Qatar 2022 workers’ rights violation scandal may damage country’s image worldwide
5 June 2015. PenzaNews. The attempts by Doha to interfere with the work of international journalists who report on the tough job and living conditions of the workers constructing the Qatar 2022 World Cup sports objects may severely damage the economy and image of the oil state, says James Dorsey, political analyst, senior fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, author of the blog “The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer,” in his article “Qatar backtracks on engagement with critics” published in the foreign media.
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According to him, Qatar’s actions practically negate the country’s achievements in protecting the worker’s rights over the past four years of cooperation between the authorities on the one side and a great number of civil organizations and activists on the other.
As the author reminds, the main target of public attention in the country is the so-called “sponsorship system” (kafala) that is also used in Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Under it, migrant workers in these states end up all but bound to their employers, unable to return home without an employer’s permission, have to live in claustrophobically small rooms and put their lives to danger on a daily basis. According to the number of lethal accidents among migrant workers has reached 400 only among the 2022 World Cup construction crews alone.
“Qatar has conceded that it needs to reform its labor system in a bid to fend off calls that it be deprived of its World Cup hosting rights but has been slow in implementing reform. […] Many Qataris fear that tinkering with the labor system would be opening a Pandora’s Box that could lead to them losing control of their society and culture,” the political analyst explains, adding that 78 percent of Qatar’s working-age population are migrant workers, most of them unskilled.
Based on his observations, the expert suggests that the current mainstream policy in the Gulf is negative towards journalists and political activists who deal with criticizing the authorities, a case particularly apparent in the United Arab Emirates.
“The United Arab Emirates has in recent weeks barred entry to a New York University professor who was scheduled to attend a conference at the university’s Abu Dhabi campus and two prominent artists, including one associated with the Guggenheim Museum, that is building a satellite in the emirate, because of their criticism of the UAE’s labor regime,” the political analyst stresses.
In Qatar, even an official invitation from the authorities provides no protection from such treatment, he points out, as a BBC television team learned through their own experience in May 2015. The British reporters who arrived to shoot the opening of a new accommodation for migrant workers were detained and then deported for visiting the object several days before the officially scheduled date.
According to James Dorsey, the case of the BBC crew who were forced to spend no less than 13 hours in isolation resembles the detention of an ARD German TV channel team in late March 2015.
“Both teams had their equipment confiscated, which in the case of the Germans was returned only after all data had been wiped out. In a meek defense, the Qatar Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy that is responsible for the 2022 World Cup said the German crew had failed to obtain proper permissions to film. It is an argument that doesn’t hold in the case of the BBC,” the analyst writes.
He also mentions that, according to certain sources, the Qatar authorities issued warnings to human rights organizations and activists to lay low or face punishment.
Going further on the topic, the expert notes that the reaction of FIFA was fairly ambiguous. From his point of view, its representatives did not react to the situation with the ARD television channel team the way they should have had, and rejected all their findings. Because of that, James Dorsey comes to a conclusion that the public should not bear any expectations on FIFA conducting an adequate investigation of the situation in Qatar.
As he points out, Doha began to stray from its former liberal policies only recently, and the shift took place at the time when the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states moved on to a more aggressive political strategy.
According to the expert, the new GCC doctrine debuted during the years of 2011-2013, when the Gulf countries suppressed a wave of public protests that went through the Middle East. Because of that, he thinks the slow shift of Qatar away from good relationships with human rights activists and critics may be due to the decision to establish cooperation with the neighboring states before the 2022 World Cup.
“It is unclear whether the hardening attitude of Qatar […] is simply security forces taking a tougher position as they forge closer security and intelligence ties to other Gulf states or whether it reflects an overall change in Qatar’s approach,” the author writes.
Moreover, he thinks that currently Doha is attempting to prevent a conflict with Saudi Arabia, its larger and more aggressive neighbor, and the decisions of the authorities to improve the country’s military force also speak in favor of this hypothesis.
“Qatar last year stepped up its arms purchases with an $11 billion deal to acquire US Patriot missiles,” James Dorsey recalls.
In conclusion, he stresses that the World Cup has a great potential in conducting timely political and social changes in a state’s society, and thus the state authorities must take all the necessary measures to bring back the trust of international society, avoid huge losses, protect the image of the nation and profit from it in the end.
“The World Cup offers Qatar an opportunity to put its best foot forward and emerge as a forward-looking 21st century regional model. The question is whether Qatari backtracking will squander the Gulf state’s unique opportunity,” the RSIS senior fellow thinks.