22nd Jan, 2013 –

The slogan of the 2013 Arabian Gulf GCC Cup was “Our strength is in our unity”. Incidents during the two weeks of this football tournament in Bahrain proved the truth behind this slogan.

Following one match local rioters blocked the main Exhibition Road in central Manama with a pile of flaming tyres. However, long before the police were on the scene, it was Emirati football supporters heroically putting out the flames and clearing the road.

One Bahraini eyewitness told Citizens for Bahrain: “I was surprised to see our Emirati brothers leaving their cars in the middle of Exhibition Road and running to put the fire out. It felt as if they were in their own country and would not allow anything to damage Bahrain”.

Hundreds of Bahrain flag were flying from cars with Saudi, Kuwaiti, Qatari and Emirati number plates. The youth from Arabian Gulf countries saw this as a way to express their gratitude to Bahrain for hosting such an excellent event and to express their common “Khaleeji” (the Arabic word for ‘Gulf’) identity.

Celebrations from the losing side!

The final game played between the UAE and Iraq, led to the victory of the Emirati team. A few hours earlier Bahrain lost to Kuwait in a game that could have qualified it to win third place. Bahraini hopes of playing against the UAE in the finals had previously been thwarted after losing to Iraq in a tense penalty shoot-out.

Many observers expressed surprise to see Bahrainis celebrating with their Kuwaiti, Iraqi and Emirati brothers and sisters, despite their loss.

One Bahraini soccer fan told me: “It really doesn’t make a difference whether Bahrain or Kuwait won. Although I was disappointed with the result, I celebrated UAE’s victory that night feeling that we are all Khaleejis and we belong to different countries of the same entity”.

The Arabian Gulf ‘GCC’ Cup is held every two years, rotating among Gulf Cooperation Council member states, as well as two recent additions; Iraq and Yemen.

The Gulf Cup was founded at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico by the Arabian Gulf states Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar. The First Gulf Cup tournament took place in Bahrain in 1970, and was won by the Kuwaiti team. The 21st edition of the GCC Cup was held in Bahrain for the fourth time since its inauguration in 1970.

Hundreds of journalists arrived in Bahrain in early January to cover the event, which is a major news story for people in the Gulf region.

Tens of thousands of GCC nationals arrived in Bahrain for the two week tournament. More than 25,000 Saudi nationals crossed the King Fahad Causeway linking Bahrain to Saudi Arabia during the first weekend to attend matches, in addition to tens of thousands of other nationals who arrived to support their teams.

The Gulf Cup is an event that genuinely brings the people of the GCC member states together. The tournament also drew attention to the more stable situation in Bahrain two years after the February 2011 unrest.

Common Khaleeji identity

After the matches thousands of GCC youth went out in celebration.

In a dramatic display of unity and solidarity, Emirati nationals raised the Bahraini and Emiratee flags together following Bahrain’s loss against the UAE. Such an incident would have been remarkable, except that we witnessed countless examples of this during the two weeks of the GCC Cup.

Although we occasionally see tensions at a political level between regional states, this strong sense of common Khaleeji identity and mutual support for each other’s national teams underscores the close ties between citizens of all Gulf nations.

Bahrain missed its chance to carry the Arabian Gulf Cup, yet it succeeded in creating a historic event by bringing people from across the region to a country that has been suffering from the traumas of low level rioting and violence that have damaged the economy and this country’s international reputation.

This was a genuinely Khaleeji celebration and for Bahrainis, the tournament was a valuable opportunity to benefit from the solidarity of neighboring countries after a difficult period and to enjoy the positive spirit generated by the Gulf Cup. In Manama this year, it didn’t really matter which teams won or lost, we all went home feeling like winners.

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