Arab fans in UAE turn out to cheer Saudi Arabia in World Cup opener

(L) Muhammad Qubbaj, a British/Jordanian expatriate, and (R) Sami Issa, a Palestinian/American, watch as the 2018 Fifa World Cup got under way on Thursday at Emirates Palace. (AN PHOTO)
Updated 14 June 2018
0

Arab fans in UAE turn out to cheer Saudi Arabia in World Cup opener

  • Record participation of four teams from this part of the world ‘makes you very proud to be Arab,’ one says
  • Emirates Palace turns its Ramadan tent into football venue

Arabs in the UAE turned out on Thursday night to cheer on Saudi Arabia in their  World Cup game against Russia following an opening ceremony at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.

“I have come here tonight because Saudi Arabia is playing and it is the World Cup opening match,” said 46-year-old Muhammad Qubbaj, as the first minutes of the match unfolded on the giant 7-by-4-meter LED screens at Abu Dhabi’s iconic Emirates Palace. The hotel transformed its Ramadan tent into a World Cup venue to host football fans across the emirate. “I am rooting for Saudi, but right now I am unsure who will win.”

The British/Jordanian expatriate, who works in private equity in the UAE, said he was “very excited” that the 2018 FIFA World Cup will witness record Arab participation, as four Arab football teams - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco - all qualified.

“I’m very excited because four Arab teams are playing this World Cup and Mohammad Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is also watching live,” he said. "It makes you very proud to be Arab. I am rooting for all four Arab teams, really.”

Also watching the game at Emirates Palace was Sami Issa, a Palestinian-American who had brought his family to the hotel’s Fan Zone to mark both the start of Eid Al-Fitr - announced midway through the game - and the first match of the 2018 Fifa World Cup tournament.

“What better place to celebrate the end of Ramadan and start of Eid?” said Issa, who works in artificial intelligence for IBM computer manufacturing. “My entire family is here, my wife, my kids. I am rooting for Saudi. I am rooting for all four Arab teams. I truly think Saudi Arabia has a great chance. We came here to watch it because Emirates Palace is meant to be the best spot in Abu Dhabi to watch the match.” 

Emirati Hazza Al Muhairy, 26, plays for Emirates Palace’s football team as a striker. He was among the crowds there cheering on the Green Falcons. “I will be supporting all four Arab teams,” he said. “After that, if they unfortunately don’t get through, then I will be cheering on Argentina!”

His friend Lucy Mila, 22, from Russia, was cheering on the opposing side. “ I am confident Russia will do well in this World Cup,” she said.

Salahedeen Issa, 17, also a Palestinian/American, was also cheering on Saudi Arabia. 

“I love football,” he said. “ I am a huge football fan. I want to catch every moment of this World Cup while I am have the summer off before university. I think Saudi does have a chance. I think it will be closer than a lot of the members of the public will think. The Saudi team is more dangerous than people realize.” 

Also soaking up the electricity of the summer tournament was Yousef Mohammed, an Emirati, who watched the game at Back Yard Bistro, in Abu Dhabi’s World Trade Centre Mall.

 “I like watching countries put aside their differences and competing in a fair sport; it brings out the best in people,” said the 32-year-old. "I was especially excited to watch the World Cup tonight because it is the first time Saudi Arabia is opening a World Cup match.” 


South Sudan government ‘had enough’ of rebel leader - spokesman

Updated 43 min 4 sec ago
0

South Sudan government ‘had enough’ of rebel leader - spokesman

  • Hopes of a breakthrough toward ending South Sudan’s civil war had been raised this week by Ethiopia’s brokering of the first face-to-face meeting between Machar and President Salva Kiir

ADDIS ABABA: South Sudan’s information minister said Friday the country’s rebel leader could not rejoin government, dealing a blow to hopes that the latest talks in Ethiopia might bring peace.
“We have had enough of Riek Machar,” said Michael Makuei, referring to the rebel chief.
“As the people of South Sudan, not the president alone, but as the people of South Sudan, we are saying enough is enough.”
Hopes of a breakthrough toward ending South Sudan’s civil war had been raised this week by Ethiopia’s brokering of the first face-to-face meeting between Machar and President Salva Kiir on Wednesday.
It was followed by a gathering of regional heads of state on Thursday.
But the South Sudan government’s position shows the personal enmity between the two men that lies at the heart of the four-year-old conflict is as strong as ever, despite the handshakes and smiles of recent days.
Makuei accused Machar of being a serial coup plotter who had no place in any transitional government.
“We don’t want him politically,” he said, adding that if Machar sought the presidency he should do so via the ballot.
“If he wants to be the president he should await elections,” Makuei said.
Machar’s SPLM-IO rebel group had also taken a hard position as the summit got underway Thursday, dismissing current peace efforts as “unrealistic.”
Despite the fighting talk Kiir and Machar are expected to meet again on Monday in Sudan where President Omar Al-Bashir has offered to host further talks.
A landlocked state with a large ethnic mix, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long and brutal war.
The event was hailed around the world and by celebrity supporters such as George Clooney.
But in 2013, Kiir accused Machar, his vice president, of plotting a coup against him, and violence erupted between the two factions, feeding on brooding ethnic tensions.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and nearly a third of the 12 million population have been driven out of their homes, and many to the brink of starvation.