By November 22, 2013 Read More →
‘Brand’ Qatar, Migrant Labour and the World Cup

‘Brand’ Qatar, Migrant Labour and the World Cup

When Qatar reaches news headlines, it usually relates to the state’s hyper-active foreign policy. Over the past decade, Qatar has built a high diplomatic profile both in the Middle East and as a global player. Since the onset of the Arab Spring, the small but immensely wealthy state has taken a particularly active role in the region: “Qatar has been involved in so many conflicts in the region—mainly as a mediator and provider of humanitarian aid—that it has almost become expected that, whatever the conflict facing the region, the tiny emirate will find a role for itself within it”, writes Lina Khatib.

Qatar is used to having a polished image in the West, which it has cultivated with great effort and shrewd diplomatic practice. However, since The Guradian and Amnesty International published reports on the endemic mistreatment of foreign labourers (whose numbers have swelled as a result of Qatar’s preparations for hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup), the country has been fighting a rearguard action to stem the wave of international criticism. As Andrew Hammond observed in a recent article for ECFR

Qatar has been taken aback by the sudden outburst of criticism. Enjoying close ties with Western governments, particularly the UK, France, and the United States, it tends to expect a free ride and therefore ill-equipped to respond.

Moreover, as Hammond points out, the prospect that the issues driving the mistreatment of foreign labourers will be meaningfully addressed is limited. The institutional framework that sidelines the human rights of migrant labour is deeply embedded in the structure of Qatar’s political economy:

Firstly, Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup is simultaneous with a stage of urban development and state building for Qatar that involves massive construction at breakneck speed all over Doha – like Dubai, Doha is a city whose rulers want it shining, other-worldly, and finished, yesterday. The World Cup construction projects are just one element in a vast scheme to transform Doha into a city like no other. Qatar has become the new Wild West, and when there’s a rush for gold, it’s paradoxically difficult to ensure the rights and standards for those at the bottom of the system.

What logic drives the Qatari monarchy’s efforts to present itself as a dependable ally of the West? Lina Katib provides some insight into this question, and others, in a piece on Qatari foreign policy in the post-arab Spring Middle East…

Qatar’s presentation of itself as a key international ally has three benefits. First, it provides the country with security in a volatile region: the al-Udeid US Air Force base it hosts has ‘the longest runway in the Middle East’, while Camp as-Sayliyah is ‘the U.S. military’s largest pre-positioning base outside of the continental United States’.11 Second, it furthers Qatar’s aim of establishing itself as a modern, business-oriented state that is able to compete in the international economy.12 Qatar’s economic aims are underpinned by the need to guarantee gas exports and the simultaneous realization that long-term economic viability means moving beyond an oil-based economy. Third, international alliances divert attention away from Qatar’s own political shortcomings. For example, despite the United States’ strong rhetoric on the need for reform in the Arab world, Qatar (as well as Saudi Arabia) has managed to keep criticism of its own lack of democracy at bay owing to its position as a strategic, even indispensable, ally. [continue reading HERE]

 Further Reading:

Andrew Hammond – Labour rights in Qatar – the Last thing on their mind? – ECFR

Christian Coates Ulrichsen – Small States with a Big Role: Qatar and the UAE in the Wake of the Arab Spring

Patrick Seale – Decypherning the Qatar enigma – Gulf News

(Wikimedia Commons image courtesy of StellarD)

About the Author:

William Oliver is Nabateans’ editor for international economics and Middle East current affairs. He obtained his degree in History from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. While his studies focused on the Middle East in the 18th and 19th centuries, William has a long-standing interest in international finance and the political economy of development. William’s work is aimed at understanding how the Middle East integrates with the global economy, and into the wider geopolitical landscape.

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