Strictly watching the players. In black trousers and green shirts or white shirts, they silently pull their trolleys through the Doha airport. He was cordoned off for her. The team bus of the national football team of Saudi Arabia is waiting at the exit. Someone holds up a red and white "Welcome to Qatar" sign. The players get in. Departure with escort.
It is actually a scene like every time a team arrives at the venue of a football tournament. But this one is special. Because it is the arrival of Saudi Arabia to the Arabian Gulf Cup in Doha, Qatar, which can be seen in a video. Both neighboring countries have been enemies for years. There is still a blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. But now it seems easy to solve - and the first signs are visible in football.
Is it a diplomatic coup?
The Doha Golf Cup starts on Tuesday evening with the game Qatar against Iraq (17.30 clock). Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain had canceled their participation at the end of October. Two years ago, the tournament had to be relocated from there to Kuwait because of a boycott of Qatar.
Karim Sahib / AFP
But in early November, the blockade states suddenly agreed. The backgrounds remained unclear. The Arabian Gulf Cup Football Federation (AGCFF) said they "welcome the federation's response," saying it was "a last-ditch attempt to reunite the brothers under the umbrella of the tournament." Qatar's Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said there were "talks about the ongoing Gulf dispute." There is an American effort that welcomes Qatar to preserve the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council and return to what it once was. , he said. Read how the sport has become a substitute playing field for Qatar
In 2017, an alliance of Gulf States and Egypt imposed a blockade on Qatar. All diplomatic relations with the emirate were broken off and the borders closed. This was mainly due to the support of terrorism in the region by the Al-Thani family. Qatar's ruling house maintains good relations with the Muslim Brothers. Other radical groups should also support them, that was the accusation. The boycott was meant to isolate Qatar and eventually bring it to its knees economically. But that did not succeed. A list of demands - including the closure of the news channel Al-Jazeera - Qatar has not met.
Now Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have traveled to the Golf Cup. Is this the end of the blockade?
The aggravation of the Iran crisis plays a role
"This is more than symbolic politics, it is the first sign of rapprochement, and in fact Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain are breaking their own blockade against Qatar," says Stephan Roll, expert on the Gulf region of the Science and Politics Foundation ( SWP) the SPIEGEL. "How sustainable that is, but you still have to wait."
Roll reports that there are negotiations in the background between the conflicting parties led by Kuwait. And he points out that the political climate in the region has changed radically with the intensification of the Iran crisis. "The game changer was the attack on the Saudi oil refinery in Abkaik in September, which was allegedly emanating from Iran, which clearly showed Riyadh the failure of their own regional policy, and could also do so with regard to dealing with Qatar Rethinking, "says Roll. The unity in the Arabian Peninsula is now more important than before.
Roslan Rahman / AFP
In January, Qatar won the title at the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates
The blockade states are now at least ready to travel to Qatar for a tournament. And it is expected that they will receive more friendly there than Qatar in January at the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
At that time still locals and Saudis sang together against Qatar. Who cheered for Qatar, the imminent prison sentences. When the blocked guest then won the semi-final against the UAE, shoes flew to the players - a sign of greater aversion is barely in the Arab world. Qatar also won the final. It was the first major title for the emirate - and politically a disaster for the blockade states.
Football also has a domestic impact
It is uncertain if fans will be arriving from outside to Qatar for the Golf Cup. At the airport the motto is "Everyone is welcome to Doha". But there are no direct flights since the blockade. The neighbors only the detour over other states remains.
Interest in such tournaments is quite there. "Football is by far the most popular sport in the region," Danyel Reiche told SPIEGEL. The political scientist in Lebanon teaches among others the relationship between sport, politics and society. The region is his specialty. Rich believes that the motivation of the blockade states to take part in the Golf Cup at the moment could also be of strategic strategic nature.
KArim Sahib / AFP
Qatar midfielder Karim Boudiaf during the Asian Cup in Qatar: For the World Cup 2022, the country is automatically qualified as host.
Qatar is automatically qualified as host for the World Cup 2022. But also Saudi Arabia and the UAE want to go to the tournament. "If these countries qualify, the leaders will not be able to sell their populations for political reasons," says Reiche. For domestic politics, it is too important for the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for example, to keep the young population in a good mood. Football is a tried and tested remedy. But he sees no serious signs for a real political approach, so rich.
Stephan Roll, the golf expert, sees things differently. And he believes that sport could certainly play a role in the parties' convergence in the Qatar crisis. But that the conflict will ever completely dissolve, whether through sport as diplomacy or through real political decisions, Roll does not believe. "Too much porcelain has been smashed for that."
In any case, on Monday, the schedule of the Golf Cup provides a delicate heading: then Qatar and the UAE meet. Only in the semifinals, it could then come to the meeting with Saudi Arabia.