Egyptians in Qatar ready for Salah-mania despite boycott
Qatar's large Egyptian community is clamouring to welcome their country's "icon" Mohamed Salah when he comes to the Gulf this week as Liverpool kick off their Club World Cup campaign. But a regional diplomatic crisis has frustrated travel plans for fans based in Egypt and complicated the desire of expats in Doha to celebrate their country's best-known player.
The Egyptian diaspora in Qatar number around 300,000, according to official statistics, out of a total population of 2.75 million. For many years, Qatari authorities sought out skilled Egyptian migrants to staff a range of sectors from oil and gas to teaching and the health system. But an economic and travel embargo on Qatar by a Saudi-led coalition that includes Cairo has cooled Doha's enthusiasm for mass migration from Egypt.
Egypt and Saudi, along with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, closed their airspace to Qatar Airways and banned travel to the country, putting their citizens in Qatar in a difficult position.
Large numbers of Egyptians gathered in the Souq Waqif tourist bazaar to watch Liverpool's 5-2 trouncing of Everton in this month's Merseyside derby. In a market cafe, other Salah fans called the 27-year-old Arab soccer talisman "an icon for many".
On Wednesday they will have a chance to watch Salah in the flesh when the Reds face Mexico's Monterrey in their semi-final at the 40,000-capacity Khalifa International Stadium.
Egyptian Mustafa Abdel Moneim, 42, told journalists he "got four tickets to the semi-finals, because I expect Liverpool to win and I know that there will be a lot of pressure from Arabs and Egyptians on the team's first game".
"My children put so much pressure on me to book the tickets because they are obsessed with Salah. They will be very happy to see him on the field."
British newspapers have reported that Liverpool have received assurances from Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup, that Salah's visit to the Gulf monarchy will not be politicised.
At the bottom of the heap: foreign construction workers in Qatar
Qatar is considered to be one of the richest countries in the world and will be playing host to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The sporting grounds and stadiums are being constructed by an army of workers from South-East Asia – often under catastrophic working and living conditions.
Large-scale plans and major criticism: since winning the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in December 2010, Qatar has come under criticism for persistent human rights violations. Nonetheless, FIFA has remained firm in its commitment to hold the World Cup in Qatar. For the past five years, guest workers have been busy constructing the sites and stadiums for the event. Pictured here: a construction site in Doha, Qatar
The 1.7 million foreign guest workers, around 88 per cent of the total population of Qatar, come from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. They come here to earn enough money to improve the lives of their families back home. Wages amount to around €200 a month, half of which is sent home to their families. Some of the foreign workers are assigned to fishing garbage out of the sea (pictured here).
Many foreign workers have no idea of what awaits them when they leave their home countries to work on the huge construction project in Qatar. Hardly any of them can read or write. According to human rights organisations, the workers sign contracts that they rarely understand before leaving home. These contracts stipulate labour and visa conditions for residence and employment in Qatar. Despite this, they still take the leap into the unknown. Pictured here: workers on a construction site in Doha.
After arriving in Qatar, the foreign workers receive job training – inadequate for the most part – from the construction companies. A Qatari employer acts as guarantor for a guest worker's visa and maintains a large degree of control over the working and living conditions of his employees. Construction company bosses are not in the habit of easing the heavy physical workload or of providing health insurance for the workers.
Working in temperatures of up to 50° C is almost unbearable, yet a constant reality on construction sites in the Emirate of Qatar. Critics regard this situation as a serious disadvantage to holding the World Cup in the country. The Emirate plans to equip the stadiums with cooling technology. But that is much further down the line: foreign workers on the building sites have to make do without air conditioning
At least the foreign workers are transported by bus to their living and sleeping quarters after a long ten-hour work shift. But here too, they are exposed to the searing Qatari sun.
The areas in which the foreign workers live are not very different from those in their home countries. The numbered streets in the industrial district of Doha are in the same unfinished state as the stadiums being built by the foreign workers. The buildings are usually simple, low-rise buildings. Rubbish piles up outside them. Pictured here: living quarters for foreign workers in Qatar
The migrants have next to no free time. They are tired after work and there is usually only enough time to satisfy basic needs: sleeping, eating and washing. The one day in the week that they have off from work is normally reserved for shopping. Pictured here: foreign workers on their way home from shopping
Mountains of old building materials have been dumped just outside the workers' living quarters. Left over supplies and rubbish, such as old paint pots, are simply dumped and forgotten here.
The hallways inside the living quarters are reminiscent of those found in reception centres for asylum seekers. This is where the workers leave their shoes, dry their laundry and hang up their jackets.
Foreign workers often sleep cooped-up together in a room measuring just a few square metres. The size of the living quarters is often kept to a minimum; Spartan furnishings are the norm. Six to eight steel bunk beds are pushed up against the walls of the room.
The amenities in the quarters are frugal or practically non-existent. The number of toilets, sinks and showers is extremely limited. Up to 16 people live in a 20-square-metre room without any air conditioning – too many people for such limited space.
The kitchens in the living quarters are equipped with gas stoves and long, worn-out and unhygienic worktops that line the walls. There are no shelves for storing food, and storage space is completely lacking.
Laundry is washed by hand and often hung up to dry on fences. In many cases, there is simply not enough space in the cramped living quarters to do otherwise
These three young men came to Qatar in the belief that they could earn a great deal of money. They soon discovered that they earn considerably less than the agreed minimum wage working on the huge World Cup construction site. Instead of 900 Qatari Riyal, they earn a mere 700. In their first three months on the job, many of them received no pay at all.
For the vast majority of the uninsured foreign workers, the living and working conditions in Qatar are catastrophic. To date, hundreds have died in work-related accidents or have suffered heart attacks.
The huge construction sites light up the night in Doha, creating the appearance of a city skyline. Unfortunately, what this photo does not show is that legions of foreign workers also have to toil here at night.
Salah was the at the centre of a political storm when he was pictured alongside Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, who is accused of rights abuses, during Egypt's 2018 World Cup stay in the Russian region.
"Frankly I only support Liverpool for him, if they scored 10 goals, I do not rejoice – except when the goal is Salah's," said Mahmoud Mansour, 30. "I would have liked to have seen him on the field, but it is difficult to get a ticket now. There are too many Egyptians and Arab fans. Look at all these people here for Salah."
Salah scored twice at Watford which extended Liverpool's lead at the top of the English Premier League to 10 points.
Ahmed Abdel Hamid, a 33-year-old salesman said he had been "eager to see Salah with Liverpool at the stadium".
"Unfortunately, all online tickets sold out in just 15 minutes. But we will go see him from the fan zones."
Some fans, who declined to be named, told journalists that friends from Egypt faced difficulties obtaining visitor visas. Egyptians outside of Qatar have been wary of making the trip which must involve a stop in a third country, adding hours to the trip and hundreds of dollars to the cost.
"No Egyptian would come here to watch a match, we just come here for work," said one Egyptian football fan. "If we have the money to travel to Qatar to watch Salah, it would be better to see him with Liverpool in England."
Gamal Sebaai, an Egyptian who previously worked for the Qatar Football Association, said: "We don't consider him to represent only Egyptians, but also all Arabs and Muslims. We hope sports will be the reason for a reconciliation between brothers." (AFP)