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December 15, 2021 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1613

Despite Qatar's Promise To Respect Gay Community In World Cup, Incitement Against It In Qatari Media Continues

December 15, 2021 | By C. Meital*
Qatar | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1613

Introduction

As Qatar prepares to host for the FIFA World Cup in November 2022, a heated debate has been ongoing in the Arab and international media regarding its reception of gay players and fans who will visit the country for the games. The debate was sparked after Australian footballer Josh Cavallo, who is openly gay, told the British Guardian that he was concerned about playing in Qatar, because he had heard Qatar imposes the death penalty on gays.

Fearing that these statements would evoke concern and damage its reputation and even jeopardize its hosting of the games, Qatar dispatched Nasser Al-Khater, the chief executive of the tournament's organizing committee, to speak on CNN and allay the fears by stressing that everyone would be welcome and safe in Qatar. Evading the question of whether gay couples could live safely in Qatar, Al-Khater explained that Qatar, like many other countries, is conservative and that public displays of affection, of any kind, are frowned upon. However, he promised that all visitors would be welcome and safe in the country as long as they respected its customs. It should be mentioned that Al-Khater made similar statements in a 2019 interview on CNN, saying that Qatar would welcome all visitors, regardless of religion, race and sexual orientation. It seems that Qatar is determined to present itself as a tolerant and moderate country in order to avoid criticism that might jeopardize its hosting of the games.  

However, despite Qatar's statements on international media and its commitment to FIFA to avoid discrimination against anyone and to make the games fully inclusive, the discourse promoted by its state institutions, state-sponsored bodies and official press is entirely different. This discourse condemns homosexuality as an unnatural perversion and sometimes even incites against the LGBTQ+ community, calling to beware it and act against it. For instance, the Qatari parliament recently discussed the issue and voiced its opposition to phenomena that are "alien" to Qatari society, hinting at homosexuality. It stressed the importance of upholding Islamic values and called to take steps against anyone who contravenes them. The International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), which is based in Doha and is supported by Qatar,[1] recently issued a fatwa (religious ruling) forbidding homosexuality and describing it as "deviancy and degeneracy."

The homophobic discourse which appears in the Qatari media on a regular basis[2] increased even further in the recent weeks. Many press articles described gays as "perverts," and expressed concern that Western campaigns to promote gay rights would "infect" the Arab and Islamic societies and cause moral degeneration. They called to increase social awareness and launch counter-campaigns against this "bad and deviant group" and even to fight it by means of legislation. 

Some of the articles responded to the public outrage that was sparked recently by retired Egyptian footballer Mohamed Aboutrika when he said that homosexuality goes against human nature and is not a matter of human rights. Aboutrika's comments came against the backdrop of the English Premier League "Rainbow Laces" initiative championing LGBTQ+ inclusion, as part of which rainbow-themed branding, armbands, laces and badges were displayed at matches.[3] The articles in the Qatari press praised Aboutrika, who now serves as a commentator on the BeIN SPORTS channel, describing him as a virtuous man who fears for his faith and society and who should be a role model for all Muslim youth.


Cartoon in Qatari daily: "Crush them, or they will bite you" (
Al-Sharq, December 3, 2021)

This reports reviews the homophobic discourse spread by the Qatari authorities and in the Qatari media.

Chief Executive Of Qatar World Cup Organizing Committee To CNN: All Visitors To Qatar Will Be Welcome And Safe

As stated, the debate about Qatar's treatment of gays was sparked, inter alia, by the recent statements of openly gay Australian footballer Josh Cavallo, who said he was afraid to play in Qatar because it outlaws homosexuality. “I read something along the lines of that [they] give the death penalty for gay people in Qatar, so it’s something I’m very scared [of] and wouldn’t really want to go to Qatar for that,” he said. [4]

Responding to these remarks and to the media debate they caused, Nasser Al Khater, the chief executive of Qatar's tournament's organizing committee, went on CNN to dispel the concerns. He explained that Qatar is a very tolerant and hospitable country that welcomes all visitors, and suggested that Cavallo may have received the wrong impression by reading incorrect allegations against Qatar, which is no different from any other society in the world. Asked whether gays could live in Qatar without fear, he squirmed and said that Qatar disallows gay marriage, like most of the world's countries. He added that Qatari society is conservative and that all public displays of affection are frowned upon. He stressed, however, that Qatar respects different cultures and that all visitors can feel safe there, as long as they respect the local customs. [5]


Some of Al-Khater's comments on the CNN Football Twitter page

As mentioned, this is not the first time Al-Khater has made such statements on Western media.  In a 2019 interview on CNN, he emphasized that Qatar would welcome all visitors to the World Cup, regardless of gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation or religion. These statements are apparently aimed at presenting Qatar as a tolerant country and deflecting criticism. In fact, in January 2020 Qatar and FIFA published a joint strategy for the 2022 World Cup, central to which is a commitment to strictly avoid discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin color, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, sexual orientation, etc.[6]

Qatari Authorities, State-Sponsored Organizations Promote Homophobia

However, in contrast to the image Qatar projects to the West, of a moderate country that eschews all forms of discrimination, the internal discourse in Qatar, as manifested in statements by establishment figures, by organizations and clerics close to the regime, and in the official Qatari press, is very different and contains harsh attacks on the gay community and on any attempts to influence Qatar's attitude towards homosexuality. 

Qatari Parliament Calls To Uphold Islamic Values, Oppose "Alien" Phenomena

In its December 6, 2021 weekly session, the Qatari parliament implicitly referred to this issue when it held a discussion, at the behest of several MPs, on the need to uphold the values of Islam and the norms of Qatari society. Stressing the need to preserve "the virtuous principles and values and strengthen the role of religion and of the doctrine of tolerance in society," the parliament also voiced its rejection of phenomena that are "alien" to Qatari society, and called to take the necessary action against anyone who promotes them. It emphasized the central role of the family and the need to protect it from negative phenomena that harm the social fabric. The parliament also spoke of the need to strengthen the religious and moral mettle of the youth, preserve the Islamic identity and oppose anything that contravenes it.[7]

IUMS Fatwa: Homosexual Relations Are A Perversion And Moral Degeneracy

The International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), which is based in Qatar and supported by it, took a much more explicit position in a fatwa it issued on December 12, 2021, signed by its head Ahmad Al-Raissouni and secretary-general 'Ali Al-Qaradhari. The fatwa forbids homosexuality and defines it as a moral perversion – a position shared by other Islamic religious institutions, such as the Egyptian Al-Azhar.[8]

The IUMS fatwa said: "In the recent years there has been an increase in the Western campaigns and pressures aimed at forcing all the peoples of the world, and all human beings, to accept homosexuality, welcome it, and regard it as one of the basic human rights, as though it is one of the conditions for happiness, civilized [existence] and progress. These campaigns use this right to slander and malign the majority of world peoples that still condemn homosexuality and regard it as a moral perversion. The [Western] campaigns and political and media pressure have come to the point of oppressing, punishing and persecuting anyone who voices a different opinion and criticizes homosexuality…

"In accordance with its religious duty, the IUMS rules and stresses that:

"1. Homosexual relations between two men or two women are absolutely forbidden according to the Quran, the Sunna and the consensus of religious scholars in all schools of Islam…

"2. All the divine religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and others, forbid and condemn homosexual relations.

"3. The fervent attempts to present the filthy phenomenon of homosexuality, and the farce of same-sex marriage and same-sex families, as socially and legally normal pose an existential and cultural threat to humanity…   

"4. The accusations and slander directed at the peoples who reject homosexuality, especially at the Islamic peoples, and the persecution campaigns aimed at hobbling whoever criticizes and opposes [homosexuality], are a horrible violation of freedom of opinion and belief and constitute bossiness, selfishness, tyranny and patronage directed by the West and its servants at the peoples of the world…

"5. Finally, the IUMS recommends heeding the voice of reason, jurisprudence, wisdom and the common Muslim good, and refraining from being swayed by the voice of deviancy and [moral] degeneracy…"[9]

Qatari Press: Homosexuals Are An Evil And Perverted Group That Has No Place In Our Society

 As stated, homophobic incitement was also manifest in articles in the Qatari press and in tweets by Qatari journalists, which warned against accepting homosexuality or promoting gay rights, seeing this as moral anarchy that threatens Qatari society and Islamic society in general.

Qatari Columnist: Homosexuals Are Perverts With "Rotten Genes"; We Must Protect Our Children From Them

'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-'Abdallah, a columnist for the Qatari daily Al-Sharq, warned against what he described as the campaign to promote homosexuality through commercials, films and even sports events, calling to fight this and protect the children from it. He wrote: "In the past, when we saw some product being advertised by a scantily-dressed model we would immediately change the channel so the children wouldn't see it and so it wouldn't affect their morals and upbringing. In fact, even adults would be embarrassed whenever they came across scenes in foreign films that included kissing…

"In the past, the ones called 'homosexuals' were ashamed to appear in public, and how could they not be? They are a group of people without a single normal gene, who are neither male nor female! Nevertheless, there was a plan [to promote tolerance towards them], which took years to formulate and which people and states did not know about. It began with designing a symbol for them, a colorful flag. Some countries outlawed displaying this flag and oppressed this group. But sadly, some countries embraced it and recognized its symbols. Worse, these countries treat anyone who harms these symbols as a criminal and punish him as severely as possible!

"Films on foreign channels now feature actors who carry this rotten gene… Filmmakers present them as a normal and sensitive group of people! [Homosexuality] is becoming ever more visible in Western societies, and worse, it is gaining a presence, and has begun to appear almost openly, in the Arab and Muslim societies [as well]. The ongoing culture of cultivating the idea [of homosexuality] has apparently begun to yield its rotten fruit.

"Not long ago, a commercial for an international clothing brand showed two men kissing and two women kissing!... This shows that the issue has transcended the level of individuals and has become [a campaign] of organizations and states. Some athletes have apparently begun marketing the homosexual symbol [i.e., the rainbow flag], supporting them and acting to present them in society as a normal and ordinary phenomenon!

"All this compels us to sound the warning bell. Ads for our favorite brands feature homosexuals; an athlete we liked and whose talent we enjoyed seeing is calling to accept them, and movies, as well as actors we have been avidly following for years, have joined their ranks or the ranks of their supporters!

"We crucially need an information and guidance campaign, and activity by individuals, associations and institutions. We must drum into our children that this group is bad and deviant. [We must not] make light of this or express sympathy for people's deviation from human nature as it was created by Allah. 

"When you find a leak in your sewage pipe, you must fix it immediately, otherwise the sewage will ruin everything in your home and cause irreparable damage. The same is true of children. If we allow these ideas to enter their minds without opposing them, they will fill their minds and bodies and contaminate them.

"[Hadith narrator] Ibn 'Abbas[10] said: 'The Prophet cursed men who behave like women and women who behave like men, saying, 'expel them from your homes'…"[11]


'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-'Abdallah (Source: Al-Sharq, Qatar)

Qatari Journalist On Twitter: The World Is In Moral Chaos; Accepting Homosexuality Will Harm Our Families And Society

Khalifa Aal Mahmoud, a columnist for the Qatari daily Al-Raya, made similar remarks in a series of tweets. He wrote: "In the last few years we have witnessed a very strange trend of supporting homosexuals. A vast media machine is dedicated to promoting this strange idea. The issue is raised in every community, [rainbow] flags are flown, and political, social and sports institutions support this. Lately these ideas have been spread [even] by children's films and games.

"This deterioration is led by states and organizations. Many principles have been violated and red lines crossed, and the greatest problem is that people defend [these homosexuals]… The problem is that families and united societies are being harmed…

"The Islamic societies that draw their moral principles from the Islamic shari'a must recruit the best minds to discuss this issue and come up with ideas for resolving it. Until now, there has been no serious attempt to address this dangerous issue, despite the gravity of this trend and even though reports about it now appear on a daily basis, unfortunately. The world is in chaos in terms of principles and morals. We see many changes that contravene all the religions, and the deterioration, as I said, will only accelerate. May Allah protect us from this great attack, the like of which has never been seen by human societies."[12]


Some of Khalifa Aal Mahmoud's tweets

Mohamed Aboutrika, Retired Footballer And Sports Commentator On Qatari Channel: Homosexuality Is "Against Human Nature"

Another homophobic statement which sparked reactions in Qatar and beyond was made by Mohamed Aboutrika, a retired Egyptian footballer who now lives in Qatar and appears as a commentator on the Qatari BeIN SPORTS channel. Aboutrika evoked a media storm when, on a November 27 program, he came out against the English Premier League "Rainbow Laces" initiative championing LGBTQ+ inclusion, as part of which rainbow-themed branding, armbands, laces and badges were displayed at matches between November 27 and December 2, 2021. He said that Arab and Muslim players in Britain should not participate in this campaign, because homosexuality goes against humanity and is not a matter of human rights. He went on to say that some people suggest that during the 2022 Qatar World Cup, alcohol and homosexuality should be permitted, but that just as Arabs and Muslims respect laws abroad, foreigners will have to respect the laws and traditions of Qatar when they come to the World Cup.

For excerpts from Aboutrika's statements, click below:

Qatari Journalists Support Aboutrika's Statement: He Is A Hero And A Role Model For All Young Muslims

Responding to the outrage sparked by Aboutrika's comments in Britain and in the West, journalists in the Qatari press came to his defense. They wrote that his statements show him to be a good Muslim who is concerned for his faith and society, and that he should be a role model for Muslim youth.

Qatari Columnist: Aboutrika Voiced The Position Of Islam And Should Be Thanked For It

Al-Sharq columnist Ahmad Al-Muhannadi wrote: "We all know the Egyptian Arab football legend [Mohamed] Aboutrika, that courageous player who does not fear being condemned for [acting for] the sake of Allah. His fame and media standing did not prevent him from speaking out against homosexuality, which is against human nature and is rejected by every religion.  European papers launched an all-out campaign against him just for saying these things, even though they are the ones [always] demanding [to respect] freedom of speech…

"What that talented and virtuous footballer [Aboutrika] did was aimed at guiding our young people, advising them and raising their awareness. [That is why] he thankfully voiced his honorable opinion, and he will be generously rewarded for it, Allah willing. Thank you, Aboutrika, for condemning evil and opposing the infiltration of homosexuality into sports activities, which [are meant to] promote morality, not promiscuity and perversion. O brave hero, you spoke true words that show you are a good and devout Muslim. We should all say these words and support you, as required by [the commandment to] 'promote good and forbid evil.' [The West] plots against us in every way, even through sports. They want to use sports to infect us with promiscuity and make us accept homosexuality and regard it as a [natural] right… Homosexuals are perverts that violate human nature… Every devout Muslim must promote good and forbid evil… We must support Aboutrika and others like him so as to uphold our religion and silence these Western campaigns.   

"Dear reader, if you keep silent in the face of this [Western] position, it means that you agree with it and accept homosexual behavior. [As a result,] this phenomenon may spread in our Islamic society and infect the next generations, while you sit fearful and silent out of worldly considerations. How will you escape Allah's punishment? You saw the punishment Allah meted out to the family of Lot. What you must do today, wherever you live, on [whatever] media platform you use and in every way that allows you to speak or act, is oppose this shameful behavior and its injection into sports and into any other sphere…"[13]

Qatari Columnist: Aboutrika Is A Model For Emulation

Al-Sharq columnist 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-'Abdallah wrote in a similar vein: "The virtuous footballer and commentator Mohamed Aboutrika… voiced his rejection of homosexuals, referring to the efforts of Western countries to support them and to use international sports events to spread [their views] and present them as a normal group and as part of society, [a gender] no different from men and women! That is what prompted the virtuous footballer Aboutrika to oppose these efforts by making statements that reflected his love for his country and society. He warned against the danger of [incurring] Allah's wrath, which is directed at [homosexuals] and at whoever supports or shelters them. He also reminded the viewers of Allah's punishment to the people of Lot, and warned about the way in which [the promoters of homosexuality] try to infiltrate the minds of the children in our Arab and Islamic societies and among the Muslim immigrants in the West. For the West acts… to present these sexual deviants as normal people who are treated unfairly by society, so that people will sympathize with them and become accustomed to them, until they eventually become a fact that evokes no shame at all! This contravenes reality, human nature and every religion, from Islam to the other monotheistic faiths that have been distorted.    

"It is saddening that some among us speak of engaging in dialogue with the supporters of homosexuality and explaining the harm caused by this phenomenon to the family and to society – as though this is a mysterious issue that is not evident to everyone. This indicates that the Western approach has penetrated deep into many sectors in our society, which have begun to speak of the need to convince the West by presenting scientific and social arguments [against homosexuality], rather than religious ones… This cerebral and scientific approach is an opening that may grow wider! Drinking alcohol has certain benefits, but the devastating harm it causes to societies and individuals outweighs [these benefits]. If we forgo the religious aspect of the ban on the drinking of alcohol, and trade it for scientific dialogue with those who allow this [behavior], the result will be that people will say, 'Let's drink a little, because, from a scientific point of view, it is not harmful'!…

"Aboutrika is the kind of Muslim young man who is [aware of his] duty is to condemn evil and who uses the fame Allah has bestowed upon him to benefit his society and religion… Aboutrika is the kind of celebrity we want our children to follow. We hope that [other] celebrities in the Islamic world emulate him and support their religion, instead of letting themselves be manipulated by money…"[14]

Qatari Columnist: Homosexuality Must Be Restrained; The World Must Respect Our Ways

Al-Sharq columnist Salwa Al-Mulla also expressed support for Aboutrika, saying that sports events are no place for behaviors aimed at promoting homosexuality, and that such behaviors should be curbed and even banned by law. She wrote: "… When we invest money and effort in successfully hosting every activity and every sports event, it is accompanied by a successful and powerful [campaign] by the homeland to uphold our values, the directives of our religion and the culture and customs of [our] conservative society…

"As a citizen, I dislike [certain] behaviors and condemn those who try to use [sports] activities, tournaments and the like to promote private and perverted agendas that contravene Qatar's values, constitution and outlook. The brave and virtuous footballer Mohammad Aboutrika, a commentator on the BeIN SPORTS channels, courageously spoke out as an Arab and Muslim who is devoted to Qatar and to the directives of his religion, and voiced [his position] on this perverted group of people and against those who call to promote its activity on the ground and to turn the media spotlight on it. This group angers Allah and prevents us from attaining livelihood and success, and therefore every Arab and Muslim citizen must condemn it. We must not let the Western media, tabloids and social [media] spread controversy and present such perverted behaviors as a [natural] right...

"Qatar and the BeIN SPORTS channels are greater and wiser than any crazy media campaign that calls for corruption, angers Allah, contravenes the religion, customs and traditions of [our] society and opposes the brave and true statement of Mohamed Aboutrika… Forbidding evil is the duty of every believer and loyal citizen.

"Sadly, some communities [i.e., the gay community] use these [sports] events to engage in certain actions and behaviors, which they spread on social media in order to show that it is possible to engage in them freely and safely and that no one deters them or forbids this. [I refer to] unnatural dances and gestures that cannot be regarded as art. These indiscriminating, anarchistic and absurd personal behaviors and dances… are meant to draw attention and appeal to the media, more than they are meant to convey the message of the representatives of the  community about its culture, tradition and art. These behaviors require supervision and legislation… A sports event is no excuse to engage in behaviors that should be curbed and banned…

"Our homeland is dear to us and we fear for it, [so] we will not accept phenomena such as celebrations, affairs and behaviors that anger Allah. We have the power to compel the world to respect our homeland which is small in size but great in its values."[15]

 

*C. Meital is a research fellow at MEMRI.

 

[1] Dr. Ahmad Al-Raissouni, who has headed the IUMS since November 2018, told Al-Jazeera in an interview that Qatar has supported the organization since its inception. See Aljazeera.net, November 18, 20218.

[2] For previous articles against homosexuality in the Qatari media, see MEMRI reports: Special Dispatch No. 8876 – Media Advisor At Qatari Foreign Ministry: Homosexuality Is Unnatural And A Grave Sin, August 3, 2020;

Special Dispatch No. 8590, Homophobia In Qatar: Cancellation Of Event With Rock Band Whose Lead Singer Is Gay; Article Against Children’s Book 'Promoting Homosexuality,' February 26, 2020.

[3] Cnn.com, November 30, 2021.

[4] Theguardian.com, November 7, 2021.

[5] Twitter.com/CNNFC, November 30, 2021.

[6] Resources.fifa.com, January 21, 2020.

[7] Al-Raya (Qatar), December 12, 2021.

[8] Facebook.com/fatwacenter.

[9] Iumsonline.org, December 5, 2021.

[10] 'Abdallah Bin 'Abbas (619-687) was a cousin and a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, and is considered one of the greatest Quranic commentators.

[11] Al-Sharq (Qatar), November 16, 2021.

[12] Twitter.com/khalifa624, November 20, 2021.

[13] Al-Sharq (Qatar), December 6, 2021.

[14] Al-Sharq (Qatar), December 7, 2021.

[15] Al-Sharq (Qatar), December 2, 2021.

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