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Arab rivalries set aside for Morocco's World Cup run

In Doha's Souq Waqif, Arab fans display Morocco's flag
— Doha (AFP)

The T-shirt on sale at Doha's main market declares "Our blood is Arab", and that is the mood buoying Morocco as it prepares to become on Saturday the first Arab nation to play a World Cup quarter-final.

Regional rivalries are being forgotten. Morocco's red flag with a green star is becoming a best-seller seen across Doha ahead of their clash with Portugal.

The flag -- along with those of Qatar, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia -- features on the "Our blood is Arab" T-shirt selling at Doha's Souq Waqif market.

Organisers of the first World Cup in the Middle East have long portrayed the tournament as a chance to build up Arab fervour.

Omar Babiker, an Algerian, is dreaming of Morocco reaching the last four even though his country has strained ties with its neighbour.

After decades of mistrust over the disputed Western Sahara territory, Algeria severed diplomatic relations in 2021 over "hostile actions".

But Oran businessman Babiker, who is in Doha with his son, echoed the feelings of many Arabs when he told AFP: "Politics is for politicians.

Celebrations in the Libyan capital Tripoli reflected joy across the Arab world after Morocco reached the quarter-finals

"I am with Morocco. Morocco is like Algeria. I hope they go a long way."

Morocco's run has inspired similar joy across the Arab world. Many leaders sent messages of congratulations to the team after they beat Spain on Tuesday.

Libyans set off fireworks in Tripoli despite their country's conflict and economic crisis.

In war-ravaged Syria, Mustafa Yassin, a dentist in the city of Idlib, honoured a Facebook pledge to treat 20 people for free if Morocco reached the quarter-finals.

Lebanon's French-language L'Orient-Le Jour newspaper put the team on its front page, proclaiming: "Pride of the Arabs".

- 'Arab dream' -

Moroccan student Osama al-Qabbani, 26, had been feeling far from home in Doha. But he said: "The huge number of Arabs who support Morocco makes me feel like I'm in Casablanca or Rabat."

Egyptian teenager Mohi Khaled wrapped himself in a Moroccan flag bought for 25 riyals ($6.80) as he joined the intense hunt for a ticket to Saturday's game.

"Morocco represents a beautiful Arab dream that makes us all happy," he said.

After defeating Spain on penalties to seal their entry into the quarter-finals, Morocco's players have been praised on social media for celebrating with the Palestinian flag, another feature of festivities in Souq Waqif's cafes.

A member of Morocco's team holds a Palestinian flag after the team beat Spain

Qatar, backing Palestinian claims to statehood, has refused to follow Gulf neighbours the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain by normalising ties with Israel.

In December 2020 Morocco also recognised Israel, though that hasn't dented the pan-Arab sentiment supporting the team.

Arab pride did suffer at seeing hosts Qatar fall in the first round without a point from three games. Saudi Arabia beat Argentina, however, and Tunisia defeated France.

Pan-Arab celebrations have been prominent during the tournament. Despite Saudi Arabia's role in a Gulf blockade of Qatar from 2017 to 2021, Qatar's emir and Saudi's de facto ruler draped themselves in each other's colours at the tournament.

Many Qataris have adopted the Moroccan and Palestinian flags for the World Cup. Qatar fan Mohammed Fakhro, 52, said Morocco had "made up" for his team's early exit.

Former Moroccan international Talal al-Karkouri said the public support has played a decisive role in Morocco's results.

"The massive presence of the fans affected the opponent and pushed the players to get results," he told AFP.

In a taste of what may greet Portugal on Saturday, two Portuguese fans were faced with chants of "Dima (always) Morocco, Fifa (Long live) Morocco" as they walked through waves of Moroccan red shirts at Souq Waqif.

The quarter-final would be like "playing Morocco on their home ground", said Portuguese fan Fernando Lobo, 56.

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