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it is the world cup that binds us
the arab sports mentality
by reem al-omari (@Reemawi)
6.25.10
sports

There is a saying Arabs use, a proverb: “My brother and I against my cousin, and my cousin and I against the stranger.” It sounds much better in Arabic, but you get the point.

This proverb is significant at this particular moment in time, because as the World Cup is taking place in South Africa, and the United States has secured its advancement to the round of sixteen, thanks to its one-goal win against Algeria Wednesday, I feel I have to explain why I’m not jumping for joy.

It’s this Arab mentality I have, and I will explain it, and through explaining the Arab mentality, I hope to also explain why although I am an Iraqi-American, who’s been in the U.S. since the age of ten, Algeria’s loss in this particular game is more of a big deal to me than U.S.A’s win.

To make it to the World Cup, nations obviously must participate in a long qualification process. The process lasts two years and over those two years tensions can arise between countries, especially when the moment of truth arrives: I’m going to the World Cup, and you’re not. See ya’, wouldn’t wanna be ya’.

Some countries just shrug off the loss after getting over the initial depression of not being part of the party, then end up rooting for their winning neighbor—it’s just a game, after all (that’s what they tell me anyway… poor souls). Others don’t let go quite so easily.

Take for example that as I write this, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) is deciding how to punish the Egyptian Football Association for not doing what was necessary to curb violence at a World Cup qualification match, which took place in Egypt and featured the host country against Algeria. Well, Algeria won that crucial game, qualifying for the World Cup and dashing Egypt’s hopes of World Cup glory.

This upset Egyptian fans so much that they resorted to throwing glass bottles at Algerian fans, as well as at Algerian players, causing a major hullabaloo all across the Arab world.

Some Egyptians spoke out against the violence, urging all Arabs to still stand by Algeria at the World Cup. Others were vowing that if Algeria didn’t make it further than the group stage, they’d dance a very happy dance at the very least. I'm talking about the former group more than the latter, and here is where the Arab mentality kicks in.

Between ourselves, we Arabs are not just Arabs; we’re Iraqis, Algerians, Egyptians, Saudi Arabians, Syrians, etc. Each of those nationalities has an accent and/or dialect unique to itself and each has traditions of its own. Sure, we share the same basic language, societal standards and a common long and rich history, but we essentially treat each other as foreigners when it comes to us mixing.

This isn’t something our ancestors had in their DNA, mind you, but something that colonization planted in our brains and made official by drawing crooked and jagged lines on a map. Nonetheless, the generations that grew out of the years of colonization adopted this mentality and handed it down to today’s generations.

Now, put us in front of the world, and you will see a completely different picture.

Those borders, along with ideas such as Iraqi palates not being able to stand Egyptian gourmet and Egyptians believing they are not Arabs, but pharaohs—all these things disappear. We are one nation, a nation of Arabs who stand together in the face of whoever wants to stand in our faces.

And this is where the proverb I mentioned earlier fits like a glove: “My brother and I against my cousin, and my cousin and I against the stranger.”

Yes, I am an American, but I am also an Arab. Although I’m glad that “football” is gaining popularity where I live and belong, by way of advancement at the World Cup, the Arab in me is nursing the wounds of a loss and the end of a dream... alongside a big chunk of Egyptians.



ABOUT REEM AL-OMARI

Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.

more about reem al-omari

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COMMENTS

russ carr
6.25.10 @ 9:50a

Bottom line: Arab teams needed to play harder in qualifiers. Egyptian hooligans don't figure in at all; the lack of any Arab teams outside of Algeria making it to Cup play still comes down to their performance on the pitch.

I'm a fan of Ireland, but I didn't feel obligated to kick out at one of my neighbor cube-dwellers, who's a fan of France after my squaddies were kept out by Thierry Henry and his coup de main. (Of course, karma being what it is, France's public meltdown was delightful to me.)

It is just a game, even if it is the biggest game in the world. But the more nationalism supercedes play, the less it comes off as competition and the more it comes off as combat.

tajue juke
6.25.10 @ 1:15p

Am I alone in recognizing this attitude as racist?

Is this not the identical augment that has been used throughout history as justification for racism?

"Right or wrong, my DNA is where my sympathy's will always lie." This is the same logic that everyone from Hitler to to the KKK has positioned.

America was designed to be better than this and it is a sad illustration of our present state of affairs.

"My brother and I against my cousin and my cousin and I against a the stranger." bespeaks of the sad and divided nation that America has become.

[edited]

reem al-omari
6.25.10 @ 1:26p

Tajue, it's not racist, no. Sorry, but wrong door to knock. Nationalist, maybe, and everyone suffers from that all across the globe. But racist and KKK? Is the European Union racist????

tajue juke
6.25.10 @ 2:03p

Knock knock knock,

Reem, please buy a dictionary.

A "nationalist" would root for his/her country above all others. A "nationalist" puts their country to the for.

Is the European Union racist? Of course not. But any individual that would live in one country and root for another country could be a candidate for selective racism.

You live in one country and root for another. You can hardly consider yourself a "nationalist."

[edited]

reem al-omari
6.25.10 @ 3:33p

Okay, Juke. I don't really want to get into this with you, as it is clear you just joined to leave presumptuous comments that do nothing but make you sound... well... not my kind of person.

Believe what you want to believe, but know that when people become naturalized citizens in this country, this melting pot of all sorts of cultures and nationalities, the first thing they are told before they are sworn in is this: Don't ever forget your roots, or your heritage. You seem to want to deny me that right, and I haven't a clue why, and I don't care to find out why.

So, thanks for your participation, I appreciate your comments, but maybe your own article is the better place to express yourself.

[edited]



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