No region has escaped the soccer madness – the entire country has been covered with flags of Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Italy and France. Fans proudly wave the banners of the countries they support in the international soccer competition, waving flags from all countries but one.
In the south, politics have taken a hold over soccer and the US flag is nowhere to be found. “This flag is for burning,” shouted vendor Haytham Abu Ahmad as he pointed at the star spangled banner.
Shunned for its close alliance with Israel, the US has found no support in Lebanon’s southern towns and its soccer team is considered by many to be the most unpopular team in the region, followed by England.
Khiam local Hajj Ahmad explains that the US supports Israel and the killing of Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghanis while the United Kingdom facilitates the transport of American weapons to Israel.
“Seven decades ago you could see the English flag here,” he added. “The British Hospital was here and so was the military airport.”
For these and other political reasons, Saturday’s USA-England game was not followed by many soccer enthusiasts in the south. Those who did watch were mainly supporting England.
“I would even support the devil against the US,” spat Mahmoud Wehbe, who watched the soccer match in Sidon and cheered for England as it scored its first and only goal in the first five minutes of the game. The match ended with a surprising 1-1 draw between the two teams.
Shopkeepers are still making a fair profit selling flags of other qualifying teams, with soldiers from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon rushing to buy the flags of their home countries.
“European flags all sell, especially the Spanish, Italian, German and French,” says Abu Ahmad, noting that the Brazilian flag was the most popular.
He related a story about a fellow shop owner who was left with a large quantity of American flags after the last world cup and had to sell them for less than half of their original price. “I bought the flags from him and sold them after I wrote: ‘Buy this flag for burning.’ I sold many during anti-American and anti-Israeli demonstrations,” he says.
Abu Ahmad proudly displayed the English flag and praised the country’s soccer team, saying it was one of the best in the world.
Shopkeepers have also been selling flags of countries not included in the World Cup, mainly Turkey. The Turkish flag has become hugely popular since Israel killed nine peace activists, eight Turks and one Turkish American during a raid on an aid flotilla.
The Turkish flag often waves next to the yellow banner of Hizbullah. “When you raise the yellow flag you cannot raise the US flag next to it,” said shopkeeper Ibrahim Khanafer, calling the US the “great devil.”
In the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh near Sidon, some Islamic groups have argued that all World Cup flags should banned.
Others say it is acceptable to raise foreign flags but that the number of Palestinian flags and Turkish flags should be dominant. “Two flags are not welcome: the first belongs to the patron of terrorism [US] and the second belongs to those who divided Palestine,” says Mahmoud Aoukal, reminding everyone of Great Britain’s “disastrous Balfour Declaration,” which in 1917 effectively paved the way for a Jewish state to be established in Palestine.