Sunday, February 3, 2013

Qatar under International Scrutiny (or "The Country that Bribed FIFA")

Qatar may be best known for its surprising coup of the 2022 World Cup and the ensuing accusations of bribery on the part of the oil-and-gas rich country.  Yet it also has a relatively large hand in the political development of the Middle East region.  Qatar houses the headquarters of the Al Jazeera Media Network, which Noueihed and Warren argue in their 2012 book The Battle for the Arab Spring should be considered both "a tool of the tiny emirate's increasingly muscular foreign policy" and to have "transformed [MENA's] media landscape" in a way that was important to the development of the Arab Spring.  

      However, tiny rich Qatar is not without problems of its own, some of which are beginning to come to light under the intense scrutiny that comes with hosting an international sporting event.  In an Al Jazeera article a Human Rights Watch report criticizing the use of migrant labor in Qatar under strict and inhumane conditions was highlighted.  Not only is there a dearth of minimum wage laws and human rights agreements in Qatar, but also restrictions like migrant workers being required to obtain their employer's permission in order to legally leave the country.  While other editorials on Al Jazeera do not view Qatar as a threat for popular protests à la the Arab Spring, there is still a general concern about the potential ramifications of the World Cup being built on exploited labor.  With Qatar's growing political importance in the MENA region and its newfound place on the world stage comes mounting pressure for it to hold up well to international scrutiny.  If it does not, while it is unlikely that some sort of massive rebellion would be the consequence, Qatar may very well lose some of its strong political footing in the MENA region.

Qatar's response to that pressure has been manifesting itself in different ways.  For one, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad has positioned himself as an advocate for humanitarian rights, if not in his own country, then in Syria.  As one of the first Arab leaders to call for military intervention there, he was reported as urging other countries to intervene until Syrians could gain legitimate rights, as such was one of their "humanitarian duties" they had to their neighbors in the region.  While such a position might be noble, it still does little to better Qatar's position with regards to its domestic humanitarian issues.  If it is to "clean up" in advance of the 2022 World Cup, it would be prudent for the emir to sign some basic international human rights agreements and to demand enforcement and implementation of labor laws like minimum wage.  The last thing any ruling Emir would want is a populace that feels internationally ashamed of their country and for his neighbors to interpret international criticism as a sign of weakness.  Emir Sheikh Hamad might consider contracting World Cup laborers through his government directly and ensuring that they are well paid and taken care of, because the Qatari economy can well afford such excesses; the CIA World Factbook notes that their GDP Per Capita is the highest in the world at over $100,000.  While the combination of that statistic along with an unemployment rate below 1% would imply a very low risk for any sort of revolutionary upheaval or mass protest in the country of 2 million, the Emir could well afford safeguards to ensure that international criticism and poor migrant worker conditions do not derail his country's stellar positioning on both the world's stage and as a strong influence of foreign policy in MENA ahead of the 2022 World Cup.


  1. International scrutiny might have some push for the Emir but I don't believe it is enough for reform to take place especially when there isn't economic turmoil. I agree with Alexander that the risk for upheaval is very low considering Qatar's GDP. Without pressure arising from within to force worker reforms, international scrutiny won't really help. China hosted the Olympics in which workers weren't compensated fairly but even that event couldn't lead China to make reforms and I believe that the Olympics would have more of an international presence than the World Cup.

  2. In my opinion, international scrutiny would be the only chance for reform to take place in Qatar because of their economic situation. And I agree with Alexander that having safeguards to avoid international criticism would be smart. The country is not only representing themselves, but they are representing the Arabic world as well. Out of the 22 Arabic countries Qatar is the first to have the opportunity to host the World Cup, and since the bribery allegations after they won the bid, Qatar has yet to see positive attention internationally. Many people have even pushed to re-hold the vote for the location of the 2022 World Cup. I think that it would be wise to introduce reform to try and shake the negative attention they have received from their inhumane working conditions for migrants. It would not only benefit the way they are represented, but it would also be beneficial to the representation of the Arabic world.

  3. In the post you touch on an interesting problem regarding migrant workers being exploited in Qatar. However, forced labor is not confined to Qatar. It is practiced in many of the Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain. Forced labor then is a region issue. It is such a problem that in summer of 2012, according to a CNN article, Nepal banned women under 30 from working in and migrating to the Gulf States. States in this region target women in south Asian countries promising them jobs. However, when these women come to work in the Gulf region they are faced with forced labor and sometimes even physically or sexually abused. While the ban is a start, Human Rights Watch believes that it does not go far enough to deal with the problem of forced labor. Instead they argue that the solution should involve the governments of Gulf countries working with the governments of south Asian countries to create better protection for migrant workers in the Gulf region.