Football World Cup matches in Qatar find Arab diaspora in Latin America torn by split loyalties

Special Football World Cup matches in Qatar find Arab diaspora in Latin America torn by split loyalties
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Updated 04 December 2022

Football World Cup matches in Qatar find Arab diaspora in Latin America torn by split loyalties

Football World Cup matches in Qatar find Arab diaspora in Latin America torn by split loyalties
  • Descendants of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese immigrants look with pride at the national squads of the Arab world
  • Although many support their home side, fans have keenly followed matches of Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco and Qatar

SAO PAULO: The World Cup is a big deal in Latin America, with cities across Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and elsewhere brought to a standstill whenever their respective national teams are on the pitch. But for one segment of society in particular, the 2022 tournament hosted by Qatar is particularly significant.

Arab Latin Americans are thought to number about 23 million people. There are large communities in Brazil and Argentina, and significant populations in Mexico, Chile, Venezuela and Colombia, made up of descendants of Arab emigrants who came over from the Middle East and North Africa, voluntarily or as refugees. And, like everybody else in these countries, Arabs love football.

The fact the 2022 World Cup is taking place in an Arab country for the first time provides an even greater incentive for the Arab diaspora in Latin America to tune in from distant time zones. The only question is whether to support the Arab side that reflects their ethnic origins, or the teams of their adopted countries.

Qatar’s hosting of the competition “certainly generates sympathy among Arab communities; people have been waiting for that World Cup for a long time,” Agustin Dib, director of the Arab Culture Club in Buenos Aires, told Arab News.

According to him, however, most Arab Latin Americans tend to root for the team that represents their adopted home.

“In Argentina, the first Lebanese and Syrian immigrants began to arrive at the end of the 19th century,” said Dib. “The same happened in Brazil. So, we are fully Argentinian, Brazilian, and so on — and love our national teams.”

At the same time, though, Arab Latin Americans watch with pride national squads from the Arab world and eagerly follow the fortunes of the likes of Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Qatar. The Saudi team’s historic 2-1 victory against Argentina in their opening match in Qatar no doubt captured the imagination of many.

There are large Arab communities in the border zones between Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. In these areas, a World Cup campaign can temporarily divide Arab groups.




Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates with Saudi Arabia's forward #09 Firas Al-Buraikan after scoring his team's first goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group C football match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium. (AFP)

This is certainly the case in the bisected Brazilian city of Chui and its Uruguayan counterpart, Chuy, where several thousand Palestinians have settled. Most of the time, this community pays little heed to the geographical boundary separating them. But a World Cup can change this.

“In general, we cheer for both Uruguay and Brazil,” Jaber Nassar, a 43-year-old shop owner who lives on the Brazilian side of the city, told Arab News. “But if there is a match between both teams, each side will root for its national squad.”

The rest of the time, though, there has traditionally been a historic bond between both communities when it comes to football. In 1987, they founded the Central Palestino Futbol Club. Active for a little more than a decade before folding as a result of lack of funds, Central Palestino was part of the Uruguayan league and made waves in the 1990s when it reached the finals of a national championship.

“I used to see many matches with my mother when I was a boy. Central Palestino was a local champion and we would travel throughout Uruguay to see them play,” said Nassar, whose brother-in-law was part of the squad for several years.

The Palestinian community routinely turns out in force to watch as many matches as possible during a World Cup, said Nassar. A few of his friends even traveled to Qatar for the tournament.

“Of course, we will focus on the Arab teams,” he added.

Nassar said the Palestinians love of South American football is not only a byproduct of immigration. Even in Palestine, he said, many people cheer for Brazil during international tournaments.

FASTFACTS

* The Arab diaspora in Central and South America is thought to number about 23 million people.

* The biggest Arab communities are in Brazil and Argentina, followed by Mexico, Chile, Venezuela and Colombia.

According to Dib, this is common in many Arab nations and reflects a recognition of, and appreciation for, the prowess of top South American players.

“In countries like Syria and Lebanon, people love Argentinian and Brazilian football,” he said. “I lived for a few months in Tunisia and people would always ask me about Maradona and Messi.”

Zuka Khouri, who left Syria as a refugee and settled in the Brazilian city of Curitiba nine years ago, said her family cheers for the Brazilian national team during every World Cup.

“We also liked to see Italy play,” she told Arab News. “This year Italy is not in the competition so we are rooting for Brazil.”

Anas Obaid, a 34-year-old Syrian refugee, was captured and held hostage by an armed group in Syria until his family paid a ransom. After his release, he fled to Lebanon where he worked in a refugee camp in Zahle. He has lived in Brazil since 2015 and is now a journalist and human rights activist. He loves football and said he used to cheer for Argentina when he was a child.

“I was there during the 2014 World Cup, which took place in Brazil,” Obaid told Arab News. “I rooted for Germany, because the country was welcoming many Syrian refugees. But some in the camp rooted for Brazil.”

Since arriving in Sao Paulo, he said has become an ardent supporter of the Brazilian national team. “Brazilians have a passion for football and it is an honor to root for their squad,” he said.

Although football is unequivocally a national obsession in Brazil, and the World Cup a major event for the people there, the number of Brazilian fans who bought tickets for matches in Qatar, 39,546, is significantly lower than the numbers of Argentines (61,083) and Mexicans (91,173).

Mexico regularly sends a large contingent of fans to World Cups. Most Arab Mexicans are of Lebanese origin, according to Hector Chamlati, a member of the consulting board of Centro Libanes, a community association in Mexico City. The number of Lebanese Mexicans is estimated at about 500,000, most of whom are Christians.




FIFA President Gianni Infantino gives thumbs-up during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match between Brazil and Switzerland at Stadium 974 in Doha. (AFP)

“We have a very strong connection with the Mexican national team,” Chamlati told Arab News. “But it pleases many of us to see Arab teams play. I was glad to see that Tunisia managed to draw with Denmark (on Nov. 22).”

The grandson of Lebanese immigrants, he said the Mexican community feels an intense connection to Lebanon and if the country’s national team was competing in Qatar, many of them would certainly root for them.

“But I think it is special to see the potential success of any Arab squad,” he added.

Jose Alejandro Serio Haddad, a 25-year old Lebanese Mexican, traveled to Qatar with his friends to watch Mexico play. It was his first visit to an Arab country and proved to be something of a culture shock.

“I think Qatari and Lebanese culture are very different,” he told Arab News. “Besides, the number of Arabs here is not very high. Most of the time we meet with South Asians. We feel like foreigners all the time.”

Serio Haddad was not confident about the chances of any Arab teams progressing from the group phase to the final stages of the tournament “but we certainly feel more empathy with them than with Latin American teams, like Argentina, for instance.”

As for the fact that the World Cup is being hosted by a Muslim country for the first time, Obaid said that this was certainly noteworthy but he was unhappy with the amount of criticism that has been leveled against Qatar.

“I am concerned by the international community’s reaction,” he said. “It can be a way of fighting prejudices over Muslims and Arabs. But at the same time people are paying much more attention to Qatar’s social contradictions than they did when the (competition) happened in non-Muslim countries.”

Dib said he has been organizing talks to discuss the common distortions in the way Western countries perceive the World Cup in Qatar.

“Since the first World Cup, in Uruguay in 1930, there have been corruption scandals, for instance,” he said. “But the media now focuses almost exclusively on Qatar’s problems. It is a matter of prejudice.”

In any other context, Dib said, the global press would have talked about the construction marvels achieved by the hosting country “but given that it is an Arab nation, it only talks about the deaths that occurred during construction.”

He added: “I am not saying those problems are not important but the exclusive focus on them is a problem. It has to do with Orientalism as defined by Edward Said.”

In his 1978 book, “Orientalism,” Said established the term as a critical concept to describe the often contemptuous Western depiction of the East.

Dib said that many Arab Latin Americans are not comfortable with what many perceive as biased coverage of Qatar — which has been echoed in the Latin American media as well — because they feel that “there is an ongoing attack on Arab culture as a whole.”


Turkiye’s President Erdogan says Western missions will ‘pay’ for closures

A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
Updated 06 February 2023

Turkiye’s President Erdogan says Western missions will ‘pay’ for closures

A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
  • Turkiye suspended negotiations for Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession last month following a protest in Stockholm during which a copy of the Qur'an was burned

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Western missions would “pay” for issuing security warnings and temporarily closing consulates in Turkiye last week, while police said there was no serious threat to foreigners after detaining 15 Daesh suspects on Sunday.
Ankara summoned the ambassadors of nine countries on Thursday to criticize their decisions to temporarily shut diplomatic missions and issue security alerts. Turkish officials said the following day that Western nations, including the United States and Germany, had not shared information to back up their claims of a security threat.
“The other day our foreign ministry summoned all of them and gave the necessary ultimatum, told them ‘You will pay for this heavily if you keep this up,’” Erdogan said during a meeting with youth that was pre-recorded and broadcast on Sunday.
Alongside the closures, several Western states warned citizens of a heightened risk of attacks to diplomatic missions and non-Muslim places of worship in Turkiye, following a series of far-right protests in Europe in recent weeks that included several incidents of burning copies of the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an.
Turkiye suspended negotiations for Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession last month following a protest in Stockholm during which a copy of the Qur'an was burned.
Erdogan said that the Western states were “playing for (more) time” and that the “necessary decisions” would be taken during Monday’s cabinet meeting, without elaborating.
’NO CONCRETE THREATS’
Earlier on Sunday, police said they had not found evidence of any concrete threat to foreigners in the detentions of 15 Daesh suspects accused of targeting consulates and non-Muslim houses of worship, state media reported.
Anadolu Agency cited an Istanbul police statement saying the suspects had “received instructions for acts targeting consulates of Sweden and the Netherlands, as well as Christian and Jewish places of worship.”
While the suspects’ ties to the jihadist group were confirmed, no concrete threats toward foreigners were found, the statement said.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu repeated on Saturday Turkiye’s frustration with what it says is Sweden’s inaction toward entities that Ankara accuses of terrorist activity. All 30 NATO members must ratify newcomers.
Turkiye, Sweden and Finland signed an agreement in June aimed at overcoming Ankara’s objections to their NATO bids, with the Nordic states pledging to take a harder line primarily against local members of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.
 

 


Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide
Updated 05 February 2023

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide
  • Calls grow for deeper investigation into motivations and protection of youngsters amid shock and despair

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Security services of the southern Yemeni city of Taiz said that two children committed suicide in two separate events on Saturday, leaving the beleaguered population in shock and despair.

Police in Taiz said in a statement that they were notified of two suicide victims in the city on Saturday evening, citing the deaths as “dangerous precedents.”

Police named the first child as 12-year-old Kareem Abdul Kareem from the Al-Jamhuria neighborhood, who hanged himself inside his room on Saturday afternoon by tying a scarf around his neck.

Ammar Khaled, a 16-year-old who committed suicide on Saturday evening by wrapping a rope around his neck and tying it to a door outside his family’s home, is the second victim. 

After forensic investigators gathered photographs and evidence, his family requested his burial on the same day. 

Police in Taiz pledged to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the victims and have asked the community and professionals for assistance in determining the reasons behind the suicides.

In a statement, police urged both authorities and members of the public “to collaborate…in order to provide the appropriate answers.”

Mohammed Alawi, an investigator with police in Taiz, told Arab News that a team, including social and psychiatric professionals, was looking into the cases and would release their findings this week.

Initially, Alawi ruled out the possibility of cyberbullying or even sexual harassment and attributed the deaths of the two children to the mobile game PUBG. 

“These are risky games, and we advise parents to monitor their children’s mobile devices to see what they are seeing or playing,” Alawi said.

He also touched on other instances of suicide, which he blamed on psychological suffering caused by the war.

“Women and children in Yemen, particularly in besieged Taiz, have suffered emotionally because of the war. We had never seen such crimes before the war,” he said.  

On social media, the police statement and photographs of the two deceased children have elicited condolences for the families and calls for an investigation into the motivations behind the suicides and for the protection of children.

“You should investigate with the family about the electronic games they played, such as PUBG, and whether they have Facebook or WhatsApp accounts,” said Adnan Taha on Facebook.

“All communications should be reviewed, since (the children) may be vulnerable to harassment and extortion,” Taha said.

Another social media user, Muneir Al-Qaisi, urged local security agencies not to bury the victims before autopsies are conducted to determine whether they consumed anything poisonous.

“We hope you will not hurry to bury them and (will) examine their bodies,” Al-Qaisi said. 

“It is conceivable that the parents are unaware of beverages or meals being shared among the children,” said Al-Qaisi.

Investigator Alawi responded to accusations of a hasty burial by stating that one of the boys was buried at the request of his family and only after investigators examined both the corpse and the scene.

“He was buried after forensic teams examined the scene, photographed it, and performed investigations. Additionally, his relatives requested burial from the prosecution,” Alawi said.


Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground
Updated 05 February 2023

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground
  • Rachid Karami International Fair has decayed due to conflict, poor maintenance and country’s financial crisis

TRIPOLI: Its arch is cracking and its vast pavilions lie empty, but the crumbling Rachid Karami International Fair in Lebanon’s port city Tripoli now has hope of revival, having been added to the United Nations’ list of world heritage sites in danger.
Designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1962, the collection of structures on the 70-hectare plot is considered one of the key works of 20th century modernism in the Middle East.
But the fair park has slowly decayed due to repeated rounds of fighting over the last 60 years, poor maintenance and most recently Lebanon’s crippling, three-year-old financial crisis.
“It was placed on the World Heritage List exceptionally, quickly and urgently – and on the list of heritage in danger because it’s in a critical situation,” said Joseph Kreidi, UNESCO’s national program officer for culture in Beirut.
Its elegant arch is missing concrete in some parts, exposing the rebar underneath. Rainwater has pooled at the locked entrances. One section is sealed off by a sign that reads, “Unsafe building entry.”
“Placing it on the World Heritage Danger List is an appeal to all countries of the world, as if to say: this site needs some care,” said Kreidi.
He said it was up to the Lebanese authorities to draw together a plan for the site’s protection and rehabilitation but that UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, could help search for funding and provide technical expertise.
Lebanon has five other sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, most of them citadels and ancient temples.
Niemeyer is recognized as one of the fathers of modern architecture and the site in Tripoli was an early foray into the Middle East.
Construction of the fairground began in the 1960s but was delayed when civil war erupted in Lebanon in 1975. Fighters used the site to stage operations and stored weapons underneath its concrete dome.
Mira Minkara, a freelance tour guide from Tripoli and a member of the Oscar Niemeyer Foundation’s Tripoli chapter, has fond – but rare – memories of the fairground as a child.
For the most part, it was off-limits to Tripoli’s residents given safety concerns. But Minkara remembered her first visit during a festival of pan-African culture and crafts.
She hopes that UNESCO’s recognition could bring new festivals, exhibitions and economic benefits to Tripoli – already one of the poorest cities on the Mediterranean before Lebanon’s financial meltdown began.
Lebanon’s cultural heritage has been hit hard in recent years. The 2020 Beirut port blast tore through 19th-century homes in historic neighborhoods and power outages caused by the financial crisis have cut supplies to the national museum.
“We hope things change a little,” Minkara said. “It’s high time for this fairground to emerge from this long sleep, this almost-death.”


Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges
Updated 05 February 2023

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges
  • Budget for event will instead be used to fund development initiatives
  • Event was set to start later this month

CAIRO: In response to a host of global economic challenges, this year’s World Youth Forum, which was set to start later this month, has been canceled, its organizers said on Saturday.

Instead, the budget for the event, which was to be held in the Egyptian town of Sharm El-Sheikh, will be used to fund the implementation of five development initiatives aimed at young people in Egypt and beyond.

This year would have marked the fifth edition of the forum, with the fourth being held in January last year. The event is organized by the Presidential Program for Qualifying Youth for Leadership.

It said the decision to cancel this year's conference was an acknowledgment of the multiple crises facing the world that have put huge humanitarian and economic pressures on nations and governments.

Among the beneficiaries of the redirected funding is a series of international exchange programs for young people. These will be arranged in cooperation with the Decent Life Foundation, National Alliance for Civil Development Action, Arab Union for Volunteering and UN Volunteers Program.

Parliamentary Counselor Issam Hilal Afifi told Arab News that the proceeds from the sponsorship rights to this year’s forum would be redirected toward a large package of initiatives.

Dr. Muhammad Mahmoud Mahran, secretary-general of the International Committee for the Defense of Water Resources, said the move would also enable recommendations made at the previous forum to be implemented.

The planned initiatives would have a positive impact at the local, African and global level, he said.


Teachers, lawyers protest against Palestinian Authority 

Teachers, lawyers protest against Palestinian Authority 
Updated 05 February 2023

Teachers, lawyers protest against Palestinian Authority 

Teachers, lawyers protest against Palestinian Authority 
  • Palestinian sources told Arab News that a strike by doctors might follow, which will destabilize the status of the PA

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Authority is facing protests from school teachers and lawyers over a number of grievances.

Palestinian sources told Arab News that a strike by doctors might follow, which will destabilize the status of the PA.

The teachers’ movement called on parents not to send their children to schools, and on students to only attend when their demands were met.

On Sunday morning, thousands of students returned to their homes because of the strike.

Omar Muheisen, a science teacher from Al-Shafei School in Hebron, told Arab News that the rate of commitment to the strike on Sunday in the city had reached 90 percent.

“We, as teachers, are living in a difficult predicament,” he told Arab News.

“It is not our problem if the prime minister, over the course of a whole year, did not succeed in solving the problem of teachers’ salaries,” he added.

Muheisen said the salary was not enough even to meet expenses until the middle of the month with outrageous rises in prices.

He said that the strike came after authorities failed to implement any previously agreed terms, including a 15 percent bonus starting from the first month of this year, and that the strike would continue until all their demands were met.

Teacher Jamal Al-Qaddoumi said that the agreement that was reached stipulated that the salary be regularized and a teachers’ union should be set up, but neither happened.

Al-Qaddoumi added the current salary was not sufficient to meet the needs of teachers, and it was not reasonable for teachers to work throughout the month on 85 percent of their salary. Half of Al-Qaddoumi’s income goes on bank loans, and the other half on bills and obligations, he said.

The Palestinian National Initiative Movement, headed by politician Mustafa Barghouthi, demanded fairness for teachers in a statement on Sunday, calling for their demands to be met and the education system to be saved in the interests of students.

It pointed out that the education and health sectors are among the most vital sectors, adding that male and female teachers had always performed their national and professional duties, and that their role was vital for building future Palestinian generations.

It stressed the importance of reviewing the public budget and allocating larger budgets for the education, health, and social welfare sectors, as they serve the broadest groups suffering most from poverty and marginalization.

Shaker Khalil, advisor to the prime minister on economic affairs, told Arab News that the financial crisis engulfing the PA is complex, due to the decline in external support and the high percentage of Israeli occupation deductions from Palestinian funds.

Khalil indicated that foreign aid for the past year was less than $200 million, and the total deductions of the Israeli occupation from the allocations of martyrs and prisoners amounted to $584 million since 2019.

This exacerbates the government’s financial crisis and is reflected in the general budget, he added.

In a parallel development, the Palestinian Bar Association suspended work on Sunday for four days, affecting all branches of the judiciary, in opposition to the amendment of the regular courts’ fees schedule.

Lawyer Alaa Khaseeb from Ramallah told Arab News that the PA’s doubling of court fees five times will make it difficult for citizens, considering the financial crisis they are living through, to go to court to sue, instead preferring to pursue matters themselves, which will negatively affect the work of lawyers, of whom there are nearly 12,000 in the West Bank.

Khaseeb indicated that the standard case fee, which was $700, is to become $3,500, making it impossible for many citizens to pay.

Lawyer and human rights activist Amer Hamdan from Nablus told Arab News that the basis of the PA’s problem with teachers and lawyers is poor political decision making.

He alleged that the PA had raised court fees to obtain money from citizens directly, a step that will force people to tribal courts or to seek fulfilment of their rights by force.

“The PA decided to go into the pockets of citizens to solve its financial problem,” Hamdan told Arab News.

The Bar Council also pointed out that the judiciary was in crisis as a result of the policies of the executive authority and its disavowal of the requirements for judicial reforms.