Sie can be seen everywhere. It encloses the sunburnt faces of British fans and adorns the heads of Mexicans, many of whom are actually copying their traditional sombreros Qatar had dragged along. The “Albiceleste” model in the colors of the Argentine flag is also common. The ghutra, the traditional Qatari headgear made of an artfully folded cloth and a thick cord, celebrates its international breakthrough at this soccer World Cup. It is the stand-out piece of fan fashion. And its inventor is a very, very lucky person.
Khalifa Abdul Hakim al-Naimi beams. “It’s heartwarming after all the work we’ve put into this project. After all those nights without sleep.” Together with three friends, he and three friends created the “Ghutra Mundo” project from scratch within a few months. All of them are not yet thirty, two of them are engineers, another and al-Naimi are bankers. Now there are four shops and an online shop.
It was a bet. The four friends had no idea if their idea would actually succeed. “But you can see for yourself how people jump at it,” says al-Naimi. The small shop behind whose counter he is standing is buzzing. The location is convenient, in a subway station near Souq Waqif, the refurbished old market, which used to be very quiet, but is now crowded with fans, sometimes singing and dancing, while many locals celebrate the World Cup -Enjoy the hustle and bustle in the coffee houses as a spectator.
Not with “Ghutra Mundo”, where it only works with full contact. The company founders are also salespeople, handing their goods over the counter in unison. If you want, you can get your ghutra from them directly in the shop and put on by a professional hand. Two Mexicans have just been served when the Americans are already pushing in, followed by undecided Brits who have been attracted by the hustle and bustle. The atmosphere comes much closer to what the organizers claim for the World Cup than the bombast of the fan festivals under the logo of the world football association FIFA.
“Leave the money aside, I’m getting to know all these people,” says Khalifa Abdul Hakim al-Naimi. “That’s what I love the most.” He doesn’t mind that the foreigners are now converting a traditional piece of clothing into a fan costume, on the contrary. For him, it’s a victory over clichés that annoyed him madly. “It’s a gesture of welcoming our culture. It means that people don’t see us as hostile. Neither are we hostile, we are hospitable.”
Basically, he explains, the bad press about Qatar was the inspiration that led to the formation of Ghutra Mundo. The harsh criticism of the human rights situation, the repressive laws against homosexuals and, last but not least, the exploitation of foreign migrant workers, whose tone the population and leadership repeatedly perceive as racist and arrogant. “We’ve noticed that over the past five or six years,” says al-Naimi. So he sat down with his friends and they hatched Project Ghutra. “We wanted to share our culture, our traditions with the world,” he continues. “The Ghutra is an essential part of it. Our ancestors wore them as early as 2000 years ago to protect themselves from the sun.” And depending on the colour, it also has a meaning in its traditional form; White stands for purity, red and white for patriotism, black and white for freedom.
Al-Naimi now stands behind the counter every day after his day at the bank to sell his ghutra, which is said to represent hospitality. His joy at the World Cup is only tempered by the national side’s failure in the opening game, which went down to Ecuador. “We have to be better than that,” says al-Naimi, who got hold of a ticket himself but was bitterly disappointed. He was among the approximately 20,000 Qatari fans who left the stadium long before the final whistle. He accepts the objection that as a fan you sometimes have to live your capacity for suffering. But he has an excuse for his early departure: he had to go back to the store.