With Morocco, only one Arab country is represented at the World Cup in Qatar. Otherwise, the Arab football dream is over and the host country is confronted with completely new problems: They are threatened with losing control over the power of images.
Everything passes. Everything must end. Also the dream of the Arabs, who give up almost everything within a few hours at the World Cup on Wednesday. First Tunisia flies out, then Saudi Arabia. The day before, Qatar buried its own dreams of billions in the desert sands of Al-Khor. Eliminated as worst World Cup host ever. A headline that the European section of the visiting press has long since stopped yearning for. The media center in the Bedouin tent is almost deserted, a few Dutchmen dutifully telegraph the victory home, a few Qataris are of course there.
Hardly anyone has time for the end of a story. There is always something about the short distances at this World Cup, with the perfect working conditions for the international press. It pounces on the conflict between the henchmen of the mullah regime and the protesters, which is no longer even hidden from the eyes of the world at Al Thumana. The game between the USA and Iran is the most political of this World Cup. With the exception of a few US media, hardly anyone mentions the success of the United States. Sport as a marginal aspect.
Back in 2010, organizer Qatar imagined things differently. But there is no longer any hope. They, too, have to deal with these questions again and again and answer them in their own way. One that sometimes produces questionable images that show that pleasing the world hasn't been the point for a long time and maybe never. For the emirate, this strenuous struggle for the values of different cultures called the World Cup is about securing power in the Gulf region. Many of the positions that have been so harshly criticized in the West can also be understood as a signal to the interior of the country. Qatar seems more fragile than it would like it to appear in its demonstrations of power.
Power struggles, demonstrations of power and the power of images have long been a topic in the desert state. Qatar is Al Thani and Al Thani is Qatar. This rule has applied in the desert state ever since the ruling family, the Bedouin people who immigrated to the north-west of today's territory in the mid-18th century, asserted themselves in power struggles with other tribes and brought the entire Qatari peninsula under control in the 1820s. Under British protection, the Al Thanis secured their supremacy and declared independence in 1971 in the course of decolonization.
The power of images is still at stake 50 years later. At this point, the former wasteland of sand and dust has risen to become one of the richest countries in the world, mainly due to the production and export of oil and gas - then the so-called Arab Spring breaks out in several countries in the region. But while there are open revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and serious conflicts in the Gulf state of Bahrain, the situation in Qatar remains calm. At least superficially. No pictures of demonstrating masses going around the world.
But as we all know, no pictures doesn't mean: no problems. Qatar was able to avoid riots at the time thanks to its good economic situation, but from the outside everything looks smooth. But internal political tensions have revealed certain fractures between society and the ruling family in the emirate since 2010. For powerful, traditional and conservative forces in the country, Qatar's opening to the West is going far too quickly and too far, and the then Emir, the charismatic Hamad Al Thani, had to vacate the field in 2013.
The Arab Spring may not have had a major impact in Qatar, but it shows how much the emir's ability to govern depends on the support of the population, within his own ruling families and among powerful other tribes. How fragile the regime system is at times. Therefore, important positions in the country are distributed to other powerful families and the jobs for the citizens of Qatar are very well paid. Everyone should be happy, nobody should protest against the regime.
Hamad's successor, his son Tamim Al Thani, therefore initially pursues domestic political and economic issues and satisfies the powers that be in the desert state - before, among other things, he moves further and further to the West and in relations with Iran, Israel and the Taliban in many countries turns in different directions.
Of course, the World Cup is also about the power of images. But they aren't always as slick as the creators of the West Bay, The Pearl, and Lusail swanky sets hoped, either. Nor are they as slick as the tournament's big sympathizers, the swarms of support workers with their foam gloves, megaphone loops, and their charming outbidding contests in front of Metro stations, would suggest. "Metro? This way!" is not only a hit with visitors to the tournament, but also on social media. It's not all that smooth.
In the few moments when the host has to offer a glimpse behind the ostentatious facade, because the public is lurking in front of the stadiums and the press is noting, when unwanted banners are taken down again and when TV reporters are approached again because of their nationality. Other insights are hardly possible. The encounters with the local population are mostly limited to those who came to prepare the emirate for the World Cup at all levels and to advance the Vision 2030. That's the nature of the tournament, with non-stop World Cup games that rarely allow for a break. That drowns everyone in work and collapses the half-life of stories.
The words of Salah Al-Sheri, who triggered a rush of joy in the emirate's large neighboring country with his 1-1 draw in Saudi Arabia's 2-1 draw against Lionel Messi's Argentina on November 22, have long been forgotten. "Saudi Arabia can go far, very far," announces the completely euphoric offensive man in the Lusail's mixed zone, for understandable reasons: "We won against the greatest player of all time. It's a big, big boost for us." Before everything is over, everything goes. Everything seems possible. The semifinals are within reach after one game.
Players are showered with luxury carts by the kingdom, residents are allowed to storm the country's amusement parks and get a holiday on top of that. The euphoria is also great in Doha. It's not just Qatar's World Cup, but, as the Israeli reporter Moav Vardi explains in an interview with ntv.de, the tournament for all Arabs. They carry their pride through the narrow streets of Souq Waqif, through the gorges of West Bay and across the waterfront promenades of The Pearl.
Your confidence is over the top. On the pitch where they are running to defeat against Poland and off it. Even before the game against Mexico. Saudi Arabia is the penultimate hope of the Arab world. Shortly before that, Tunisia tragically fails despite beating world champions France, but against Mexico it will be enough for Saudi Arabia. In the Lusail, the scene of the triumph against Argentina, they sing their songs, chant their battle cries and prepare for victory long before kick-off.
But then they fall silent. The Saudis throw themselves into every ball in the first half, needing a goal to go through, but when hope fades, the fans fall silent. Sometimes they still struggle, but nothing is left of the force, the euphoria and the intimidating volume of the victory against Argentina. The "Green Falcons" fall into the desert sand and can no longer pull themselves together.
This is also a problem for the host country Qatar, which was still in an open conflict with Saudi Arabia barely four years ago, but is now maintaining good relations with its big neighbor, at least at first glance. In addition to the other Arab countries in Doha, it is also the largest fan group. Whether they will come back after the end remains to be seen.
It is speculated behind closed doors that new ways are being devised to fill the gigantic megalomania not only of Qatar but also of FIFA. The concern should be great that there will be too few spectators who are still interested in the tournament for the games in the knockout phase. There should be new regulations on entry. The Hayya Card, this flash visa linked to a World Cup ticket, could enable entry without an entry ticket in just a few days.
So that something remains of the World Cup mood of unity in this region, which can hardly walk with wealth. Who is vying for recognition with events like this World Cup, hosting Formula 1 races or buying up entire European soccer clubs in Europe and who are now threatened with images that should not go around the world: images of half-empty stadiums at a soccer World Cup.