The long wait for 2022

In Qatar, the excitement for for a day more than a decade away in infectious.

“Alf Mabrouk, my son!” came the warm and joyful voice of my mother on the line from a rural village in southern Mauritania.

“For what?” I asked.

“Qatar won the World Cup! We have watched the celebrations on TV. And we saw the Emir of Qatar holding the World Cup. Mabrouk for Qatar!”

“Well, it’s not QUITE so. But yes, you’re right. You would think that they actually DID win the World Cup.”

“What?” my mother – who watches TV mainly in the hope of seeing me on it and not in order to follow the latest news – asked worriedly. “I have seen it myself. It was handed to the Emir himself.”

“Mom, the fact of the matter is that Qatar won the bid to host the World Cup games in 12 years from now.”

“12 years?” came the now sad voice of my mother. She is 70-years-old.

I felt guilty. Tears almost surged into my eyes.

Why have I gone into those details with her? 12 years! Who can guarantee to be alive in 12 years?

The existential question haunted me on Thursday night as I drove my car by the Doha seafront and saw the popular euphoria following the announcement that Qatar won the bid.

The sight of that amazing mixture of young and old men and women celebrating an event that will not come for more than a decade was quite extraordinary.

How many of these jubilant souls will be around in 2022?

Am I going to be alive myself by then?

Even though 12 years does not seem a dramatically long period of time in the lifetime of a man, I have frighteningly seen what they can do to human life.

A young man in his mid-thirties will turn almost 50. His black hair will turn grey or nearly so. A man of 48 will turn 60, a man of 65 will turn 78 if he remains alive. A newly-wed couple in their early thirties will cross the threshold of middle age, send their children to high school or even divorce.

Every 10 years death sweeps thousands under the surface of the earth in a single city. In less than a decade I counted more than 20 men and women in my small rural village who were stolen by death. They all died of old age. We’re not speaking of wars and natural disasters and traffic accidents.

What a bold dash into the future!

Yes, it’s all about the future. I have seen it in the starry eyes and moonlike faces of those children on the Doha seafront highway on Thursday night.

The fathers and mothers made sure to take all the children with them to the celebration rally. The dance of generations!

Those 12 years – annoying to us – are just enough for a six-year-old child to turn 18, for an eight-year-old to turn 20. The party is theirs, now and in 12 years time.

The superb bridges, the state of the art stadiums and highways and metro service networks, the economic prosperity, the political clout, the spirit of peace among nations, the cultural and historic legacy, they will inherit all of that and more.

And even for a man already on the wrong side of 40 like me, it’s not absolutely catastrophic to wait for 12 years. Health conditions have improved by leaps and bounds in the last century. Exercise and also written destiny!

Maybe Ill live on to see the first World Cup event on Muslim soil, on Arab land. And I sincerely hope my Mom will, as well.

But how did Qatar and only Qatar do it?

There’s nothing ordinary about this victory: tiny Middle Eastern Qatar facing the American behemoth, and beating it.

Even President Obama almost lost his diplomatic temper. And this despite the fact that Qatar is the closest ally to the US in this troubled region. Not only that Qatar is almost occupied by US armies.

But look! Here’s the thing: it’s all about character.

I was telling my brother this morning how I believe that if it were Egypt for instance or Saudi Arabia that “found itself” going to Zurich for this bid, maybe Mubarak or King Abdullah would have panicked and decided to withdraw their bid in fear of the wrath or even just the “discomfort” of their American protectors.

And in a few years WikiLeaks would have come out with a cable from the US embassy in Cairo or Riyadh on how Mubarak or Kind Abdullah confided to them that he did it in order to save America’s face in front of the world and not cause embarrassment to them.

Qatar is a friend of the US but a friend that seems to be aware of its own merits. That’s what makes the difference.

This is a country that generously gives in terms of its friendship with other nations. But it seems to know how to ask for what it thinks it deserves – in a sporting spirit!

It’s also about imaginativeness. I won’t forget these words by a Mauritanian friend of mine in New York some six years ago:

“Al Jazeera” he said “is probably the first and the only achievement so far that shows Arabs can invent something good and efficient”.

He’s talking about the modern times of course.

And in the case of the World Cup, I think that as an Arab I am beholden to say this: what Qatar has achieved is good for all of us. It will trickle down in one good way or another to you and me and everyone in the Middle East. It doesn’t matter whether or not Qatar itself has intended it to be like that. But by empowering itself it has empowered Arabs. By acquiring a voice and a stand among nations it has given them one.

In 2022 my little daughter Huda will turn 16. I just can’t believe it!

How far away but also how close by it feels.

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