The World Cup kicked off last week, imposing its rhythm on households and edging into the shadows major global issues like the Iranian nuclear crisis and the fallout from the Freedom Flotilla tragedy, commented Al Sayed Ould Bah, a columnist with the Emirati newspaper Al Ittihad. "World Cup fixtures are no longer considered a sports contest proper. They have become a lavish show of the present-day human condition."
The working class game that started in industrial Britain in the 16th century was first considered too plebian by the bourgeoisie. But major transformations took place later and turned the once low-status game into a global phenomenon. The 1966 World Cup, in Britain itself, marked the beginning of massive-scale television coverage, with some 600 million viewers watching the final on their telly.
Then there was the "black revolution" of 1970, with Pelé redefining the technical and athletic possibilities of the game. Later, Spain in 1982 inaugurated the politicisation of the sport when, coming out of decades of dictatorship, the host Madrid was granted the seal of approval into the European democratic club. In 1998, France clinched the title thanks to a colourful range of ethnicities among its national squad. That was when players proved they could do far better than politicians in reinforcing national unity.
"Let's talk honestly about the Gaza blockade," wrote Mazen Hammad in the comment section of the Qatari newspaper Al Watan. "Breaking it is no simple matter. Plus, there is a difference between lifting the sea embargo and the land siege." Israeli authorities may, if they wished to be more cooperative, limit their list of banned products to arms and explosives and allow everything else to come in. But Israel has no intention of alleviating the clamp-down on the livelihood of Gazans, since such inoffensive goods as parsley and paper, among thousands of other products, are still explicitly barred.
But Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, has his own political approach to lifting the Gaza blockade. "He is against an immediate break of the sea blockade, because it will bolster Hamas's position. And just like the PA president, Egypt is not comfortable with Hamas laying claim to victory should the blockade be partially lifted." For their part, European diplomats who have been briefed on the recent talks between Mr Abbas and the US president Barack Obama confirmed that the PA president does want the border crossings to be opened and the blockade to be gradually lifted, but in such a way that Hamas won't be able to capitalise on it politically. So, Gaza straddles that fence between humanitarian efforts and political calculations.
In the opinion pages of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat, Jameel al Diyyabi asked: have the Taliban and al Qa'eda really resorted to poppy plants to finance their operations, clearing their conscience on the basis of "the end justifies the means"? US law enforcement officials have made the connection between drug trafficking and terrorism, noting that data collected over the past 25 years showed that 60 per cent of terrorist organisations are implicated in drug trafficking.
Indeed, terrorist organisations have been forced into auto-financing as post-9/11 international measures clamped down on sympathisers' donations, making poppy planting - and other forms of drug processing - an inevitable option for the Taliban and al Qa'eda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "Now, according to UN estimates, opium crops will reach 6.1 tonnes [this year], most of which will come from the south of Afghanistan, which is under the control of the al Qa'eda-allied Taliban. Practically the whole country plants poppies," the writer reported. International attempts to torch those massive poppy farms have failed repeatedly, and there is still great confusion as to what other alternative might work.
In its editorial, the Qatari daily Al Raya discussed the recent visit by the Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa to the Gaza Strip, describing it as "a formal Arab declaration that the blockade will soon be over".
Mr Moussa stated during his visit that Israel's blockade on Gaza must be lifted, and that there is an Arab resolution to that effect that must be implemented. The visit comes in the wake of the Freedom Flotilla's success in focusing the world's attention on the plight of the people of Gaza and mobilising international efforts to exert pressure on Israel. After meeting the people of the Strip and getting a sense of their daily hardships, Mr Moussa realised that the Palestinians there don't want the world to deal with them as an afflicted people seeking food and medical aid. They rather want to be viewed as a people besieged by an occupying force that is destroying their lives.
Public opinion in Gaza saw Mr Moussa's visit as an expression of a true Arab resolve to break the blockade, especially after the top pan-Arab official announced that the funds needed for the reconstruction process are ready and that the Arab world will no longer tolerate the status quo. * Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi email@example.com