Qatar walks tightrope between Arab values and Western norms with World Cup gamble


2022-11-20 17:30:58

The calm earlier than the storm is over. Now comes the deluge.

After years of anticipation and greater than $200 billion in infrastructure spending, the 2022 World Cup will kick off in Qatar on Sunday. Over the next 28 days, greater than 1.2 million folks will flood the conservative Gulf state, which is smaller than Connecticut and has a inhabitants of about 2.9 million, three-fourths that of Los Angeles.

And there’s greater than a bit of concern that flood will overwhelm a rustic that has had 12 years to organize and nonetheless doesn’t seem prepared.

“Qataris themselves are fairly apprehensive about what’s coming,” mentioned Michael Quentin Morton, an English creator and historian who grew up in Qatar, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. “They [only] have to show the tv on and see what can occur at these large soccer tournaments to be involved.”

The most recent response to that apprehension got here Friday when Qatari officers demanded FIFA ban beer gross sales on the eight World Cup stadiums, ending a protracted and delicate back-and-forth between the federal government and world soccer’s ruling physique.

The sale of alcohol, which is tightly managed in Qatar, had been authorized for choose areas at stadiums and designated fan fests. The abrupt choice to renege on that settlement two days earlier than the beginning of the event and restrict gross sales to the fan fests caught many individuals off guard and advised the royal household should have been concerned.

It’s extremely unlikely such a drastic transfer may have been made with out the involvement of the favored emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, or his brother, who has been energetic in planning the event. And it’s one other salvo in a long-building cultural struggle between the nation and its World Cup friends, who Qataris concern pays little heed to their customs and traditions.

“We’re anticipating folks to respect our tradition, the identical factor that we do once we journey to overseas nations,” mentioned Ibrahim Alemadi, 24, who just lately opened a Mexican restaurant in sight of a World Cup stadium. “Think about I’m coming to your home and I’m roaming round, doing no matter I need. However you’ve a coverage in your home, you’re not snug with any person doing this.

“Simply respect our nation. You are able to do no matter you need, however respect our tradition.”

That could be a sentiment repeated by many right here.

Germany star Manuel Neuer is featured on the aspect of a constructing in Doha, Qatar, forward of the 2022 World Cup.

(Martin Meissner / Related Press)

“Essentially that is kind of like a PR marketing campaign. It’s actually not going to vary something in Qatar.”

— James Gelvin, UCLA professor of historical past and skilled on the trendy Center East

“Numerous followers are coming with a really white-washed mentality that something that they do is just the precise factor and something that goes towards that’s backwards,” mentioned a neighborhood journalist who didn’t have permission from her writer to offer her identify. “Tradition is tradition, and it must be revered wherever you go.”

However then asking the world to come back over and take a look round has all the time been a serious gamble for Qatar. The nation is closely influenced by Sharia regulation, and homosexuality and public drunkenness are forbidden, whereas public shows of affection and conceited costume are closely frowned upon.

Since successful its bid for the World Cup, Qatar has additionally drawn widespread condemnation for its remedy of migrant laborers below the nation’s kafala system, a type of authorized type of indentured servitude by which poorly paid staff have few rights. That worldwide stress led Qatar to reform the kafala system and improve the minimal wage to $275 a month, however that’s solely about $1.56 an hour in a rustic the place the typical annual per capita revenue for residents is $130,000.

⚽ 2022 Qatar World Cup

Because the World Cup has neared, the federal government has begun aggressively pushing again on the criticism, which the emir referred to as “fabrications and double requirements.”

Final week, a Danish TV crew was in the midst of a dwell shot close to Doha Bay when three males rode up in an electrical cart and threatened to interrupt the digital camera. “You invited the entire world to come back right here, why can’t we movie?” reporter Rasmus Tantholdt protested in English.

Denmark’s soccer federation has been one of many extra fervent critics of Qatar’s document on human rights and remedy of migrant staff. The Supreme Committee for Supply & Legacy, the native organizing committee, later apologized to the journalists.

That rigidity between welcoming guests whereas monitoring their habits could also be one cause there was little tangible buzz on the soon-to-be snarled streets of the capital because the World Cup approached. Though flags of the 32 taking part nations flapped within the heat desert breeze earlier than strip malls and workplace buildings and La’eeb, the child-like event mascot who appears like Casper the Pleasant Ghost, was omnipresent on banners, T-shirts and division retailer shows, the hype felt pressured.

“It’s a danger, clearly,” mentioned Morton, the English historian. “They’re inviting parts from overseas to come back to their nation. Their commonplace line is you must respect our customs. However, in fact, the customs of the folks coming in are fairly totally different to these of Qataris and the way they’re going to handle that I’m not totally positive.”

It’s as if the nation is bracing for a siege, not a celebration. And it isn’t ready for both.

Fireworks explode above a sign promoting the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Fireworks explode above an indication selling the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

(Tom Weller / Image Alliance through Getty Photographs)

Though Ashghal, Qatar’s public works authority, mentioned final week that every one initiatives associated to the event have been accomplished, staff alongside the Corniche, Doha’s bayside pedestrian promenade and website of a large fan fest, weren’t anticipated to be completed with their last preparations till lower than 24 hours earlier than the primary recreation.

The crush of tourists in a metropolis with simply greater than 30,000 lodge rooms has led to some inventive makes an attempt to supply adequate housing, together with the momentary use of two cruise ships, the addition of 160 every day shuttle flights from neighboring nations and even desert campsites. But on the eve of the event, there was concern these measures would fall woefully brief.

Three weeks in the past, municipal officers swept by means of greater than a dozen condominium buildings in Doha’s Al Mansoura district, evicting 1,200 overseas staff, lots of whom got simply two hours to depart their houses. Authorities authorities mentioned the evictions have been unrelated to the World Cup, however residences within the neighborhood have been listed on web sites designed to assist visiting followers discover lodging.

Pakistani migrant laborers pose in front of the skyline of Doha.

Pakistani migrant laborers pose in entrance of the skyline of Doha. Migrant laborers who constructed Qatar’s World Cup stadiums usually labored lengthy hours below harsh circumstances and have been topic to a variety of abuses, in line with human rights teams.

(Nariman El-Mofty / Related Press)

Qatar, the primary Arab and first Muslim-majority nation to stage a World Cup or Olympics, can be the smallest nation to take action, and Doha’s huge boulevards are anticipated to be so clogged with visitors, non-public vehicles can be banned from many streets, residents close to some stadiums will want permits to get to their houses and plenty of corporations have carried out a work-from-home coverage through the event.

Even Sepp Blatter, the disgraced former FIFA president who presided over the vote that awarded the event to the nation in 2010, now says it was a mistake.

“It’s too small a rustic. Soccer and the World Cup are too large for that,” he informed Swiss outlet Tages-Anzeiger this month.

In Doha, such feedback on the streets or within the metropolis’s huge procuring malls are met with both defiance or a shrug. Fatma Al-Nuaimi, the manager public providers director of the Supreme Committee, mentioned educating foreigners, particularly Westerners, in regards to the area’s tradition and traditions was the primary cause Qatar bid for the World Cup within the first place.

“In terms of the Center East, like within the information, all the time there’s a misperception of this a part of the world, the Arab world, the Muslim world,” she mentioned. “It’s all the time within the connotation of unfavourable affiliation.

“If you come right here, having firsthand expertise, it’s completely totally different. It provides you a distinct perspective.”

A traditional dhow boat floats in the bay outside Doha, Qatar, in November 2021.

A standard dhow boat floats within the bay exterior Doha, Qatar, in November 2021. As soon as a staple of transportation within the tiny emirate, the boats are primarily utilized by vacationers on the lookout for scenic views of the trendy Doha skyline.

(Darko Bandic / Related Press)

“Qataris imagine that such ‘phrase of mouth’ promoting will last more and be extra credible than what seems within the world media.”

— Edward A. Lynch, professor of political science at Hollins College in Roanoke, Va.

That’s why Qatar has hosted greater than 600 worldwide sporting occasions, from the world observe championships and a System One Grand Prix to worldwide bowling, squash, desk tennis and equestrian occasions, within the final decade. That has spiked tourism and hurried alongside infrastructure spending on freeway and light-rail development and growth of Hamad Worldwide Airport.

The World Cup will high all of them in dimension, status and worldwide consideration, with FIFA estimating 5 billion viewers, roughly two-thirds of the world’s folks, will watch at the very least a part of the event on TV. The hope in Qatar is that the publicity will change hearts, minds and open wallets, serving to flip the energy-rich nation, which didn’t achieve independence till 1971, into a world heart for training, the humanities and tourism.

“Essentially that is kind of like a PR marketing campaign,” James Gelvin, a UCLA professor of historical past and skilled on the social, cultural and political historical past of the trendy Center East, mentioned of the World Cup. “It’s actually not going to vary something in Qatar.”

Thus far, that battle for hearts and minds has settled right into a tense truce, with some early-arriving followers ignoring native customized relating to costume and habits whereas Qatar banned beer contained in the stadiums. At greatest, observers say, that can solely qualify as a draw.

If the world nonetheless appears on the tiny emirate and thinks solely of sand, camels and oil after the World Cup, permitting that crude stereotype to dwell on, the time and treasure Qatar expended on the event won’t have been price it. Victory for the Qataris, mentioned Edward A. Lynch, professor of political science at Hollins College in Roanoke, Va., would require one thing extra.

“Success will imply nearly all of guests coming away with a constructive view of Qatar, of its folks, of Doha,” mentioned Lynch, creator of “Isolating Qatar.” “Qataris imagine that such ‘phrase of mouth’ promoting will last more and be extra credible than what seems within the world media.”

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