The selection of Basra to host the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup marked a wise gesture that carries broader vision than merely a biennial football event.
Talking about Basra means talking about Iraq with its people who for decades suffered from the bitterness of war, deprivation and homelessness. Before the war, Iraq was among the best countries in education, healthcare and robust economy at a time when some Gulf countries were at the onset of their renaissance while others were lagging behind their peers in terms of development.
I was born in the early years of the Iraq-Iran War. I still remember the people’s talk about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait when I was in my early 20s and the scenes of children dying due to the famine caused by the boycott imposed on Iraq and the speeches of George W Bush and most recently the acts of Daesh. Then came the US invasion of Iraq. My point is: since I was born until the present-day I have never heard the word Iraq unless it is linked to war, famine, explosions and displacement.
On the other side, at school we studied the Iraqi civilisation that dates back more than 6,000 years, we learned about Sumer, Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian, among other civilisations. Iraq established links with the post-Islam Arab civilisations particularly the Abbasid Caliphate that made Baghdad its capital, which was the birthplace of the Arab civilisation, renaissance, philosophy, literature and sciences. The arts and sciences of the Abbasid mingled with those of the Andalusian Umayyads and before migrating to Europe.
Upon contemplating the present-day Iraq to see what was left of that rich history, I find a unique diversity. In Iraq you can find the Sunni Islam and Shiism with their many offshoots. Alongside Muslims, there are Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Baha’is and other historic tenants. This is in addition to the political and intellectual doctrines such as secularism, liberalism, realism, modernism, Ba’athism, Quranism, Muslim brotherhood, among others. For all that I love Iraq even though I have not visited it yet. My love for Iraq is not stemming from a football tournament but it has something to do with its history, civilisation and diversification.
When Pope Francis visited Iraq on March 5, 2021 he was received with genuine Iraqi arts and folklore and the doves of peace. That visit revived hopes of peace that would end the nation’s suffering and restore the voice of reason to replace the voice of war and destruction.
The opening ceremony of the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup at the Palm Trunk Stadium in the city of Basra on January 6 was an amazing event that summed up a long history of successive civilisations. It began with arts, the essence of beauty, to divert our thoughts to the language of beauty instead of the language of strive and hatred.
The selection of Basra for hosting the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup was a challenge in itself especially at this tough time. However, the Iraqi government and people and the organisers of the event, sent a message to their Arab brothers saying that they are alive and need their brothers in the revival and reconstruction.
In a nutshell, the tournament was associated with some negatives in terms of management and organisation but that is normal because the Iraqi fans who adore football have been deprived of such an event for forty years. However, the tournament saw fierce competition especially in the final match between the Sultanate of Oman and Iraq who played beautiful football.
The championship managed to convey messages of love and hope that the politicians, philosophers and religious leaders could not do.
I yearn to see the day when the Arab nation has got rid of war, hatred, poverty and disintegration and to live in a world where construction rules over destruction, unity overtakes disunity and love defeats hatred, a world where knowledge prevails instead of ignorance and justice instead of injustice. I might not live to see that day but our grandchildren may see it, so let us contribute to building a brighter future for them and perhaps the post-Arabian Gulf Cup would open new horizons if we construed its message rightly.