Lamya Kaddor on the Qatar World Cup "Address problems, but acknowledge progress"
Ms Kaddor, you visited Qatar and Saudi Arabia a week ago as a member of the "Arabic-Speaking Middle East States" parliamentary group. In Qatar, there has been some improvement in the legal conditions for migrant workers. But have there also been improvements in practice?
Lamya Kaddor: The Emirate of Qatar is an authoritarian monarchy. This means calls for compliance with labour protection or human rights standards need to be ongoing. Nevertheless, it should be acknowledged that the reforms carried out in Qatar to date as a result of international pressure have already led to improvements in the country – especially for migrants working on World Cup construction sites.
Progress such as cooperation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), reforms and the easing of the so-called "kafala system" in Qatar – the first country in the region to do so – are important steps for people living and working in the emirate. Qatar has at least taken the first important steps in labour protection and labour rights. The human rights situation on the ground has also gradually improved, but much more remains to be done.
Problems implementing reforms
At the same time, the implementation of these reforms continues to pose major problems. Some 90,000 female domestic workers have yet to benefit from the recent reforms. I believe the Gulf state has assumed responsibility to implement the agreed reforms, even in the face of resistance from employers and elements of Qatari society.
It is crucial these legislative advances do not disappear once the World Cup in Qatar is over. For there to be a lasting improvement in human rights and political participation, the reform process that has been initiated must continue past the end of the World Cup, when the eyes of the world are no longer focused on Qatar.
Everyone is currently concentrating on the World Cup. From the Qataris' point of view, it must run smoothly and peacefully. Only after the World Cup will it become clear whether the Qataris will continue with the current status quo, strive for further reforms, or lose what they have already achieved.
What concrete impressions did you gain during the trip?
Kaddor: Qatari society is looking forward to this World Cup. The Qataris are proud of what they have achieved so far and they see the World Cup as an opportunity to present themselves internationally as good hosts. I didn't see any flags on cars or passers-by wearing jerseys. Pictures of players from different nations were on the facades of many high-rise buildings. Entire streets were already decorated in the spirit of the World Cup. At the same time, you could see huge construction sites. The country is keen to shed its image as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and instead become the mecca of major sporting events. And to some extent, it is succeeding.
Wagging the finger isn't helpful
Did you get the chance to talk to any Qatari non-governmental organisations?
Kaddor: I was able to speak with young academics and with employees at the ILO contact office, which works to improve the working conditions of migrant workers. Unfortunately, it was not possible to speak directly to migrant workers' representatives as part of the political delegation's trip.
One thing is clear: injustices committed on construction sites must be investigated and the victims must not be ignored. That’s why we from the German Green Party support the demand of human rights organisations, trade unions and fan groups to set up an independent and adequately funded compensation fund for migrant workers. We regard FIFA in particular, but also the construction companies and the Qatari government, as responsible for providing the financial means.
Is the impression on the ground different from that conveyed in the Western media?
Kaddor: it is right and important for the media to take a critical look at the human rights situation in Qatar in the context of the men's football World Cup. But wagging the finger at problems is not the way to go about it; instead, we need to take a more differentiated view of the country.
This means not only calling for improvements, but also recognising progress and adopting a regional perspective. Qatar is a small, very vulnerable country sandwiched between three relevant regional powers, namely Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on the one side and Iran on the other side of the Gulf. Qatar's efforts to organise major sporting events like the World Cup also need to be seen in this regional political context.
The Qataris’ main concern is visibility, in the hope that this will help protect them from future disputes with their neighbours. They are still reeling from the experience of the Qatar blockade imposed by their two larger neighbours. Looking to the future, their aim is to be better equipped for such conflicts by strategically making themselves indispensable to the West in the fields of diplomacy, sport, culture, science and business.
"Ignorance and prejudice towards the region"
In his interview with the German daily FAZ, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani accused Germany of double standards towards his country. Is this criticism justified? Is Qatar being held to different standards than previous World Cup hosts?
Kaddor: Qatar and the human rights violations there are not something we have only just begun talking about. Society as a whole is becoming more sensitive to such issues when it comes to bilateral relations. It is worth making a direct comparison with the World Cup in Russia in 2018, when Russia was involved in the brutal war in Syria, had already annexed Crimea and had previously waged war in Georgia. There were also already political prisoners in Vladimir Putin's Russia in 2018.
At the time, however, the human rights situation in Russia was not given as much prominence in the media and political discussion surrounding the World Cup. Generally speaking, awareness of human rights in connection with major sporting events is on the rise, and that is a positive development. At the same time, however, there is a degree of ignorance and prejudice towards the region. It's important we don't come across as hypocrites when expressing criticism.
How should German politics deal with the issue of LGBTQ rights?
Kaddor: The World Cup is the time to draw as much attention as possible to the human rights situation on the ground, giving impulses to improve the everyday lives of people. We will continue to demand human rights for the LGBTQ community in Qatar. It is not just about the fans during the World Cup, however, but primarily about those who live and work in Qatar – long after the World Cup is over.
In Qatar, LGBTQ rights are violated, being LGBTQ is criminalised. The fact that we are denouncing this should come as no surprise to Qatar. I am therefore somewhat surprised the Qataris have reacted so sensitively to criticism from abroad.
"We must demand human rights for LGBTQ"
What do you think should be the political reaction, bearing in mind remarks like the Qatari World Cup ambassador's statement about homosexuality ("spiritual damage")?
Kaddor: I can well understand that the outrageous, homophobic comments by the Qatari World Cup ambassador are unsettling for fans travelling to Qatar. We need to take a firm stance against these despicable remarks. Germany’s Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser has received a guarantee from both the Qatari prime minister and the minister of the interior that the safety of all German fans will be guaranteed during the World Cup. Like Nancy Faeser, I assume that this guarantee continues to apply.
Yet, of course, it is unsatisfactory if the safety of queer people from other countries is only guaranteed in Qatar during the World Cup. We must continue to demand changes to discriminatory legislation and the recognition of LGBTQ human rights in Qatar. Qatar will be judged on whether every person – regardless of their sexual orientation and identity, origin, religion or belief – is safe there.
"Dialogue must continue"
But isn't German politics hypocritical? On the one hand, Qatar (a country without permanent political prisoners) is at times subject to harsh criticism, while on the other hand, German politics did nothing about the fact that the dissident Alaa Abdel Fattah could have died in an Egyptian prison during COP27.
Kaddor: It is important to push for improvements across the region, including in the other Gulf states, where the human rights situation is considerably worse than in Qatar. Qatar can play a pioneering role in the Gulf with its reforms in labour protection. Even though the Gulf monarchies are not easy partners, geopolitically we cannot afford to break off dialogue with the region.
Although we faced criticism relating to Ms Faeser’s comments [Editor’s note: Faeser described the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar as "really difficult"] during our talks in Qatar, we were also able to clearly state our position on difficult topics such as human and women's rights. The same was true for our trip to Saudi Arabia.
As far as Egypt is concerned: It is not as if the German government has not stood up for Alaa Abdel Fattah. Chancellor Scholz personally advocated for the release of Alaa Abdel Fattah during his meeting with Egypt's President Sisi on the fringes of COP27.
Likewise, Jennifer Morgan, state secretary with the German Foreign Office, took part in a panel discussion hosted by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International during the COP, which was also attended by Abdel Fattah's sister. These are clear and also public signals of support for Abdel Fattah and the thousands of other political prisoners in Egypt.
Will you watch the World Cup matches on TV?
Kaddor: Yes, as a sports enthusiast I will probably watch the matches.
Interview conducted by Claudia Mende
© Qantara.de 2022
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