The tiny peninsular state of Qatar has the great fortune of having vast oil resources. Despite its minuteness, Qatar has the third largest natural gas and oil reserves worldwide, allowing it to become an exceptionally wealthy nation, boasting the highest GDP per capita in the world (about $128,000). But this is where the positives end.
Ever since Qatar was named host of the 2022 World Cup in 2010, the sheikdom has been under increased public scrutiny. The consequential discoveries of the downright despicable practices by Qatar’s government, while unsurprising, are still extremely disturbing. They raise the question: why should Qatar be rewarded for its crimes, whether it be through U.S. military support or the granting of the World Cup?
The 2010 decision for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup was met with accusations that Qatar was only victorious in their bid because of FIFA corruption. While these accusations are unconfirmed, it is probable that Qatar’s deep pockets had a big influence in the decision, as FIFA itself recognized that Qatar’s bid had “high” operational risks.
The project got off to a rough start. It became a famous statistic that 1,200 workers died in Qatar during the first two years of construction, but the reality is probably much worse, since this number only accounts for the deaths of Indian and Nepali workers, who make up just 60 percent of the immigrant workforce. To put this in perspective, the previously most deadly international games construction project was the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, where 60 people died. Qatar has already exceeded that death count 20-fold, and the World Cup is still five years away. Skepticism about the World Cup’s influence on these deaths is important, yet still misses the main point that literally thousands of people working in slave-like conditions are dying in Qatar.
As seems to often be the case in oil-based economies, Qatar’s great wealth is coupled with systemic flaws in its government and society that incentivize brutality and prevent progress. Their most brutal and infamous practice was the Kafala system, which essentially amounted to forced labor of foreign workers, who make up 94 percent of the Qatari workforce. Nasser Beydoun, an Arab-American businessman, told The New York Times in 2013 that in the Kafala system, “foreign workers in Qatar are modern-day slaves to their local employers. The local Qatari owns you.”
In December of 2016, Qatar replaced their old labor laws to modernize the Kafala system, supposedly giving workers greater rights and flexibility. Unsurprisingly, the new system is far from perfect. Amnesty International deemed the reforms inadequate and far too similar to the previous system. James Lynch, deputy director for Global Issues at Amnesty International, said in a press release “this new law … leaves the same basic system intact. It is good that Qatar has accepted that its laws were fuelling abuse, but these inadequate changes will continue to leave workers at the mercy of exploitative bosses.”
Further increasing international criticism is the current crisis unfolding between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The crisis began when Qatar unexpectedly announced in August that its ambassador was returning to Iran after a 20-month long hiatus. Qatar, along with many other Sunni Arab nations, most notably Saudi Arabia, recalled their embassies from Iran in January of 2016 after attacks on two Saudi diplomatic facilities in Tehran. The reopening of relations between Qatar and Iran came as a shock to the Sunni allies who viewed Qatar’s decision as an act of betrayal.
Empowered by its strong oil economy, the subsequent trade boycott from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has done little to impact the sheikdom, and as a consequence the crisis is unlikely to cause any serious problems for Qatar despite President Donald Trump’s outspoken support for the Saudis.
However, the crisis has caused Qatar to come under greater international scrutiny once again, and once again it has been detrimental to the nation’s dwindling prestige. While accusations of Qatar supporting such groups as ISIS and the Houthis seem for the most part unfounded, there is a plethora of evidence of Qatar’s support for al-Qaeda and Hamas, with the latter being pledged $400 million by Qatar in 2014.
Amidst all this criticism, the question emerges: why is the United States and the rest of the world putting up with Qatar despite their clear cooperation with terrorists and medieval systems of forced labor? While the answer is well known (where there is oil, there is power), it is still important to criticize the world’s toleration for Qatar.
The United States has historically viewed Qatar as a pivotal ally in the region, and has consequently been exceptionally lenient towards this ally. Even during this current crisis, in which the United States supposedly condemned Qatar for siding with the Iranians, the United States signed a $12 billion deal with Qatar for the sale three dozen F-15 fighter jets.
Furthermore, the silence from FIFA during the Gulf Crisis is indicative of their position on the matter: regardless of the scale of Qatar’s atrocities, the World Cup will be held in Doha.
Tags: Amnesty International, columnist, Donald Trump, FIFA, GDP, Gulf Crisis, Iran, James Lynch, Kafala, Opinion, Qatar, Sochi Winter Olympics, Sunni Arab, United States, World Cup