Although the Spanish are still partying, the Dutch still mourning, and the South Africans still wondering what to do with the extra vuvuzelas, the World Cup has already begun to fade from the rest of global consciousness. America's collective attention had shifted to more pressing shared concerns: the bank bill, the potential fix for the Gulf Oil fiasco, the death of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
Yet in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, the World Cup represents a unique connection to the global community that will take longer to fade.
Over the course of the tournament, Yemeni taxi drivers enjoyed questioning foreigners on their team preference, individuals with whom they might otherwise have little in common. Packs of boys playing "We'll be Spain, you be Holland" in the alleys of Sanaa's Old City may have to wait another four years for a global event in which they feel as included.
Yemen's isolation is directly linked to the tenuous circumstances of its economy and security.
Investment is risky: government corruption contributes to Yemen's low ranking (99) on the International Finance Corporation's "Doing Business" report, and the lack of a Yemeni stock exchange further hampers potential interest. Since the reunification of North Yemen and South Yemen in 1990, initial investments in petroleum have declined in line with dwindling oil production.
Tourism is riskier: Yemen remains on the warning list issued by the US and UK State Departments, which recommend only "essential travel." Tribes desperate for development and resources sometimes kidnap foreigners in exchange for aid. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has taken credit for targeted killings of foreign tourists in the recent years.
Average adult literacy rates, according to the World Bank, hover at 52 percent, and less than 300,000 of its estimated 23 million people have access to the Internet.
Although an international media event like the World Cup does penetrate the national psyche, expensive subscription rates for international channels meant that even watching a match could be difficult.
After leaving South Africa at the World Cup's Round of 16, I worried Yemen would offer few opportunities to enter into the soccer mania shared by the rest of the globe. However, upon arriving in Yemen I heard almost immediately the strains of Coca Cola's World Cup jingle, the universally non-lingual, "Oh oh oh oh oh!" sung by a Yemeni child.
Coco Cola represented a rare goodwill ambassador; in association with Bin Humaid Company for Publicity and Advertising, the company sponsored a huge screen to display matches in Sanaa's al-Thorafi stadium to allow more Yemenis to watch the games.
Complaints about hegemonic American capitalism aside, the efforts by Coca Cola to reach out to the Yemeni people represent baby steps in Yemen's integration into the international community.
Granted, events such as the World Cup embody marketing vehicles, not humanitarian efforts. (FIFA might have been appalled to hear South African youngsters reference "The VISA World Cup").
Yet in a country where foreign intervention usually comes in the form of explosives, efforts to assist the Yemeni people are remembered. Sanaanis readily acknowledge the "Chinese Friendship Bridge" built over Zubairy Street, as well as a road to the western Hodeidah region built by the Chinese in the mid 1900's. Rather than whining about China's increasing presence in Africa and the Middle East, American companies could improve the image of the United States by initiating similar projects. Coco Cola's gesture will not be forgotten.
Yemenis' enthusiasm for Spain's win carried added significance. After the final on Sunday, Yemenis waving red cloth took to the streets in the Hada district. The popularity of Real Madrid and Barcelona gave the Iberians a loyal fan base, and young street players, when asked to voice a preference, undoubtedly replied, "Isbania!" Yemenis' enthusiasm for Spain might warm the hearts of Madrileños, after the allegedly Al Qaeda inspired bombing of the Madrid train system in 2004. Although no Yemenis were involved, the ongoing presence of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula presents a choice for impoverished Yemeni youth; "Cheer for these countries or hope for their destruction?"
While the "spirit of international friendship" so often invoked during such events may begin to sound hackneyed to those of us plugged in to an Internet-driven globalization, for Yemen the chance to participate in global excitement represents a significant opportunity to further their sense of inclusion.
Should Qatar win its World Cup bid in 2022, much of the Middle East, and particularly the marginalized areas such as Yemen, would feel even more incorporated. In the meantime, the world ought not to ignore Yemenis' desire to join in, at the risk of further alienating and radicalizing an overwhelmingly young population. Opportunities for Yemeni youth to engage in the rest of the world offers greater insurance of American and European security than sending further military aid to Yemen's failed government -- yet the US has pledged $150 million to do just that.
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