QATAR AND THE WORLD CUP IN PERSPECTIVE
With the 2022 FIFA World Cup underway, there has been no letup in the critical articles regarding Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, including frequent reference to the 2021 story in the Guardian that reported 6,500 migrant workers had been killed since 2010 and which suggested those deaths were tied to stadium construction.
Craig L. LaMay, Director of the Journalism and Strategic Communications program at Northwestern University in Qatar, writing for Foreign Policy in October 2022, comments on what he terms “a jaded [international] narrative”:
That narrative often has grains of truth to it but just as often is an uninformed caricature or is exaggerated.
For example, regarding the Guardian allegations referenced above, he writes:
This claim was both inaccurate and missing important context. Many migrant workers in Qatar work white collar jobs and, as one scholar pointed out, 6,500 deaths over 10 years in a country with 1.4 million migrant workers is a mortality rate similar to that of young men in Germany.
LaMay also cites scholars who study migrant labour who argue that
the World Cup has indeed helped transform Qatar’s labor situation for the better and note that the earliest reforms began before 2010, when Qatar passed a 2009 law intended to compel employers to meet their obligations under their employment contracts.
He elaborates further:
During the more than three-year blockade crisis that began in June 2017, the country took the opportunity to issue a new law to protect domestic workers—such as drivers, maids, and nannies—and in 2018, the country invited the International Labour Organization (ILO) to establish a field office in Doha. Since then, Qatar has abolished exit permits for virtually all foreign workers, and in 2020, it established a minimum wage and gave workers significantly greater freedom to change jobs.
In LaMay’s view the real problem is Qatar’s
draconian 43-year-old media law, which has less to do with Qatari “traditional values,” … and more so the legacies of the 1916 to 1971 British protectorate period.
It is the restrictions on freedom of the press that account for Qatar’s dismal standing in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index.
And equally important, the lack of scrutiny from a more independent local press hampers the effective implementation of these reforms, with many employers (including many government officials) attempting to avoid compliance with them.
LaMay adds a further problem:
In the absence of reliable information, an ILO spokesperson said in 2020 that a great deal of misinformation about the laws circulates among workers on social media, complicating the government’s efforts to effectively implement its policies.
International media needs a more nuanced and balanced approach to Qatar’s ongoing efforts, and important progress, in reforming its migrant labour laws, albeit with effective implementation still a major shortcoming.
This is particularly relevant when Western countries, themselves, including Canada, fall short of effective protections for this vulnerable labour group.
Qatar and Al Jazeera.com
Despite Qatar’s lack of independent local journalists, its financial support of Al Jazeera.com, both the Arabic and English services, has helped create a world-class news organization that has put news stories from the global South front and centre. It is the most-watched TV outlet in the Middle East and North Africa and has since expanded into a media network with several outlets, including news channels in multiple languages.
A January 2011 ResearchGate book synopsis notes:
Over the years, Al Jazeera television has been found to dedicate more time to covering news stories from the South than those from the North (Al- Najjar, 2009; Figenschou, 2010).
In effect, it has become regarded as a news contra-flow channel (Miles, 2005; Thussu, 2007) and has thus successfully challenged the hegemony of western media (Seib, 2008).
The excellent Wikipedia entry on the “Al Jazeera effect” includes this definition:
The Al Jazeera effect is a term used in political science and media studies to describe the impact of new media and media sources on global politics, namely, reducing the government and mainstream media monopoly on information and empowering groups which previously lacked a global voice.
The primary example is the effect’s namesake – the impact of the Al Jazeera Media Network on the politics of the Arab world.
Al Jazeera and the blockade of Qatar
In January 2021, almost four years after its imposition, Saudi Arabia announced the end of its blockade of neighbouring Qatar. For a good analysis of what led to the blockade and its lifting, see Qatar blockade: What caused it and why is it coming to an end? (middleeasteye.net, 5 January 2021).
Article author Alex MacDonald writes:
The embargo was the result of tensions that had been building for many years between Qatar and its neighbours, who were concerned the nation was taking too independent a role in its foreign affairs.
In particular, Qatar took at sympathetic view to the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that most governments in the region [including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates] saw as a threat to their longstanding “dynastic rules”.
In the words of Khalid Fahad Al-Khater, Director of the Planning and Policy Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, writing about the blockade in June 2020:
The Arab Spring was a counter-narrative to the prevailing order of the day. It broke out spontaneously and sought freedom, new opportunities and a path of progress for the people of the region. Rolling back the consequences of the Arab Spring has been the goal of the blockading countries since 201l.
Alex MacDonald notes in turn:
Qatar’s neighbours became increasingly concerned by the favourable coverage given to the Arab Spring protests by Qatari-affiliated media outlets, in particular Al-Jazeera.
One of the key demands of the blockading countries was to shut down Al Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
What led to the lifting of the blockade?
The blockade was lifted after several years of mediation by Kuwait and Oman, with Qatar meeting none of the original 13 conditions issued by the blockaders, including the shuttering of Al Jazeera.
Reasons cited by MacDonald include Qatar’s amazing ability to weather the economic fallout as well as increased pressure from the Biden administration on Qatar’s neighbours to resolve the dispute.
Reporters Without Borders and The Committee to Protect Journalists both took strong stands against the efforts to shut Al Jazeera down, with the latter organization and Amnesty International also strongly criticizing Israel’s moves against Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera coverage of the Israel–Palestine conflict
Israel has long been concerned by Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Israel–Palestine conflict. An AP news story succinctly describes why:
During past wars in the Gaza Strip, Al-Jazeera has carried unflinchingly raw images of Palestinian women and children killed by Israeli airstrikes. Its reporters refer to Israel as an occupying force and to east Jerusalem as Occupied Jerusalem.
For a trenchant opinion piece on the recent Israeli elections by senior Al Jazeera political analyst Marwan Bishara, see Israel’s farcical elections and fictional democracy (aljazeera.com, 31 October 22).
The sub-head to that article reads:
The more elections Israel holds, the crueller they get.
Qatar and the United Nations
Regular readers of Ceasefire.ca may recall the enthusiastic review of the 2019 Doha Forum by RI President Peggy Mason, where she stated in part:
I cannot express how energizing it is to be at a forum where there are naysayers to be sure but where the majority of attendees, whether Foreign Ministers or their policy advisors or academics and NGOs, are firm believers in the UN, international law and the overriding obligation of all states to cooperate in finding global solutions to global problems.
Mason had also attended the 2018 Doha Forum, on the margins of which Qatar signed several agreements with the UN, demonstrating, in its view, its “active role in achieving international peace, security, and sustainable development”.
The agreements included a USD500 million (QAR 1.82 billion) pledge to various UN programmes and the establishment of four new UN offices in Doha.
The agreements further pledged annual support to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Along with a new UN Development Programme (UNDP) office and a new UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a new International Labour Organization (ILO) office was inaugurated in April 2018 to
support the implementation of a comprehensive programme on working conditions and labour rights in the country.
Qatar’s important mediation role
A recent Reuters article highlights Qatar’s important mediation role:
The Gulf Arab state has used a complex web of friendships nurtured by its gas riches to become a go-to mediator in global diplomacy, hosting both the Middle East’s biggest U.S. airbase while opening its doors to Islamists and forging ties with Iran.
Employing wide-ranging political ties, it has helped to free hostages and secure peace agreements from Sudan to Somalia.
The article continues:
It is perhaps best known for its mediation efforts with the Taliban in Afghanistan, which included providing the venue for peace talks that led to last year’s U.S. agreement to withdraw:
As temporary home to the evacuated Afghanistan embassies of the United States and several European allies, it has served as a central mediator for Western efforts to engage the Taliban.
Its latest mediation effort is with respect to the fledgling Chad peace talks.
Qatar, Hamas, Israel and the World Cup
Qatar has opened its doors to leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules the Gaza Strip. Doha has also played a role in ceasefire negotiations between Hamas and Israel. Qatar has helped Gaza pay its fuel bills and has provided significant humanitarian aid to Gaza families.
At the same time, despite the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries, Qatar has negotiated an agreement for direct flights through Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv to Doha, to carry both Palestinian and Israeli fans to the World Cup.
In the words of a Qatari official speaking on background:
Because of this agreement, Palestinians will now be able to enjoy the first World Cup in the Arab and Muslim world.
Qatar, the LGBTQ community and the World Cup
For a look at one of the most controversial issues surrounding Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA world cup, the criminalization of same-sex relationships in Qatar’s penal code, see Why the Qatar soccer World Cup is so controversial (abcnews.com, 18 November 2022).
The article quotes Nasser al-Khater, CEO of Qatar 22, addressing the concerns of LGBTQ fans about going to Qatar from a recent interview with Al Jazeera:
I reiterate the message of Qatar being a safe country, a hospitable country and I am confident that anybody that comes to Qatar is going to feel welcome and safe.
Our aim is not to whitewash legitimate concerns over Qatar’s human rights record but to put them into a context that is too often sorely lacking.
We give the final word to a Qatari student named Miriam, on the issue of women and sports:
I don’t know whether women’s involvement in football stadiums would be as big and as popular as we’ve seen if it wasn’t for the World Cup, if it wasn’t for hosting major sporting events, if it wasn’t for building these incredible stadiums that fit way more than what we could have imagined, right?
So I think for women, this has been really excellent in terms of like neutralising spaces that are typically male-oriented.
ISRAEL–PALESTINE AND CANADA UPDATE
For a thoughtful and compelling defence of Ottawa-Centre MPP Joel Harden, who recently and undeservedly came under fire from pro-Israel lobby groups and the Jewish Federation of Ottawa for alleged antisemitic remarks, see the statement by Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) entitled Joel Harden Deserves Our Support (22 November 2022).
We unreservedly affirm our support for Joel Harden. His affirmation of the importance of respectful, honest dialogue, including with his Jewish neighbours, on the deeply divisive issues of Palestinian rights and the role that Israel plays in the Middle East should be commended, not vilified as antisemitic.
Our question to the pro-Israel lobby is:
Why do you fear such a dialogue?
For the chilling effect of attacks on politicians who wish to speak out for Palestinian rights, see Peter Larson’s latest blog post, entitled Israel Lobby Warning to Canadian Politicians – “If You Criticize Israel, we will call you antisemitic.” (Canadatalksisraelpalestine.ca, 24 November 2022).
On the conduct of the war, seasoned analyst Professor emeritus Paul Rogers, citing Russian defensive positions that will be difficult for Ukraine to overcome in winter, concludes:
So despite Kyiv’s Kherson success, a continuing violent stalemate until early March looks all too likely.
On the other hand, a recent Washington Post article suggests that
Russia’s defeat is starting to look inevitable,
albeit after a protracted war.
Both Paul Rogers and researchers writing in the Washington Post are cautious about Putin departing any time soon.
According to research conducted by Ivan Gomza of the Kyiv School of Economics and Graeme Robertson of the University of North Carolina and summarized for WP’s Monkey Cage:
Compared to a democratically elected leader, a personalist dictator like Putin who initiated and lost a war is four times less likely to lose office.
What about negotiations?
Dismissing any notion of negotiations at this time as “more wrongheaded than ever”, Timothy Garton Ash, writing for the Guardian, argues that
The best thing we can do for peace is to increase our military, economic and humanitarian support for Ukraine, until one day it can negotiate from a position of strength.
Taking a different stance, Professor Rogers assesses whether negotiations, however low level, are possible in the next three months, writing:
Prospects are currently low, even if some early moves have been reported in Ukraine and Russia, and some senior US officials have been more open about the need for a way out.
Virginia Pietromarchi, writing in Al Jazeera, explains that, according to experts:
Ukraine … will seek to achieve more battlefield gains before heading to the negotiating table, while Russia hopes the impact of winter on Ukraine’s allies will fracture international support for Kyiv and weaken its resolve.
On the view from Ukraine, Paul Rogers adds:
Accepting the idea of an eventual settlement that allows Russia a domestically acceptable, if minimal, outcome is still a very big call for the Zelenskyi government to make.
Professor Rogers then goes on to say what most Western commentators will not:
If there is no settlement and Russia is defeated without an escalation to tactical nuclear weapons, itself far from certain, then a victorious Ukraine would still be left with a bitter and potentially vengeful Russia sharing a long common border for years and even decades to come.
The maximalist strategy being pursued by the West “in support” of Ukraine — both before and after Russia’s invasion — has that country bearing the lion’s share of the risk, both now, and long into the future.
In our 28 October 2022 blog post we examined in detail steps that Canada might take to address the dire security situation in violence-wracked Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
In particular, we assessed the American request that Canada lead an international security assistance force. Canada’s response at the time was to conduct an assessment mission in Haiti as well as to consult with regional partners, the UN, and others on the way forward.
Speaking from Tunisia on the final day of the two-day Francophonie summit, Prime Minister Trudeau stated, with respect to a possible intervention force:
It is not enough for Haiti’s government to ask for it…. There needs to be a consensus across political parties in Haiti before we can move forward on more significant steps.
Trudeau added that Canada is working with CARICOM, the organization of Caribbean governments, along with “various actors in Haiti from all different political parties” to get a consensus on how the international community can help.
He did not rule out an eventual Canadian military role on the ground in Haiti, adding in French:
Canada is very open to playing an important role, but we must have a Haitian consensus.
To have the requisite legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Haitians, an international security assistance force must be based on the broadest possible national consensus. We therefore strongly commend the approach of the Canadian government regarding such a force and further urge the government’s best efforts to this end.
French critique of Washington’s “rules-based order”
Their [non-western countries] vision of the world is certainly not a ‘rules-based order’; it’s a Western order.
For some “shockingly blunt” comments on Washington’s “rules-based order” by the former French Ambassador to the US, Gérard Araud, see the 14 November 2022 panel discussion hosted by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank in Washington, D.C. that advocates for a more restrained, less bellicose American foreign policy, by clicking HERE.
Lecture on Nuclear threats and Canada’s Disarmament Diplomacy
Paul Meyer, a former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament and current Senior Fellow in International Security and Adjunct Professor of International Studies at Simon Fraser University, has been awarded the 2022 Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (CNWC) Award for Nuclear Disarmament Leadership.
As part of the award ceremony, Paul Meyer will give a guest lecture at the University of Ottawa, Centre for International Policy Studies entitled Nuclear Threats and Canada’s Disarmament Diplomacy.
DATE: Monday, 28 November at 4:00 pm.
LOCATION: Room 12102, Desmarais Building, 55 Laurier Avenue East, Ottawa.
It will be followed by a reception and cash bar.
Click HERE to reserve a spot at no cost.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Qatar national football team)
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