A personal perspective by Tony Attwood
Taking on the subject of Qatar, what it is, what it stands for and indeed what it is doing, is dangerous ground. Dangerous because opinions are so polarised that anything one says is going to be open to discussion, debate, and dissent.
So I headline this, a personal perspective. You may find my views wrong, abhorant or just plain daft. But they are views I have come to as a result of reading, trying to understand, and having lived in an Arab country.
And I tackle this because Qatar has the world cup, owns PSG, and has got its fingers into Barca. All of that makes it s suitable subject for Untold.
Regarding Qatar, it has moved to become a constitutional monarchy, although not one like the UK. As the Financial Times put it, when one emir replaced another, “The outgoing emir, who deposed his own father in a palace coup in 1995, evoked a future belonging to the young when he addressed his tiny nation. Sheikh Hamad has also placed a multibillion-dollar bet on mainstream political Islam as the wave of the Arab future, typified by the Muslim Brotherhood he has backed across north Africa and in Syria’s civil war.
“In 2009 he was urged by his friend Nicolas Sarkozy, then president of France, to support Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and cease dallying with Hamas, a Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood. “We like Abu Mazen [President Abbas],” he replied, “but one has to ride the tide of history.”
That pretty much tells you where the country, which sits on about 14% of the world’s known natural gas reserves, is.
Qatar has 278,000 citizens as opposed to 63 million in the UK. But Qatar also has around 1.3 million foreign workers who have minimal rights. Enter the UK legally as a non-UK national and you have all sorts of rights – including the right to leave when you want, as long as you have not committed a crime, or overstayed your visa. In Qatar, as I understand it, if you are one of the 1.3 million foreign workers you can’t leave unless your employer says you can. In other words you are tied to your employer, and under his command.
This came to world footballing attention when Zahir Belounis, a French Algerian footballer, found himself in limbo for two years, unable to obtain the necessary exit visa, and unable to earn a salary within the country. Upon his release he thanked Arsene Wenger for supporting his case.
There is no doubt that the French government became involved and helped arrange that release although the Qatar football federation disagrees with the widely publicised reporting of the event which suggested clearly that he was stuck.
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The BBC, whose reporting on such matters I tend to trust, more than other news organisations, has a report “Inside Qatar’s Squalid Labour Camps” which is worth reading.
From the outside it looks to me (and yes, this is just me, a regular guy, reading the news from the comfort of a nice house in England) Qatar looks like a small, but very rich country that is trying to play a major part in world politics but without western views on human rights. And that I find troubling.
Taking a view from Reuters – another news source I tend to trust – I find this, “Qatar’s backing for Syrian rebels widely regarded as jihadi militants might appear a diplomatic liability at a time when global alarm about al Qaeda is on the rebound.
“The tiny but wealthy gas exporting country is under fierce pressure from some Gulf Arab neighbors to curb its support for Islamists of all stripes, principally the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and more radical rebel groups with al Qaeda ties in Syria.”
Now this is, to say the very least, controversial. A tiny state, with a lot of money, and using its money to promote a type of revolution that appears from the west to be something rather awful (to put it mildly). For myself, as an atheist, I don’t want to stop other people having a religion, but I do want states to resist religions which have any tendency to undertake crusades of the type the Catholic Church sanctioned in the 11th to 13th centuries.
And my fear is that Qatar, a state which seems to be getting itself centrally involved with world football, appears to be supporting groups which do proclaim that their religion is the true religion and non-believers should be dealt with harshly, to put it mildly.
Thus my view is that Qatar is a state which appears on the outside to be involved in supporting groups like ISIS in Syria, and which treats its immigrant workers in a way more in keeping with feudalism than the modern day.
So I opposed the notion of Qatar taking on the world cup, not because it is too hot, but because of their political and religious positioning – as I understand it. It is a country, for example which promotes Sharia law and in which Muslims can be put to death for extramarital sex, regardless of sexual orientation. (Washington Post)
Piara Powar, the director of Football Against Racism in Europe has picked up on this in the past, saying “Qatar is one of the few countries where homosexuality is still illegal.” Again, not the sort of place we should be honouring with the biggest football event in the world.
And it is not just the world cup, for I have severe doubts about what they are doing with PSG and Barcelona. In this regard Qatar and Fifa look like a perfect match. Except I wonder if Fifa, Barcelona and PSG really know what they are getting into.
Now through this little piece I have tried to make it clear, I am just writing about what I have read from sources I normally rely on, and what seems to me to be true. And it is relevant to Arsenal, and football, because Arsenal players will end up playing in Qatar in the world cup finals, and so as supporters I think we should ask – are we ok with this. After all, we have views on whether Arsenal needs a new defensive midfielder, why not have views on whether Arsenal players should honour Fifa and Qatar by playing in their world cup.
I imagine that Qatar, having so successfully subsumed PSG, will now expand its influence on Barcelona, who have been having financial difficulties for some time, and then move into other clubs. Indeed if you read the football financial news up to 2012 you could see Barcelona was in very serious trouble. Then in 2014 it announced that it was to spend an awful lot of money on upgrading its stadium. Somehow they got a load of dosh.
Just have a look at what the web site Think Progress said of what is happening
“According to totalbarca.com, Barça will take €200 million in private debt to help finance the project, another €200 million will come from its cash reserves, hotel and event space the club owns will generate another €50 million, and the final €150 million will come from the selling of naming rights on the renovated Camp Nou.
“This doesn’t guarantee the renovation project, scheduled for completion in 2021, won’t go over its budget or cause financial headaches for the club or its members, and former club director Joan Castells has already called the project “risky.” But unlike stadium projects in America, where taxpayers are footing a $4 billion federal bill and far more in total contributions, it will be the club, not the public, that is on the hook for any financing problems that may arise.”
Now given the state of the Spanish economy in general and Spanish football in particular this looks phenomenally risky, and one might begin to think that there is a very rich organisation behind it.
Of course this is all just my opinion, and of course I don’t have evidence to show that Qatar is funding the rebuilding of Barca’s old ground. I just read the news sources that seem fairly trustworthy, and watch what Qatar is up to.
Qatar and Fifa, to me, look like perfect bedfellows. And it is interesting that Barça now seems to be part of the partnership. If Barça is not and it raises its funds from elsewhere, then I will say, good for you Barça. I’m just saying at the moment, I am a little suspicious. And in terms of the world cup, more than a little worried.