Flashes of Arab unity at World Cup after years of discontent
The first team matches of the football tournament have begun in two of the Arab countries where there have been long, bloody, and often violent periods of political unrest.
While the tournament, which includes matches played in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Tunisia, is held under intense security, the countries hosting the event have expressed joy at seeing the team competition take place in their countries.
For the first time in its history, the competition has been sanctioned by major world football powers and will be broadcast live in full to fans in the Middle East and the wider world.
In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is hoping to use the tournament as a platform for consolidating power in the face of growing opposition to his regime.
But opposition groups have vowed to disrupt the event, citing security concerns as well as the fact that the competition has not been sanctioned by the United Nations.
The International Olympic Committee has said that the participation of football teams in the World Cup is “against world football rules”.
The International Football Association Board, a body which governs the rules of international football, has backed the competition. “We believe that they (teams) must play in the competition,” IFA told AFP news agency in April.
Egyptian and Arab team’s matches, and those played in Tunisia and Sudan, will be broadcast live on TV across the Middle East and elsewhere.
However, while Arab nations have been keen to host the world cup, it has also come amid rising concerns over human rights abuses and a lack of democracy that has continued to cause concern in the region.
In the country that has been described as “the biggest jailer of journalists in the world” (Egypt), the government has been accused of jailing some of the country’s most popular journalists.
Human Rights Watch says that members of the country’s “most powerful political, religious, and business elite” are involved in extrajudicial killings of protesters and opposition members.
In the lead-up to the first round of matches, thousands of people took to the streets of several major cities, in opposition to the country’s President el-Sisi.
There were also scenes of anger in Sudan,