As the 2022 World Cup is taking place in Qatar, we are all forced to become acquainted with the hyper-wealthy oil dictatorship’s uglier side. As an Arab and a Palestinian, I share in the pride of the region’s people that the Arab World is hosting an international sporting tournament of such prominence for the first time. However, as a human rights activist, I must share that the historicity of the occasion has been marred by a series of shocking failures on the part of the hosts to meet international standards of human rights and basic decency. The opulent petrostate and absolute monarchy – a personal possession of the ruling Emir Hamad and the al Thani family – has inadvertently showcased to the world its blatant discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, women, Jews, and migrant workers, even as it has used the World Cup to deliver crucial support to the theocratic regimes ruling Iran and Afghanistan. Qatar has condemned all criticism of its appalling human rights record as impermissible attacks on its culture. Unfortunately, Qatar’s discriminatory violations of the rights of many World Cup visitors have made it all too plain that something is rotten in the State of Qatar.
Qatar said that LGBTQ+ fans would be welcome, but sex between people of the same gender is illegal in the country and can include a maximum penalty of death by stoning. Some fans have been stopped by Qatari security officials and asked to discard rainbow-colored items before attending matches. Covering for the country, FIFA, the international body governing professional soccer, announced that it would issue yellow cards and other serious penalties against any teams whose members wear rainbow armbands on-field, stopping plans by seven European teams, including England and Germany, to wear rainbows on their sleeves.
Many tourists have also experienced profound shock at Qatar’s harsh female dress code, which requires covering the knees and shoulders and bans tight or translucent clothing. It is illegal for unmarried women to be pregnant in the country, and unmarried women are banned from receiving sexual health and prenatal care. Five Australian women between 31 and 73 years of age have sued Qatar Airways after they were removed from flights for non-consensual gynecological examinations. Qatar has also cracked down viciously on supporters of the women’s rights movement in Iran, including removing people wearing the protesters’ main slogan of “Women, Life, Freedom.” An Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) general was audiotaped discussing Iran’s coordination with Qatar to suppress Iranian dissenters at the World Cup, including Qatar providing lists to the IRGC of thousands of fans who had purchased tickets to the game for the IRGC to “solve the issue.”
Over 10,000 Jewish tourists are expected at the tournament, but many have been shaken by violations of their rights, as previously agreed upon by Qatari authorities. Qatar reneged on earlier promises to Jewish soccer fans by disallowing cooked kosher food and enforcing a comprehensive ban on public Jewish prayer. Jewish and Israeli fans have also been banned, screamed at, and refused service by fans, locals, and officials. Perhaps this shouldn’t be shocking in the nation that physically hosts the Islamist terror group Hamas and funds it by $360 million to $480 million a year.
Qatar has a population of about 3 million residents, but only about 300,000 are Qatari citizens, with the other 88% of the population (and 95% of the labor force) consisting of foreign workers with limited rights. At least 6,500 migrant workers in Qatar have died in projects related to the World Cup since it was awarded. Qatar has awarded millions in World Cup contracts to the Taliban, including lavish salaries for Taliban officials, which has also contributed to labor abuse and the further deaths of migrant workers.
For the sake of a better future for the region, I am unable to stay silent about these abuses. It’s essential to understand the real Qatar because, with its powerful Sovereign Wealth Fund valued at over $450 billion dollars, it is a massive investor and powerbroker in everything from London Heathrow Airport (of which it owns at least 20%) to Volkswagen (owning 17%) to Twitter (funding $375 million of Elon Musk’s takeover bid). Qatar has also grown its state-owned propaganda arm, Al Jazeera, into one of the world’s largest media organizations, which it uses to disseminate Qatari influence – something seen as a significant political threat by more moderate Arab countries. Having spent untold riches to buy the right to host the World Cup, Qatar has tried to use the event to bolster its image in the world. We must never forget what we have instead learned about the country’s real nature – its support for democracy’s greatest enemies abroad and its brutality and discrimination at home.