Qatar World Cup: What gets missed in the war of narratives


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DOHA, Qatar – What does it mean to wear an armband? At the World Cup, this could mean igniting a clash of civilizations.

On the field, the tournament has thrilled fans with messy matches, upsets and unconventional football powerhouses reaching the playoffs. But off the pitch, the Middle East’s first World Cup has become a bitter contest between the moral West and the increasingly exasperated Qatari hosts and their Arab brethren.

Western governments, especially a number of European nations participating in the tournament, and the media have been suspicious of the event and the oil-rich kingdom hosting it. They protested the lack of protection of human rights and workers, and drew attention to abuses taking place in the shadow of the emirate’s World Cup construction projects. And despite efforts by FIFA, soccer’s controversial governing body, to curb political gestures at the tournament, they staged protests.

This included German Interior Minister Nancy Fasser wearing a “One Love” armband in support of LGBTQ rights in Qatar, which the captains of the United States and several European teams refused to wear for fear of FIFA sanctions. Faizer’s gesture drew public attention and derision in Qatar and the region, with some prominent commentators interpreting the move as nothing more than a comment on the threats LGBTQ people and minorities face. even more the act of the imperial tribunedisconnected from the lived reality of these societies.

The German national team also protested and posed for a photo before the match with their hands over their mouths, a statement that silenced the FIFA authorities. But the team’s early exit came after that the demon of mockery on Arab social media and television.

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Families of migrant workers who died in Qatar are waiting for answers

The heated rhetoric is on other fronts as well. Halfway through the tournament, social media is still awash with comments describing Qatar’s glittering stadiums and new infrastructure as “modern slavery”. For years, human rights and labor organizations have been chronicling the shortcomings and abuses not only in Qatar, but across the wider Gulf region, where millions of migrant workers live in sometimes deplorable conditions and vulnerable to the predation of exploitative employers and recruiters.

But the fight against the World Cup in Qatar seems to show the authorities of the emirate as proud pharaohs, driving cattle to build their glittering pyramids. The death toll puts Qatar’s preparations at several thousand workers dead – figures Qatari officials have dismissed as inaccurate and misleading and have not been confirmed by the UN’s International Labor Organization.

“Qatar has disputed the death toll, claiming in part that infrastructure work outside the World Cup stadiums is unrelated to the tournament,” my colleagues reported in an article last month covering the story of an Indian man who died after working. In constructions of Qatar. “It has also implemented measures that labor and rights groups believe are important and, if fully implemented, will better protect workers.”

These reforms include a new centralized electronic system to monitor payments between private companies and their migrant workers, higher wages and other steps to give workers greater mobility, whose status in the country depends on employers’ preferences. There are signs of progress.

“The alarming changes include removing requirements for workers to obtain permits to leave Qatar and obtain no-objection certificates before changing employers,” explained The Post’s Monkey Cage blog. “According to data from the International Labor Organization, more than 300,000 foreign workers changed jobs between September 2020 and March 2022. In addition, 13 percent of Qatar’s workforce received an increase in their base salary after the introduction of a non-discriminatory minimum wage in 2021. 2021 New laws in 2016 reduced the number of hours employers can schedule outside workers during the summer months, another step to protect workers’ health and safety.

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Holding the World Championship in Little Qatar

Rights activists say more needs to be done to protect workers from exploitation and ensure that new policies are adequately implemented in the country’s largely privatized labor sector.. But for Zahra Babar, associate director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University’s Qatar campus and a longtime researcher on migration issues in the Persian Gulf, the polarizing conversation surrounding the World Cup has done little to truly understand the world’s complexities. what migrants in the region face and their lives. (You can get a picture of this complexity in the Babar Program podcast series featuring the voices of migrants in Qatar.)

“The heroes and villains narrative hasn’t really helped,” Babar said, adding that Western criticism could harden local Qatari attitudes toward the many migrants among them.

There is a lot of talk in Doha about the hypocrisy and double standards of the West. In my conversations with Qatari officials and other Arab observers, I heard how Europe rejects the thousands of migrants who drown in the Mediterranean; the abuses documented in the US program to recruit low-skilled agricultural workers to work on American farms; the West’s indifference to its legacy of imperial exploitation and subsequent support for various dictatorial regimes in the developing world; Publicly condemning Qatari society and customs, and privately disrespecting European officials who pursue economic interests with Doha, including major gas contracts.

When I suggested that some of these arguments could be interpreted as “what-is-salamatism,” the official pushed back, saying that it was the proper context to view Qatar’s place in the world and its own struggle to come to terms with the pace of change. The small country’s population has more than quadrupled in less than two decades, much of it including an influx of new migrant workers.

According to Babar, the systems for low-skilled migrant workers not only in Qatar, but all over the world “are aimed at exploiting and exploiting the devalued cadre of workers whose lives are surrounded by uncertainty”. Despite the special focus on Qatar during the World Cup, conditions for migrants are not unique here, he said.

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In addition to efforts to reform its labor sector, Qatar sees the World Cup as an opportunity to attract a different type of tourist. While nearby Dubai has established itself as a playground for jet-setting Westerners, Doha can be an attractive destination for visitors from the Middle East, Asia and Africa. About 1.5 million people are expected to visit Qatar during the World Cup. After the tournament, Qatar will offer visa-free entry to citizens of more than 95 countries. This is a much more generous treatment than the United States or European Schengen countries.

“Qatar has long been a global tourism hub that connects East and West. This tournament has made the World Cup accessible to many fans who previously did not have the opportunity to attend,” said Ali Al-Ansari, Qatar’s media attaché in the US. .

The ease of entry and access – to the Gulf, a major hub for air travel, at cheaper prices than parts of Asia and Africa – was mentioned in my conversations with a group of fans from Ghana before they went to see their nation fall. tournament against Uruguay on Friday.

“It’s very easy to come here. Qatar is the perfect place to host the World Cup,” said Joe Mensah, an electrical engineer from Kumasi.

Mensah’s colleague John Appiah from Accra said he came to Qatar with “certain views” about Arab racism and mistreatment of foreigners. “But my treatment here was excellent.”

Appiah added that he would like to travel to the United States for the 2026 World Cup, but believes that obtaining a visa could be difficult. “I don’t know if they want me to come,” he said.


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