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? In the World Cup, this could mean provoking a clash of civilizations.

On the pitch, the tournament has captivated fans with chaotic matches, upsets and an abundance of unconventional footballing powers reaching the knockout stage. But off the pitch, the World Cup, the first ever to be held in the Middle East, has been the site of a fiercer battle between the moralizing West and increasingly resentful hosts Qatar and their Arab brethren.

Western governments, particularly those of the European countries participating in the tournament, and the media have been suspicious of the event and the oil-rich kingdom that hosts it. They raised objections to human rights and a lack of protection for workers, citing abuses in the shadow of the emirate’s major World Cup construction projects. And despite efforts by FIFA, soccer’s controversial governing body, to clamp down on political gestures at the tournament, they have staged some protests.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser wore a “One Love” armband in Qatar in support of LGBTQ rights, which the captains of the United States and many European teams eventually refused to wear for fear of FIFA sanctions. Faeser’s gesture drew eyeballs and derision in Qatar and the region, with some prominent commentators interpreting the move as more than a comment on threats to LGBTQ minorities and the action of a higher authority chaindetached from the reality experienced by these societies.

Germany’s national team also staged their own protest, taking a photo before the match with their arms folded, an apparent message to FIFA authorities that they will be muzzled. But then the team’s early retirement kicked in maddened with mockery On Arabic social media and television.

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Families of migrant workers killed in Qatar are waiting for answers

Hot rhetoric exists on other fronts as well. Halfway through the tournament, social media is still abuzz with comments about what has been described as “modern day slavery” that has engulfed Qatar’s stunning stadiums and new infrastructure. For years, rights groups and labor advocacy organizations have written about the shortcomings and abuses that exist not only in Qatar but also in the wider Gulf region, where millions of migrant workers eke out a living in sometimes deplorable conditions and are vulnerable to predation by exploitative employers and recruiters.

But the row over Qatar’s World Cup seems to be turning the emirate’s authorities into vain pharaohs driving the stuff to build their shining pyramids. Death tolls have been circulating that put several thousand workers in Qatar’s preparations for death, figures that Qatari officials have completely rejected as grossly inaccurate and misleading, and the UN’s International Labor Organization has not confirmed.

“Qatar disputed the death toll, arguing in part that infrastructure work, other than World Cup stadiums, was unrelated to the tournament,” my colleagues reported last month in an article that revealed the story of an Indian who died after working. Qatar construction sites. “It has also taken measures that labor and human rights groups say are significant and will better protect workers if fully implemented.”

The reforms include a new centralized electronic system to oversee payments between private companies and their migrant workers, wage increases and other moves to increase the mobility of workers whose status in the country depends on the whims of their employers. There are signs of progress.

“Tangible changes include the removal of requirements for workers to obtain an exit permit to leave Qatar and obtain no-objection certificates before changing employers,” explained The Post’s Monkey Cage blog. “According to ILO data, from 2020 September. until 2022 March. more than 300,000 workers from abroad changed jobs. In addition, 13 percent of Qatari workers have seen their base salary increase since 2021. a non-discriminatory minimum wage was introduced. New in 2021 legislation reduced the number of hours employers could assign fieldwork during the summer months, another step to protect workers’ health and safety.

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Adapting the World Cup to little Qatar

Rights groups say much more needs to be done to protect workers from exploitation and ensure new policies are properly implemented in the country’s largely privatized labor sector.. But for Zahra Babar, deputy director of Georgetown University’s Center for International and Regional Studies at Qatar University and a longtime researcher of migration issues in the Persian Gulf, the polarizing conversation about the World Cup has done little to truly understand what migrants in the region face and what their lives are like. (You can get a snapshot of this complexity in a podcast series produced by the Babar Program featuring the voices of migrants in Qatar.)

“The narrative of heroes and villains has not really helped,” Babar said, adding that the tone of Western criticism may even strengthen the attitudes of local Qataris towards the many migrants in their midst.

Talk of Western hypocrisy and double standards abounds in Doha. In conversations with Qatari officials and other Arab commentators, I heard a hint of how Europe views the country when thousands of would-be migrants drown in the Mediterranean; to documented abuses in a US program to bring low-skilled agricultural workers to work on American farms; Western indifference when faced with the legacy of its imperial exploitation and subsequent support for various dictatorial regimes in the developing world; The disrespect of European officials who publicly condemn Qatari society and customs and privately pursue their own economic interests with Doha, including important gas deals.

When I suggested that some of these arguments could be read as “what-butism,” the official pushed back, insisting that this was the right context to assess Qatar’s place in the world and its own struggles to account for the pace of change. The tiny country’s population has more than quadrupled in less than two decades, much of it linked to a large influx of new migrant workers.

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In Babar’s view, low-skilled migrant labor systems around the world, not just in Qatar, have “taken advantage of and abused a devalued pool of workers whose lives are constantly plagued by uncertainty.” Despite the special focus on Qatar during the World Cup, the conditions for migrants here are not that unique, she argued.

As well as trying to reform its labor sector, Qatar is also seeing the World Cup as an opportunity to attract a different type of tourist. Nearby Dubai has become a playground for jet-setting Westerners, while Doha can be an attractive destination for visitors from the Middle East, Asia and Africa. As many as 1.5 million people are expected to visit Qatar during the World Cup. After the tournament, Qatar will offer visa-free entry to people from more than 95 countries. This is a much more generous regime than what the US or European Schengen countries offer.

“Qatar has long been a global travel hub connecting east and west, making the tournament accessible to many fans who have never had the opportunity to attend the World Cup before,” said Ali Al-Ansari, Qatar’s media attaché in the United States. .

Ease of entry and access – flights to the Gulf, a major air travel hub, are relatively affordable from parts of Asia and Africa – came up in my conversations with a group of Ghanaian fans before they were allowed to watch their nation emerge from Friday’s tournament with Uruguay.

“It’s very easy to get here. Qatar is a great place to host the World Cup,” said Joe Mensah, an electrical engineer from the city of Kumasi.

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

Appiah added that he would like to visit the United States in 2026. at the World Cup, but said he thought getting a visa might be difficult. “I don’t know if they would want me to come,” he said.


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