DOHA, Qatar — Established over a century ago, Doha’s Souq Waqif market is now heaving with a wide range of nationalities as fans flock to the Qatari capital for the World Cup group stage.
Given that this is the first World Cup in the Middle East, it comes as no surprise that a disproportionate number of visitors, often easily identified by the national flags draped over their shoulders, are from the Muslim world.
And while many of them chose not to talk to a reporter who introduced himself as working for The Times of Israel, that was not the universal reaction.
Khalid, from eastern Saudi Arabia, came to Doha to support his team, which will face the might of Lionel Messi and Argentina on Tuesday.
“It’s an honor that we have this event in the Gulf. We are proud of what Qatar has done. We hope it will soon come to Saudi in 2030, hopefully,” Khalid said, referring to Saudi Arabia’s joint bid to host the 2030 edition alongside Greece and Egypt.
Unlike most fans strolling in Souq Waqif, Khalid was unfazed by speaking to Israeli media, something which remains a taboo for citizens of many Arab countries.
“For me, relations with Israel are a good thing. In the end, we need peace around the world. We need a way of communication rather than distance and anger,” he said.
“We will have many issues in the future that we don’t yet know of, but in the end we need peace. Enjoy football, enjoy the World Cup, and enjoy tourism around the world,” he urged.
As for the enormous cost that went into building this World Cup, a reported $220 billion, Khalid acknowledged that “a lot of money was put into this achievement, but at the end of the day it’s a World Cup and everyone has to have a piece of it. So let’s just enjoy it and leave the negative aside.”
Asked how a potential peace deal between Riyadh and Jerusalem might affect Palestinians, Khalid began to answer: “I see that Palestinians already have peace with Israel,” before stopping himself and conceding that “it’s too complicated for me to speak on behalf of Palestinians.”
“But on behalf of Arabs and Saudis, we just have to enjoy the relationship with all the world and enjoy peace. That’s it. It’s good to have relations with any country.”
Amin, from the city of Oujda near Morocco’s border with Algeria, said that over the past two years, since his country joined the Abraham Accords, he has met many Israeli tourists in his hometown.
“I know Israeli people, we don’t have problems with them,” he said.
In a report on Channel 12 on Sunday night, Lebanese soccer fans turned angrily away from reporter Ohad Hemo when he told them he was Israeli, with one of them firing off that “Israel does not exist” as he bolted.
I didn’t encounter that kind of hostility from those who declined to speak; they just kept walking. The exceptions, who did agree to interact, were from countries with which Israel has ties, like Amin, or those where at least the notion of a formal relationship is up for discussion, like Khalid.
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