In Qatar, criticism around the World Cup goes badly

Not broadcasting matches in major Western cities, not going to Qatar, criticism and calls for a boycott of the 2022 World Cup are increasing as the event approaches. In the emirate, it is difficult to understand the reasons for these attacks.

From our special correspondent in Qatar,

We are criticized for being Arabs, but we don’t care. This World Cup will be the best in history. John, a taxi driver of Ugandan origin who waits for the customer at the entrance to the Al Waqif souk in Doha, sweeps away the criticisms, in the same line as the national official discourse. The local media aren’t going too hard either. “ There is a systematic conspiracy “of European media” while these media have forgotten the miserable conditions suffered by workers in Europe “, protests the Arabic-language newspaper Al Sharq.

And specialists of the peninsula wonder: ” On what criteria is a boycott determined? Who is entitled to decide? We must not fall into a kind of cultural war, we must be careful not to humiliate local actors, affirms Raphaël Le Magoariec, researcher in sports policies of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In the other direction, Arab or Muslim societies could say the same vis-à-vis the United States, for example [et sa guerre contre le terrorisme décrétée au début des années 2000, NDLR]. The West often appears in a moralizing role that lectures the world, but does not necessarily apply its precepts when it comes to its own interests. »

Air-conditioned stadiums, more than 1,600 daily flights (i.e. more than one per minute), flouted rights of migrant workers, LGBTQ+ people and women, deaths on construction sites, the list of criticisms is long, relayed by numerous NGOs, Western politicians and media. Faced with these implacable accusations, some are trying to temporize.

The Doha souk in the colors of the World Cup.
The Doha souk in the colors of the World Cup. © Anne Bernas/RFI

I think we have to distinguish between legitimate criticism and the instrumentalization of this criticism. “says Nabil Ennasri, doctor of political science and specialist in Qatar. According to him, the position of Amnesty International is the most relevant; the human rights NGO does not call for a boycott, but for the use of this World Cup as a lever for accelerating social progress. Moreover, Qatar’s exposure to the whole world has forced the authorities to implement social reforms in the case of immigrant workers, the most advanced in the Gulf countries, even if these are far from sufficient. Under the dohanais dodger, it is still legion to see many migrant workers at work when they are supposed to no longer perform physical tasks during the hottest hours of the day. “ This gentle, but permanent pressure will allow ultimately an effective improvement “, continues the researcher.

► To read also: Is football part of the culture of Qatar?

A lot of what has been said, a lot, has absolutely no relation to reality. “, declares, visibly tired of these questions, Majed Mohammed Al-Ansari, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. ” The landscape is completely different now, he continues. Much has been said about what Qatar does in terms of public, collective morality, ideals, and all those things. We made it very clear that this is going to be an opportunity for people to get to know our culture. And it’s a chance for us to better understand other cultures as well. »

As for the instrumentalization of criticism, notes Nabil Ennasri, “ some would use the boycott as blackmail, a unit of revenge, because they have scores to settle politically, strategically and diplomatically with Qatar “. In a speech on October 25, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, made no secret of his annoyance, saying ” that no host country has suffered ” such a campaign of boycott and criticism, deploring “ relentlessness ” and ” Two weights, two measures », wondering about « the real reasons and motivations of this campaign “.

The Doha Islamic Cultural Center.
The Doha Islamic Cultural Center. © Anne Bernas/RFI

Anti-Arab racism?

In this tense context, should we fear a culture shock when more than one and a half million supporters are expected in this Wahhabi emirate (the only one on the peninsula with Saudi Arabia)? ” Look, yesterday morning an English tourist was arrested outside the Museum of Islamic Arts with a pro-LGBT sign “, points out Fatma, showing the photos of the said tourist broadcast on social networks. ” You know what ? He was taken to the station and came out just a few minutes later. Here, nobody is afraid of anything, but you have to respect the country where you are, otherwise there is no point in coming. »

When you go to a country, you respect morals “, testifies a young Qatari woman of Filipino origin questioned on the consumption of alcohol which will be strictly supervised – alcohol being strictly prohibited in the country even if it is found, at insane prices, in all the major international hotels. And the young woman asks herself: Why are we being criticized, why are we ? I am so proud to be Qatari… For many Dohanese, these criticisms, these calls for a boycott, go badly. “ People don’t know anything about us. They think, for example, that the veil is obligatory, but look at me, I don’t wear it! And I drive too. I hope our culture and traditions will be better understood after this event. The best placed to talk about Qatar is us, not the foreign media “, annoys a young woman from the Qatari bourgeoisie, seated at a cafe terrace in the sumptuous district of La Perle, north of the capital.

While everyone here accepts that there are “obviously” efforts still to be made in several areas, they accuse the West of racism towards the Arab and Muslim world. A geographical area where football is a passion and which is hosting a World Cup for the first time in its history. It is certain that Russia had not experienced such a wave of remonstrances during the 2018 World Cup, despite the flagrant violations of human rights in the country. ” Everyone, no matter what, is welcome. We want these visitors to learn the differences between cultures, to discover the culture of Qatar “, declared last September the emir al-Thani to the Point. And to note that, among the critics who target his country, there is ” ones that will continue no matter what we do. These are people who do not accept that an Arab Muslim country like Qatar hosts the World Cup. Those will find any pretext to denigrate us. »

► To read also: Migrant workers in Qatar: ‘I love football, but I won’t be able to attend matches’

In the hall of the new Doha International Airport.
In the hall of the new Doha International Airport. © Anne Bernas/RFI

Some people say that after the World Cup things will go back, but that’s not true, insists the spokesman for Qatari diplomacy. There have been many improvements, thanks to the World Cup, but not only for the latter. And Majed Mohammed Al-Ansari concludes: “ Everything has been organized so that things go well for everyone. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to change our society because some Westerners are asking for it. We have a challenge to take up, that of not losing our national unity. There is a consensus here around social values. Yes, we are not a democracy, but we have a participatory system. We don’t want to tell the rest of the world that we are going to upset who we are because of the organization of the World Cup at home. It is for us a national event and an international event for the world. It must strengthen our unity. We have just announced our motto for the National Day which will be celebrated during the World Cup: “Our unity is the secret of our power” [le 18 décembre, jour de la finale du Mondial, est aussi le jour de la fête nationale, NDLR]. This will be reflected in the World Cup. A united society, a small yet strong community that welcomes the world, and we hope the world understands this too. »

The next Arab country to host a global competition will be Qatar’s neighbor Saudi Arabia. In 2029, it will host the Asian Winter Games. A decision that is already making a lot of noise, again both on human rights issues and on ecological issues. The alpine skiing, snowboarding or ice hockey events will take place in Neom, a futuristic megalopolis under construction in the northwest of Saudi Arabia that is legitimately making environmental and climate defenders howl. Like what the Qataris claim about their country, will Riyadh declare that it is taking the path of societal and environmental reforms? Results in seven years.

Doha in pictures

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