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From Morocco to Iraq, Arab fans forget supposed political divisions to enjoy a rare moment of longed-for unity

One of the greatest upsets in World Cup history has, momentarily at least, united football fans across the Middle East and North Africa.

Saudi Arabia’s shock 2-1 defeat of Argentina, and Lionel Messi, has sparked a rare moment of Arab unity, with people breezing past supposed political divisions and regional rivalries to celebrate a famous victory for the Green Falcons.

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From Morocco to Iraq, heartwarming videos show fans rejoicing in the glory of their Arab neighbors. Even Yemen’s Houthis, Riyadh’s foes, have celebrated the Saudi win.

The fans

In addition to videos of Saudi fans and commentators losing their minds at the national team’s brilliant victory, footage of people watching the game and celebrating has been posted from Aleppo in Syria, Hebron and Gaza in Palestine, CairoIraqAmmanOman and Algeria among others.

Even in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been militarily active in the war between the government and the Houthi movement since 2o15, people rejoiced.

In a clip from Qatar’s BeIN Sports, Yemeni-born commentator Hassan Aidaroos sounds on the verge of tears as the Saudis score their second goal.

“I speak from the bottom of my heart, as an Arab,” Aidaroos says excitedly, his loud voice breaking as the players wheeled away to celebrate and the Argentina manager emerges from his dugout solemn-faced.

Close by in the commentary seats, Omani national Khalil Albalushi, who works for Qatar’s Al-Kass, jumps up and down, hands on his head, as the referee blows the final whistle and the stadium erupts.

As Moroccans cheered in the streets, commentators on Radio Morocco were filmed jumping around their studio, clapping and hugging each other in disbelief.

Another video reportedly from Syria shows a room full of people celebrating as a young man fires off a barrage of celebratory bullets into the sky.

In Sudan, the footage shows a mechanic in his overalls listening intently to the match on a radio. When the final whistle goes, he clenches his fist in the air and does a quick jig, to the delight of his colleagues.

The memes

The game has, unsurprisingly, spawned memes galore.

Translation: Entire Arab world

Several have come from the highly popular Syrian TV show Bab Al-Hara.

Translation: All Arabs are with Saudi Arabia

The leaders

The Saudi victory drew congratulations from regional leaders of all stripes, too: from the United Arab EmiratesIraqEastern LibyaPakistan, the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Bahrain, where a member of the royal family congratulated Saudi Arabia with a poem.

Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, whose country was under a Saudi-led embargo for three years before it was lifted in January 2021, draped a Saudi flag over his shoulders at the game.

Iraqi Shia leader Ammar al-Hakim, who is staunchly pro-Iran, also congratulated the Saudis.

Daifallah al-Shami, a member of the Houthi political bureau and spokesperson for the information minister in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, tweeted “a thousand congratulations” to the team, adding: “This victory put Arab football back on the map.”

In another notable message, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, congratulated King Salman and the Saudi Arabian people for the kingdom’s “great victory” over Argentina.

Ties between the Palestinian movement and Saudi Arabia have been strained since Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince in 2017, and as the kingdom’s relations with Israel warmed.

Lebanese singers Wael Fkoury and Assi el-Hallani also congratulated the Saudis, as did Egyptian celebrities Mohamed Henedy and Amr Diab.

Egypt’s Rouh Alsharq choir posted a video of them singing a rousing rendition of a Saudi chant. Waving flags and jumping, arms on each other’s shoulders, they sang: “O, the Greens, may God be on your side”.

Qatar’s prospects of getting out of their group look bleak. But on Tuesday, Tunisia drew with Denmark, and on Wednesday Morocco drew with Croatia. Perhaps the Green Falcons won’t be the only team to make the Arab world proud.

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