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November 8, 2022 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1666

As World Cup Approaches, Qatar Rejects Western Criticism Of Its Human Rights Record, Hits Back With Accusations Of Its Own

November 8, 2022 | By Z. Harel*
Qatar | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1666

Introduction

As the FIFA 2022 World Cup draws closer, Western criticism of the host country, Qatar, has been increasing, especially criticism of its attitude towards the LGBTQ community[1] and its violation of human rights, following reports that thousands of migrant workers died during the accelerated construction of the stadiums and infrastructure for the games. On September 28, 2022, for example, the German-Danish sportswear company Hummel unveiled the Danish team's kit for the games in Qatar. Designed by Hummel and the Danish Football Association, the uniforms bear a toned-down version of the company's logo and the team crest, barely visible against the background, in protest against Qatar's human rights violations. Furthermore, one of the colors chosen for the uniforms is black, "the color of mourning," to honor the migrant workers who died in the construction of the facilities. In a statement, Hummel explained that "we don't wish to be visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives."[2] 

In early October, several French cities and towns, including Paris, announced that they would not be showing the games on big screens at fan zones, in protest against social and environmental aspects of the event's organization. The municipality of Marseille stated that "this World Cup gradually turned into a humanitarian and environmental disaster that contravenes the values we wish to inculcate through sports and through football in particular. Committed to the values of partnership and solidarity in sports, Marseille... cannot take part in promoting the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar." [3] Bordeaux mayor Pierre Hurmic said, "It would be a farce if we were to be complicit with the humanitarian and ecological abuses that are embodied by this World Cup."[4]

On October 27, 2022, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said that "the awarding of major sports events should be tied to observance of human rights and sustainability," and added: "There are criteria that have to be kept to, and then it would be better not to award [the right to host such events] to such states [like Qatar].” Her remarks prompted the Qatari authorities to summon the German ambassador. [5] On a visit to Qatar several days later, Faeser took a more conciliatory tone, saying that the Qataris had given her a “guarantee of safety” for LGBTQ fans during the tournament,[6] and that Qatar had launched some valuable reforms, especially in the area of workers' rights.[7] In a tweet, she wrote that Germany would continue to support reforms in Qatar after the games to improve the lives of migrant workers and the human rights situation.[8]

Several European teams, including those of England, France, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands, have announced their captains will be wearing rainbow armbands in protest against Qatar's treatment of the LGBTQ community.[9] On October 26, 2022, members of the Australian national team posted a video in which they condemned the state of human rights in Qatar and its criminalization of same-sex relations.[10] 

Several football players and coaches who are to take part in the tournament also condemned the holding of the games in Qatar. In a September 20 interview with a German newspaper, Hans-Dieter "Hansi" Flick, the coach of Germany's national team, said, "It is obvious that a lot is wrong in Qatar when it comes to human rights and sustainability." In another statement, Flick slammed Qatar's treatment of the LGBTQ community, and said that his gay friends would not be attending the games for this reason.[11]

The Qatari regime did not remain indifferent to the criticism voiced in the West, and attempted to quell it by amending some of the country's labor laws. In addition, FIFA officials mobilized to promote a positive image of Qatar, commending the reforms it had enacted. At the same time, the Qatari regime complained that the country was facing an unobjective smear campaign, and that many of the allegations against it were false and stemmed from racism and hostility. The Qatari Emir himself addressed the issue, stating that the country was being subjected to an unprecedented and unobjective campaign full of lies and reflecting a double standard.

The Qatari press published many angry responses to the Western criticism, as did Qatari journalists on social media. These responses hit back at the Western countries, saying that they themselves violate human rights and are therefore in no moral position to criticize Qatar. They argued further that the criticism of Qatar stemmed from racism, Islamophobia and arrogance on the part of the West, which finds it difficult to accept that the world's largest football event is being held in an Arab and Muslim country.


Cartoon in Qatari daily: Arm in the shape of the World Cup logo flicks away a blond figure making accusations against Qatar (Al-Sharq, Qatar, October 25, 2022).

This report presents some of the Qatari responses to the Western criticism.

Qatari Emir And Administration: The Criticism Against Us Is Steeped In Lies And Hypocrisy, Ignores The Reforms We Have Enacted

The Qatari regime, headed by Emir Tamim bin Hamad Aal Thani, responded to the criticism against the country, which is mounting as the games draw nearer, in two ways. On the one hand, it rejected the criticism regarding violation of workers' rights by highlighting the legal amendments that Qatar had made in this area. On the other hand, it claimed that it was facing a baseless slander campaign full of lies, motivated by racism. In a September 14 interview with the French weekly Le Point, the Emir noted that Qatar had taken the criticism regarding labor conditions to heart, and took the necessary steps: "We understood we had a problem on the constructions sites, and therefore took serious measures in record time. We amended laws and punished employers who were mistreating their workers..." But despite this, he said, the criticism continued. "This criticism comes mostly from people who cannot accept that the World Cup is being held in an Arab Muslim country like Qatar, and therefore look for any excuse to blacken our reputation," he complained.[12]

The Emir made similar remarks in an October 25 speech at the opening of the parliamentary session. "Since we earned the honor of hosting the World Cup," he said, "Qatar has been facing an unprecedented attack that no other host [of this tournament] has ever faced. Initially we took the criticism innocently, believing that a little criticism would be a good thing and would help us develop some aspects that required improvement. But we soon discovered that, [despite our efforts], the criticism continued, grew and included lies and double standards. The viciousness reached levels that caused some people to wonder about the real reasons and motivations behind the attack... We undertook the challenge [of hosting of the games] out of a belief in our ability, as Qataris, to devote ourselves to the task and carry it out successfully, and understanding the significance of hosting a large event like the World Cup in the Arab homeland... We will continue to work, each in his own capacity, to exalt the name of this country. We will welcome everyone with open arms, so that the world will witness the Qataris' hospitality and generosity."[13]

In several interviews he gave to the foreign press, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani also related to the attacks on Qatar and the calls to boycott the World Cup. In a November 7 interview with the British Sky News news service company, he said, "Honestly, not me or the Qatari people only, but there's a lot of people from around the world who are just seeing this as a sense of arrogance... [There's] a sense of people who cannot accept a small country from the Middle East has won the bid to host the World Cup."[14]

In another interview he granted to the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on November 6, the minister alluded to the German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser when he stated that the criticism from German politicians embodies a double standard. He said, "On the one hand politicians in the German government mislead the German people [regarding Qatar] and on the other hand the German government has no problem [maintaining relations] with us when it comes to partnerships in the fields of energy and investments."[15]

In a November 4 interview with the French Le Monde daily, Al-Thani said, "The reasons given for boycotting the World Cup do not hold water. There is a lot of hypocrisy in these attacks, which gloss over everything we have achieved."[16]


Cartoon in Qatari daily: migrant workers in Qatar laugh at reports about the violation of their rights (Al-Sharq, Qatar, October 15, 2022)

FIFA President: Qatar Has Made "Significant Long-Term Progress In Labor Conditions"

Top FIFA officials mobilized to deflect the criticism directed against Qatar's treatment of the migrant workers. In early October, FIFA President  Gianni Infantino met with the incoming head of the International Labor Organization, Gilbert Houngbo, and presented the reforms enacted by Qatar in the area of workers' rights, saying, " We have made significant progress in recent years through our collaboration together on the conditions of workers in Qatar."[17] On November 1, Infantino met with German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser following the latter's criticism of the state of human rights in Qatar, and, according to the FIFA website, highlighted the "significant long-term progress in labor conditions" there.[18] About two weeks before the start of the games, FIFA wrote to World Cup teams urging them to focus on the football in Qatar and not let the sport be dragged into ideological or political "battles."[19]

Qatari Media: Western Countries Themselves Violate Human Rights, Are In No Position To Lecture Us

As mentioned, the Qatari media likewise mobilized to rebuff the Western criticism against the country. The October 11 editorial of the Al-Raya daily described the criticism as an attack by "dubious elements" stemming from "jealousy, meanness and racism." The editorial added that these elements will "never achieve human [rights] laws and reforms and bolster the rights of migrant workers like Qatar has... and called Qatar "an oasis of security, peace, stability and promotion of workers' rights..."[20]

Another argument prominently made in the Qatari press and on social media was that the Western countries were in no position to preach to Qatar about human and workers' rights, because they themselves violate these rights in their own territory and elsewhere. Qatari journalists called on the West to implement its slogans in its own countries before lecturing Qatar.

Qatari Daily Al-Sharq: Denmark Is In No Moral Position To Point Fingers At Others

Following the statement by the Danish sportswear company Hummel, which designed the Danish kit for the games, the Qatari press published dozens of reports and articles claiming that this company and the state of Denmark were themselves guilty of human rights violations. The October 2, 2022 editorial of the Qatari daily Al-Sharq stated: "...Qatar transcended all the unprecedented attempts to slander and harm it... In fact, it was careful not to be dragged into these campaigns, all of which ended in failure. But as the games approached, the latest of these campaigns appeared, [this time] from Denmark... These Danish claims are neither strange nor surprising, for this country has a rich record of racist policies towards migrants and of hatred for Islam and Muslims. Denmark has the worst legal record in terms of [its treatment of] refugees and migrants. In the last five years over 100 laws were passed there limiting the rights of migrants and their children... The [campaigns against Qatar] have no chance of succeeding, not only because their claims are false, but because those behind them are in no moral position to point fingers at others."[21]

An October 3, 2022 article in the London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi accused Hummel of turning a blind eye to the crimes committed against the Uyghur Muslims in China.[22]


Cartoon in Qatari daily: Denmark, responsible for "lies and conspiracies, racism, limiting rights, expelling refugees and hatred of Islam," points a finger at Qatar (Al-Sharq, Qatar, October 3, 2022)

Qatari Journalist: The 'Wretched France" And "Pathetic Denmark," Who Themselves Violate Human Rights, Are Lecturing Qatar

Especially harsh criticism was expressed by Qatari journalist Ibtisam Aal Sa'd, in response to the announcement by cities in France that they would not set up screens show the games, in protest against Qatar's human rights violations. Aal Sa'd tweeted: "The wretched and desperate France and the pathetic and evil Denmark pretend to be humane at the expense of the World Cup in Qatar, when [their own record] is stained with human rights violations in their own territory. They forget that both of them have insulted the most honorable of men, the Prophet Muhammad. How can we expect them to refrain from harming an Arab Muslim country?!..."[23]

In another tweet, responding to the video released by members of the Australian team to condemn Qatar's human rights violations, she wrote: "...These fools forget that in 2020 Australia was ranked lowest in terms of its human rights record. Furthermore, homosexuality is criminalized in two thirds of the world. But who can prevent these mercenary dogs [from slandering Qatar]?"[24]

Commentator On Qatari Sports Channel: These Are Just Empty Slogans; In France More Migrant Workers Die On Construction Sites Than In Qatar

Hafid Derradji, an Algerian journalist and commentator on the Qatari BeIN Sports channel, made similar claims in his column in the London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi. Responding to the French cities' decision to boycott of the games,  he wrote:  "The awakening of the French conscience, [suddenly so keen to] defend the values of freedom, justice, equality, workers' rights, human rights and the environment, is nothing but empty slogans and headlines. [These values] need to be implemented in France [itself], where dozens of Arab and African migrants die on construction sites, whereas in Qatar the number is smaller.'[25]


Cartoon in Qatari daily: "The West's double standards": it decries violations of "workers' rights in Qatar," yet shuts its ears to "racism, expulsion of refugees and hatred of Islam" in the West (Al-Sharq, Qatar, October 3, 2022)

Sports Reporter For Qatari Daily: German Coach Should Address His Country's Own Human Rights Record, In Light Of Nazi Crimes

'Ali Yahya Al-Lami, an Iraqi sports reporter for the Qatari Al-Kas channel and the Qatari daily Al-Watan, took to Facebook to respond to the statements by German coach Hansi Flick, writing: "Flick's criticism... is a foolish insult to a country that has close relations with Berlin in the spheres of energy and mutual trade... The coach of the 'Machine' [i.e. Germany's national football team] should worry about human rights in his own country, especially given the crimes of the Nazis, which still haunt Germany today. If human rights are important to him, he should already declare his position on the 2026 World Cup, which is to take place in the U.S., whose human rights record is known to all."[26]

Qatari Journalists: The Criticism Against Qatar Is Unobjective, Motivated By Western Racism And Arrogance

Another claim prominently made in the Qatari press was that the West's criticism of Qatar was not objective and stemmed from its hatred for Arabs and Muslims. The journalists claimed that the West finds it difficult to accept that the World Cup is being hosted, for the first time, in an Arab and Muslim country, and that is why it is responding with a smear campaign against Qatar. 

Qatari Journalist: The European Press Is Fabricating Lies Because It Can't Accept That The Event Is Being Held In Qatar; The Statements Against Qatar Reflect A Colonialist And Condescending Mentality

In his October 20, 2022 column in the Qatari daily Al-Sharq, titled "The World Cup – Between Envy and Condescension," Qatari journalist 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Khater claimed that Europeans have "a clear sense of superiority" and an arrogant and condescending attitude towards any non-European country hosting the World Cup. He wrote: "...As the date of the Qatari achievement [i.e. its hosting of the World Cup] draws near... the campaign [against Qatar] intensifies more and more. [When a country] is granted the honor of hosting [the tournament], this is first and foremost a recognition of its qualifications, capabilities, excellence and human [capital]. That is a large factor in the Western thinking which should not be trivialized. That is why the European press, mired in embarrassment and confusion, is fabricating lies and casting doubts [on Qatar]. But the truth regarding the Qatari achievement is clear. They [i.e. the Europeans] thought this was a dream or a nightmare from which they would [soon] awaken, but it is turning into a reality before their eyes. For some [of these] countries it's just a matter of envy, jealousy, pessimism and nightmares... With Allah's help the World Cup will be held and Qatar and will be a magnificent victory for the Arabs that everyone will applaud – even some of the wicked."[27]

In an October 30,2022 column responding to German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser's statements that Qatar is not worthy of hosting the World Cup, Al-Khater wrote: "That statement... exposes the hideous European mentality and its condescending attitude towards other countries and peoples... [It is] a nauseating statement that reveals a colonialist mentality... To hell with that minister and her statements."[28]


Cartoon in Qatari daily shows the German interior minister staining the World Cup in Qatar (Al-Sharq, Qatar, October 29, 2022)

Columnist In Qatari Daily: The West Attacked Qatar, Russia and China, Thinking That Only Western Countries Are Capable Of Organizing International Events

In his column in the London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Algerian journalist and sports commentator Hafid Derradji wrote: "[The decision] by several French cities to boycott [the World Cup broadcasts] follows previous campaigns launched in 2010 in France and other European countries, which could not accept the idea of the World Cup being held in an Arab or Muslim country. [Qatar] amended its labor laws to care for the workers while also protecting the environment, but this did nothing to save it from Western attacks and criticism. This was also the lot of China when it hosted the Olympics in 2008 and of Russia ahead of the 2018 World Cup. [These attacks], more political and racist than related to sports, spread enmity and hatred, [based on] a belief that only the West is capable of organizing international events..."[29]

Qatari Journalists: The West Spreads Fake News Just Because This Is The First World Cup To Be Held In A Muslim Country

Similar claims were made by Qataris on social media. Al-Raya editor 'Abdallah Ghanem Al-Bin'ali Al-Muhannadi tweeted the statement by the Hummel sportswear company regarding Qatar's human rights record, and responded: "[A message] from us to FIFA: Sports should not be mixed with politics. Racist slogans and fake news – all because an Arab Muslim country is organizing the World Cup. # Denmark national team is not welcome."[30]

Maryam Aal Thani, a member of Qatar's ruling family, tweeted: "As the World Cup celebration draws near, the West's planned campaigns [against Qatar] grow ever more vicious. The 2022 World Cup is the first to be held in a Muslim Arab country! And some racists in the West have difficulty accepting and swallowing this fact! We Muslims must ignore these campaigns and see to the success of this World Cup, which bears our name and our identity." In two further tweets Aal Thani wrote: "The West, and especially its tabloids, must know that soccer belongs to everyone and no single nation can monopolize it..." ; "We will not heed slanted rumors that are intended to frustrate us. On the contrary, we will continue successfully realizing our ambitions and dreams while preserving our heritage..."[31]


Cartoon in Qatari daily: "An Outstanding [Arab] World Cup" (Al-Sharq, Qatar, October 22, 2022)

 

*Z. Harel is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.

 


[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 10274, In Qatar On Eve Of FIFA World Cup, Condemnation Of LGBTQ Community Continues – October 21, 2022.

[2] Twitter.com/hummel1923, September 28, 2022. See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 10264, Qataris, Pro-Qatar Twitter Users Launch Campaign Condemning Denmark For Planning To Highlight Qatar’s Human Rights Violations During FIFA World Cup, October 17, 2022.

[3] France24.com, October 4, 2022.

[4] Reuters.com, October 3, 2022.

[5] Apnews.com, October 28, 2022.

[6] Dw.com, Twitter.com, November 1, 2022.

[7] Tagesschau.de, November 1, 2022

[8] Twitter.com/NancyFaeser, Twitter.com/NancyFaeser.

[9] Edition.cnn.com, September 21, 2022.

[10] Reuters.com, October 27, 2022. On October 25, 2022, British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell staged a one-man protest in front of Qatar's national museum, standing with a shirt saying "Qatar anti-gay" and holding a sign protesting the arrest of gays in Qatar and the use of conversion therapy. Twitter.com/PeterTatchell, October 25, 2022; Al-Arab (London), October 26, 2022.

[11] Sportsmax.tv, .spiegel.de, September 20, 2022.

[12] Al-Raya (Qatar), September 15, 2022.

[13] Al-Watan (Qatar), October 26, 2022. Rejection of the criticism, and the claim that Qatar has reformed its labor laws, were also heard from the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), the FIFA 2022 World Cup organizer. In a September 30 statement in response to the criticism from Hummel, the designer of the Danish team's kit for the games in Qatar, the committee noted "the important reforms enacted in Qatar's labor market in the recent years, which are known to [relevant] elements, such as the International Labor Organization." The committee stressed that, "like in any country, progress in these areas is an ongoing process, and Qatar is committed to this process." Al-Sharq (Qatar), September 30, 2022.

[14] News.sky.com, November 7, 2022.

[15] Al-Raya (Qatar), November 8, 2022.

[16] Lemonde.fr, November 4, 2022.

[17] Fifa.com, October 6, 2022.

[18] Fifa.com, November 1, 2022.

[19] Reuters.com, November 4, 2022.

[20] Al-Raya (Qatar), Octobwe 11, 2022.

[21] Al-Sharq (Qatar), October 2, 2022.

[22] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), October 3, 2022.

[23] Twitter.com/Ebtesam777, October 4, 2022.

[24] Twitter.com/Ebtesam777, October 27, 2022.

[25] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), October 6, 2022.

[26] Facebook.com/alilamisport, September 21, 2022.

[27] Al-Sharq (Qatar), October 20, 2022.

[28] Al-Sharq (Qatar), October 30, 2022.

[29] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), October 6, 2022.

[30] Twitter.com/boghanem73, September 29, 2022.

[31] Twitter.com/ALThani_M, October 6, 2022.

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