Errazzouki, a PhD candidate in Northwest African historical past at UC Davis, informed CNN. “I feel this second of pleasure resonates with everybody who’s downtrodden.”

Morocco’s success has additionally breathed new life right into a once-lost id, as folks from throughout the Arab world celebrated the workforce’s victories. “Folks had mentioned that Arab nationalism was useless, we’re not united anymore,” mentioned Mezahi. “The Olympics, Algeria’s run within the 2014 World Cup, and particularly now this, as trivial of a notion because it appears, it exists, and we’re seeing it manifest in actual time.”

The Palestinian trigger, which is central to the id of many Arabs world wide, has been omnipresent within the stadiums and on the streets throughout this match. When the Moroccan workforce posed with the unmistakable tricolor flag throughout their celebrations, the trigger – which helps Palestinian self-determination – benefited from the oxygen of a worldwide media platform.

A Monday night time stroll via Qatar’s Souq Waqif revealed soccer followers from all around the area who have been draped in each the Palestinian and Moroccan flags. CNN spoke with 15-year-old boys from Syria and Egypt, 17-year-old ladies from Sudan, a person from Algeria and one other from the occupied West Financial institution metropolis of Nablus. “All Arab international locations, from the Gulf to the ocean, are one physique,” mentioned Anwar Ramadan, who walked via the Souq with a “Free Palestine” scarf round his shoulders. He informed CNN that he wears the flag in order that the remainder of the world can see that “Palestine is current in each nook.”

Morocco's team poses with the Palestinian flag after beating Spain on December 6.

“We hope that Arab leaders might be able to uniting this area in the identical approach that the Emir of Qatar was in a position to unite all Arabs on this nation throughout the World Cup,” Ramadan mentioned.

Amro Ali, a Sociology professor on the Hassan II College Casablanca, argued that Qatar has given supporters of the Palestinian trigger an “unfiltered and unmediated” area, the place they might categorical solidarity with the plight of Palestinians in occupied territories.

In 2020, Morocco was one in all 4 Arab international locations to normalize relations with Israel, departing from a long-time regional coverage that conditioned normalization on ending the Israeli occupation of the West Financial institution and Gaza, the place Israel nonetheless maintains a blockade alongside Egypt. Sweeping shows of solidarity with Palestinians highlights the disconnect between these governments’ official positions and continued hostility in direction of Israel.

“If something, [the World Cup] has proven the stark distinction between the rulers and the dominated, between the regimes and the publics,” he mentioned. “Palestine has not been forgotten.”

Morocco’s success in 2022, and the regional pleasure which has flourished consequently, is at odds with the prevailing narrative within the buildup to this match, which targeted on human and civil rights abuses. Whereas these have been essential to spotlight, the blunt depth of the tales left many residents of Qatar, and the area extra broadly, reeling. Many in Qatar have accused the critics of racism.

Walid Regragui, Morocco head coach, is thrown in the air after the team qualified for the World Cup knockout stages by beating Canada on December 1.

After the video games through which Morocco beat Canada, Spain after which Portugal, CNN spoke with jubilant followers late into the night time. They hailed from Morocco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Orlando and London, and sometimes their ecstatic response to the end result would segue, unsolicited, into reward for the match hosts. “I feel I’m certainly in a dream,” one man mentioned, earlier than being swept away by the group, “Thanks Qatar for the good group.” One other supporter mentioned he hoped that Morocco might make the Arab area proud, earlier than including, “I need to thank Qatar for this occasion, bringing all totally different nationalities collectively, making us really feel the identical, like brothers.”

Just a few days earlier than he was filmed dancing along with his mom, midfielder Sofiane Boufal thanked his followers. “All Moroccans all around the world, all Arab folks and all Muslim folks.” However his coach has tried to reframe it as an achievement for his continent, and never for audio system of the Arabic language. “I’m not right here to be a politician,” Regragui informed Aim journal. “We need to fly Africa’s flag excessive similar to Senegal, Ghana and Cameroon. We’re right here to signify Africa.”

It will possibly really feel like there’s a sense of future to all of it. Morocco’s soccer workforce prevailed over two of their former colonizers – Spain and Portugal – and faces off with a 3rd – France – within the historic semifinal on Wednesday night time.

Morocco's Hakim Ziyech fights for the ball with Portugal's Ruben Dias during the quarterfinal that The Atlas Lions won 1-0.

Like a murals, all people can draw their very own interpretation of Morocco’s path to glory.

Sport has all the time had the facility to vary the world, however it doesn’t matter what occurs due to these 4 weeks in Qatar, the gamers, followers, and journalists masking the video games know that it doesn’t have to be amplified past the touchline to be particular.

Moroccan sports activities journalists masking the video games have mentioned that they’re making an attempt to absorb each single element, as a result of they know that in 40 years, future generations will demand a visceral replica of those historic occasions.

By then, the story might be a fable. The gamers can have turn into virtually legendary figures, and the supporting solid, particularly the ladies, might be central to it. The moms’ pleasure of The Atlas Lions won’t ever be forgotten.

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