Despite a relatively large showing at the World Cup, with a record 4 Arab teams participating, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia have all failed to make it past the group stage.
Even regional Iran, stumbled.
Reactions in the region were… troublesome, to say the least.
Tragic turn of events
The Saudi vs. Egypt match was a losing deal for both parties involved. Both teams had already been counted out for the next round, and they were playing to preserve their dignity, if nothing else.
Staunch supporters had other ideas.
When Saudi scored the winning goal in stoppage time, Egyptian commentator and former Zamalek coach Abdel Rahim Mohamed suffered a heart attack and later died following his game commentary, according to Egyptian media.
Tensions are high even when no Arab team is playing, as was the case In Lebanon, when following Germany’s elimination at the hands of South Korea, and later Brazil’s qualification to the second round, Lebanese daily Al Mustaqbal reported that a fight broke out between a Brazilian and German fan, resulting in the death of the Brazil supporter.
“Football Isn't For Arabs”: An acronym for FIFA
Many Arab fans took to social media to comment on the crushing loss of the Arab teams.
A popular catchphrase circulating online in light of this defeat is “FIFA: Football Isn't For Arabs”, as regional fans reveal what they consider to be the true meaning behind the FIFA acronym.
"Arab countries always differ in everything but agree to leave the World Cup together,” another user quipped.
Others showed a lack of patriotic spirit, and echoed a very troubling mentality the Arab culture propagates: "Arab teams were years behind Europe and Latin America".
This mentality, as highlighted by an Egyptian Reddit user, is endemic in the region. This mentality is that of defeatism and inferiority.
“When (Mohamed) Salah was in Egypt, he was constantly reminded that ‘European players’ will always be better than him or any other Egyptian counterpart, that there’re levels he can’t simply reach, that the highest objective he could achieve was to play for Ahly or Zamalek, Egypt’s biggest clubs,” user Ismaily explains.
Many Arab fans carried this mentality pre, during and post the Arab teams’ matches.
"We (Arabs) have to be honest, we don't deserve to play in big tournaments,” one user tweeted.
Why so serious?
Not all fans’ reactions have been this negative, as others praised the 4 teams for making it through to the World Cup. To them, that alone was a triumph, particularly for Egypt, who made their first World Cup appearance in 28 years.
Others were eager to remind fans of the significance of Salah to his country, as well as his international fame and success as an Arab Muslim man.
Some users sought to remind others of the significance of the number of participating Arab teams, and that slowly but surely they were making an improvement.
Others placed the blame not on the teams themselves, but on the suspicious bias in VAR (virtual assistant referee) use. They believe there has been foul play involved, with VAR used in support of the bigger teams. While there is no concrete proof of this at the moment, the sentiment is shared by many fans online.
The more hopeful of the bunch are holding out hope for an improved Arab performance on home turf, as Qatar hosts the 2022 World Cup, even though the country is at (legal) odds with its UAE and Saudi neighbors, after accusations of supporting terror activities, a charge that Qatar denies.