Football unites people when politics divides them": the relations between Tunisia and Morocco may be in crisis, but the Tunisian Wissam Sultani will encourage the Atlas Lions on Wednesday against France in the semi-final of the World Cup in Qatar.
"On the pitch, politics has nothing to do. Supporting an Arab country, whatever it is, is a duty when it reaches this stage of the competition," said Sultani, 41, who runs a fruit and vegetable stall in the central market of Tunis.
After breaking a glass ceiling by becoming the first African or Arab team to reach the last four of a World Cup, Morocco can indeed count on the support of an entire continent whose hopes it carries, by challenging the French title holders for a place in the final.
Morocco's run, which eliminated the Spanish giants in the round of 16 and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in the quarterfinals, has sparked a surge of pride and excitement among neighbors Tunisia and Algeria, transcending political squabbles in the Maghreb, as well as in the rest of Africa.
In downtown Tunis, a sports store's sound system blares Moroccan folk songs to attract customers. The red Atlas Lions jersey is the highlight of the display.
The country is however in cold with Morocco, which reproaches him for having aligned with the position of Algeria in the Western Sahara issue, at the heart of extreme tensions between the two neighbors of the Maghreb.
In Algeria, if the official media have virtually ignored the performance of the Moroccans, sometimes content with the dry result, the private press has welcomed their achievements.
"It is quite normal that Algerians support Morocco, which is a Muslim country, brother and neighbor," says Madjid, 58 years.
For Salim, 45 years old, employee of a public company, "Algerians are with the Moroccan team because it represents a Maghreb country and Amazigh" (Berber).
In the Maghreb as elsewhere in the Arab world, fans say their support for Morocco is increased tenfold when they see its supporters and players waving the Palestinian flag, showing their attachment to the Palestinian cause even though Rabat normalized relations with Israel in December 2020.
According to Tunisian sociologist Mohamed Jouili, this support for Morocco, which is becoming more and more apparent as the match against Les Bleus approaches, can also be explained by "France's colonial past in the Maghreb.
"The countries of the region can not compete with France economically, militarily or geopolitically, but can stand up to 90 minutes on a soccer field and even beat it," he added, recalling the victory of Tunisia in the group stage against the men of Didier Deschamps.