The propaganda war playing out in the background of Iran’s World Cup campaign continued on Tuesday night, but fears of ghastly scenes at Al Thumama stadium did not materialize.
The players sang the national anthem, some gritting their teeth, against a backdrop of whistles from the stands. Supporters smuggled in personal protests, the words “freedom of women’s lives” printed on T-shirts tucked under T-shirts and scrawled in marker on their bodies.
But despite heightened security, with dozens of police standing behind the goal where Iran supporters were gathered, there was no apparent widespread intervention. A report suggested that two female fans had a Persia flag removed by security. Meanwhile, an American was caught by security for wearing a rainbow armband, the item Fifa once assured visitors would cause Qatari officials no trouble. After the match, an Iranian fan was taken away by security as he shouted “Women, life, freedom”.
The scale of the protest was intimate but widespread and there was also a lot of complexity. A contingent of émigrés among Iranian support was substantial. It was a woman, named Ayesha, who said she had an Iranian shirt taken from her by security during the game against Wales. This time, the second generation of Iranian-Americans instead wore an American shirt with “women’s life freedom” on it.
Nil, an Iranian living in Doha, had the same message on her shirt, just above a knot that was tied around her stomach and bared her belly. She, like many Iranian supporters at the stadium, did not wear a hijab, but stressed that even those who did could support the protests. “Some won’t wear it, but it’s not just about that. Women can’t buy, they can’t work, it’s more.
There were also young women without hijabs who loudly denounced the protesters, saying they had to go home. Part of what appeared to be an organized group, they attempted to get in front of the cameras that were outside the ground. One man among them, Ali, said he lives in Canada and politics should stay away from football.
When asked what he would say to a woman protesting for her freedom, he replied, “Be more patient. We don’t need a revolution; when we have a revolution, things go downhill. There is more instability, there is a power vacuum. You have to go step by step. »
There were also rumors of “plants”, fake actors paid to cover their tracks with insincere messages. And while much of the protest was centered on the Iranian regime, there were other messages as well. Two women stood with a laminated sign protesting US sanctions on the country, apparently shielded for a moment by members of security. And next to the flag of the Islamic Republic and the stars and stripes, a third flag was also very visible: that of Palestine.
As fans gathered and slowly began their journey inside the ground, a young woman in a burqa was speeding back and forth between them on roller skates, a giant Palestinian flag trailing behind her.