The joy of the Arab people on the Qatari team making history and winning the AFC Asian Cup for the first time ever was unprecedented.
Footage showed people celebrating Qatar's win in Amman, Baghdad, Khartoum, Algiers, Muscat and most specifically, in the blockaded Gaza Strip, where people took to the streets with sweets as a way to express their pleasure over the Qatari achievement. The outpouring of joy was also noticed widely on social media platforms with hundreds of thousands of tweets and shares by Arab youth rejoicing the Qatari triumph. On social media, it was highly agreed that what happened was not just a Qatari win, but an achievement for the whole Arab world.This sporting achievement was not the only aspect behind the pleasure shown by people, there have been many political reasons behind the support for Qatar in Arab communities in the last few years. These reasons include Doha's pro-Arab Spring policies since 2011, the relief projects Qatar has spearheaded in the blockaded Gaza Strip and support toward Syrian refugees.
Furthermore, Arab public opinion has rejected the unjust blockade imposed over Qatar by the Saudi-led bloc in the summer of 2017.
Finally the Qatari domestic policy of creating a well-thought out sports plan, particularly for football, a decade in the making – has finally shown its success.
Since the early months of the Arab Spring, Doha has been embracing some pro-Arab Spring policies, shown through the great coverage of the Al-Jazeera media platform.
Hence, Al-Jazeera was a key fact or in raising the Arab peoples' awareness in the principles of freedom and dignity, it also gave space for opposition figures to express their views at a time when their own governments were quashing them. The Qatari adoption for the Arab Spring was not limited to media support, but was also noticed via the billions of dollars Doha gave to Arab Spring countries like Egypt and Tunisia, to help the two countries overcome difficult transition stages.
Qatari humanitarian support and the help it extended for the blockaded Gaza Strip and Syrian refugees contributed widely to improve its image among the Arab people. Since the Israeli siege imposed over the Gaza Strip in 2006, Qatar has spent more than a billion dollars in the form of humanitarian aid and reconstruction projects. Qatari soft diplomacy in the region was highly active in the Gaza Strip.
Qatari humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees was also extremely generous since the beginning of the crisis in 2011. Official figures showed that roughly $2.5 billion were allocated by Qatar to relief agencies in charge of helping Syrian people.
The Gulf crisis that erupted in the summer of 2017 was another factor behind the popularity Doha gained in the Arab region in the last two years. Arab public opinion rejected the embargo the Saudi-bloc imposed over Qatar, as it was not only inhumane, but also immoral and inconvenient with the Islamic ethics of so-called Arab culture.
The details of the siege were extremely offensive, to the point where Qatari shepherds were deprived from entering Saudi territories with dozens of camels, who died of thirst in the desert as a result.
Another reason, perhaps the most important one behind the Arab peoples' sympathy and respect for Qatar was Doha's 10-year plan of achieving something big in the Asian Cup and the upcoming FIFA World Cup in 2022, which the country will host.
Many of the Qatari players who were part of the Asian Cup winning team are members of the Doha-based ASPIRE academy which was established in 2004 with the view to develop the sport sector in the country, especially, in football. Winning the AFC Asia Cup after 15 years of planning and training has been seen as an effective example of "planning works" which is, to a big extent, inspiring for Arab youth who felt may have felt disappointed after their unfinished revolutions.
* Ph.D. student at Yıldırım Beyazıt University's Department of International Relations
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