World Cup paraphernalia reveals Beirut’s loyalties

BEIRUT: Six Brazilian flags hang across a balcony in Hay al-Sellom; Italy’s colors rise over village roofs in Habboush; the black, red and gold of Germany’s ensign flies by on newly detailed car hoods and bike fenders. As Brazil is set to lift the curtain on the World Cup, avid fans across the country are gearing up to watch national teams from around the world compete for the pinnacle football title. Many have prepared for the monthlong tournament, starting June 12, by hanging humongousflags honoring their favored teams and pitting their chosen sides against those of friends and family.

“The diversity of the flags I’ve sold this year is huge,” says Darwish Dahdouh, the owner of a small shop in the Aisha Bakkar area of Beirut. But among the most popular teams in the country are Brazil, Germany, Spain, France and Italy.

While flags representing Lebanon’s political insignia are usually confined to entire neighborhoods of the capital, World Cup loyalties are much less united, as the matches set fathers and sons, husbands and wives against one another.

Hassan and Mona, a young married couple, own a shop in Al-Tariq al-Jadideh where they sell national flags in time for the World Cup. Hassan says they have sold mostly German flags, but his wife is quick to interject: “And Brazil!”

Their answers reveal their loyalties, as Mona will root for Brazil and Hassan for Germany, a rivalry that will likely cause tensions at home should Brazil and Germany face off during the upcoming competition.

In some neighborhoods, the number of flags for various football teams has started to rival that of major political parties, but World Cup fervor hasn’t affected everyone.

At the shop in Al-Tariq al-Jadideh, a March 14 stronghold, one customer has a different kind of loyalty. “Saad Hariri,” he says when asked whether he preferred Brazil or Germany.

German paraphernalia is one of the most conspicuous around the streets of Beirut, a degree of support that has left some baffled. “Look at all these German flags,” says Mustafa, indicating the banners fluttering around him in the Beirut neighborhood of Shiyah. “They put one flag in their balcony, and they think they’ve become Germans.”

Mohammad Bazal, a 50-year-old taxi driver, credits the expansive Lebanese diaspora with the varied loyalties. “It’s very simple, some support Germany because they have a lot of relatives living there, while others back Brazil maybe because there are almost 10 million Brazilians of Lebanese descent.”

Besides Brazil and Germany, some Lebanese also support another team: Algeria. Nicknamed the Fennec Foxes, Algeria is the only Arab country to have made it to Brazil this year, and it seems that their fellow Arabs in Lebanon are wishing them the best of luck, even if Algeria’s not their top pick.

Ali and Adham, two friends from Sabra, are having a common dispute over Brazil and Germany. But when asked whether they fancied Algeria, the two friends found common ground. In the end, we’re all Arabs, they agree.

Support for top teams comes down to a mix of foreign influence and local fad, but there are other football fans whose loyalty runs deeper. “It goes back to when football was all about the game, when we heard about the heroics of Pele, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto,” a 70-year-old man in Shatila says. “I’m Brazil till I die.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 02, 2014, on page 2.




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