With the FIFA World Cup now in full swing, we hear less criticism of Qatar. Fortunately.
Everyone rolled over each other to be as outspoken as possible about everything that is unacceptable in the tiny Arabian peninsula. The harshest comments came mostly from people who have never been to the Arab world, let alone Qatar. In any case, it came across in the Middle East as if Europeans had once again found a reason to run an Arab country into the ground without any knowledge.
Let us be clear, Qatar is not a democracy, it is a conservative Muslim country that does not give foreign workers the rights and protection these workers deserve. Many also feel that Qatar did not deserve to host this World Cup. After all, it is not a country with a long football tradition. Moreover, there are strong allegations the country obtained the organisation through expensive bribes. Although we can ask who is most to blame here: those who pay, or those who accept the bribes?
But first, let us talk about the rights of the workers who built the stages. We hear everywhere that more than 6,500 workers died during construction. It is astonishing how many ‘critical’ voices are swayed by disinformation spread by countries that would rather see Qatar fail than succeed.
Those who read the report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the only international organisation that has done any work on a thorough investigation, find that a total of 50 workers died in work-related circumstances.
While writing this column, the head of the Qatari World Cup organisation suddenly talked about 400 to 500 workers having died. That is massive and unacceptable, but still 13 times lower than the figure that has been circulating for many months now.
Every death is one too many, no doubt about it.
Could the working and living conditions of those workers be better? Definitely. And that deserves criticism too.
But that was also the case in South Africa and Brazil. Back then, however, this was not an international problem, and nobody felt the urge to boycott those World Cups. Nor did countries refuse to send members of their governments to the World Cup in Russia or the Olympic Games in Beijing because of human rights violations or a (total) lack of democracy there.
So why these double standards, one wonders, against the Arab world?
A second major criticism of Qatar is the lack of rights for the LGBTQ and the big debate over whether or not to wear a rainbow-coloured armband. Again, the criticism is justified and no one should ban or discriminate against same-sex love.
Now we have to ask, is this a real problem in Qatar, as in most Arab countries, or not? After all, just because it is not allowed legally, does not mean it isn’t a reality.
I know several people from the LGBTQ community in Qatar, as in other neighbouring countries. They are the first to be horrified by the whole action being taken now because it turns the spotlight on them. Why? They tell me that they can live a relatively normal life, as long as it does not draw too much attention to them.
So, we can ask whether the activists are not achieving the opposite of what they want to achieve? We can also ask whether these actions are aimed at the LGBTQ community in Qatar, or at its own European constituency?
Is Qatar’s position, as in most Arab countries, towards LGTBQ hypocritical? Certainly. But what about the European stance itself? There are countries in the European Union that have written in their constitutions that marriage is only possible between a man and a woman.
In Hungary, they even go much further and recently introduced a veritable anti-gay law, following the Russian model. Again, where were the activists during the World Cup in Russia?
Finally, it is a fact that a lot of Arab countries, Gulf countries in the lead, are struggling with the split between ancient religious laws and contemporary realities. We can focus on this and denounce it or we can note that these countries are changing at a lightning pace, and at all levels.
We can look down on the deficits of a country like Qatar, or see with admiration that the organisation is reasonably flawless. Has anyone seen the fantastic football stadiums built by female architects?
The situation in Qatar deserves criticism, but those guided by misinformation and even propaganda would do well to look into their own hearts.
Moreover, we should ask how fair it is to criticise countries without ever even having been near them? In any case, I am watching on from Cairo today at this World Cup and notice how proud people are to have made something so great possible on this side of the Mediterranean.