There is not a cloud to be seen, the sky is bright blue and the sun heats the air to around 35 degrees. In addition, there is about 80 percent humidity on this day. Numerous cars squeeze through the narrow streets of the Al-Sadd district in Doha. It’s muggy, the air conditioning in the cars and buildings is running at full blast. Some workers working at a road junction have shawls pulled over their heads and faces to protect themselves from the sun. Some sit in the shade and take a short break for a drink. Ahead of the World Cup in Qatar on November 20, Doha remains a huge construction site.
In the capital of the desert state, roads are being paved, buildings are being worked on and sidewalks are being paved. Time is running out, the construction work must be completed because there are only a few weeks left before the first football teams, officials and fans will travel to the small country on the Persian Gulf. It is now twelve years since FIFA awarded the World Cup to Qatar. Probably the most discussed award in the history of the world football association. According to Wenzel Michalski of Human Rights Watch (HRW), the election was probably determined by corruption and illegal machinations, which triggered a whole wave of criticism and has not changed much in the country to this day.
More appearances than reality – many labor law reforms are only apparently being implemented in Qatar
“The current human rights situation in Qatar is bad,” reports Michalski in a DW interview, listing the abuses. LGBTQ people have no rights and are persecuted. They are beaten, tortured and imprisoned, media freedom is restricted, there is no rule of law, demonstrations and trade unions are not allowed in Qatar. In addition, women only have limited rights and are not responsible citizens.” And this despite the fact that the Male Guardian system, i.e. the paternalism of women by men, was recently officially abolished. According to Michalski, this only happened on paper, in reality it is still different.
The desert state has been trying for a long time to give the world a liberal image of the country. Officially, fans from the LGBTQ scene are also welcome. In the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani described criticism of Qatar, especially from Europe, as “very arrogant and very racist” and referred to reforms in his country that would continue after the World Cup. But since Khalid Salman’s derailment at the latest, there can be strong doubts about this. The official World Cup ambassador bluntly admitted in the ZDF documentary “Geheimsache Qatar” that in his eyes being gay was “haram”, i.e. forbidden and even “mental damage”.
Bidali: “Every death is one too many”
The situation of migrant workers in Qatar has also been heavily criticized in recent years. Numerous media representatives and non-governmental organizations traveled to the country to document the sometimes dramatic living and working conditions in the accommodation and on the construction sites in the country. “I’ve seen shelters where up to twelve people had to live together in a small room. The living conditions were miserable,” Malcolm Bidali recalled in an interview with DW. The 29-year-old was employed by a security company in Doha and guarded one of the subway construction sites that are supposed to bring World Cup fans to the stadiums.
Malcolm Bidali (2nd from right) talks about his time as a migrant worker in Qatar and calls for changes
In addition to the unbearable living conditions, there is the fact that thousands of guest workers have lost their lives in recent years. The numbers range from three (FIFA President Gianni Infantino) up to 15,000 (Amnesty International) People who have died in connection with the World Cup construction work since 2010. “We see that many of the dead were between 18 and 40 years old, i.e. young, healthy people. The death certificate then almost always spoke of a natural death,” explains Bidali, who reports on the abuses in Qatar in a blog. “But no matter how high the numbers are, every death is one too many,” said the former guest worker.
Pandey: “It’s not enough!”
For a long time, criticism of Qatar and the awarding of the World Cup there was ignored by FIFA and the Qatari government, and reforms were blocked or only slowly initiated. In the meantime, however, there are changes in the desert state. “A lot has changed on paper,” explains Michalski. “The kafala system, i.e. the total dependence of an employee on the employer, has been officially abolished. However, parts of this system still exist in practice. The implementation of the reforms leaves a lot to be desired. It happened too little too late ” said the human rights activist.
For Binda Pandey, a representative of the Nepalese trade union center at the International Labor Organization in Nepal (ILO), reforms are also visible, but far from enough. “Some of the big companies and those owned by the government are obeying the new labor laws. But the small and medium-sized businesses aren’t,” Pandey said. “The wages are now transferred to a bank account and Qatar is training more and more labor inspectors.” But, as the trade unionist told DW: “It’s far from enough!” Pandey is responsible for around 500,000 people who have come to Qatar from Nepal as guest workers.
Reforms only for PR reasons
With the football World Cup, Qatar wanted to continue to attract attention in the world, but above all to improve their own image. However, the emirate apparently did not reckon with the massive criticism of the past few years, because the reforms are pushed too late or too slowly. “The enormous pressure from the media, international civil society and human rights groups means that the criticism that comes with it could be defamatory,” said Michalski. “That’s why reforms were pushed for PR reasons.” According to the HRW representative, there was no sign of a will to make real changes even a few weeks before the World Cup.
So what will remain when the final whistle sounds on December 18? Was awarding the World Cup to Qatar helpful for the people in the country or not? For Binda Pandey from Nepal, the World Cup discussions have at least attracted more attention. Not only in Qatar, but also in their own country, where thousands of migrant workers continue to travel to the emirate to earn money for their families.
“Because of the discussions and changes demanded by the ILO and other organizations, we are now also talking about the problems of migrant workers in Nepal,” says Pandey and explains: “For example, an aid fund was set up to support the workers financially. For example, we can support some families with their school education. Or if migrant workers are poorly paid for their work abroad, we can use the fund to compensate. Now we have direct contacts and lawyers for labor law in Nepal for the migrant workers.”
Aid fund is “publicity stunt”
However, there is no such fund in Qatar. It was rejected by the Qatari Minister of Labor. In an interview with the AFP news agency, Ali bin Samikh Al Marri called this a “publicity stunt” and said there were no criteria for setting up this aid fund. “Such a fund is a minimum requirement and the duty of an employer, like the Qatari government and FIFA, to pay for the workers who suffer damage and for the families and to compensate them financially,” criticizes Michalski. It is therefore to be feared that there will be no sustainable improvements.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino (right) maintains close ties with Qatar and has even moved his place of work to Doha
Twelve years have passed since the scandalous award in 2010. The future will show how sustainable the reforms in Qatar will really be. However, there is a risk that after the final whistle attention will fall, criticism will level off and the pressure on the country will ease. “We have to remain critical,” demands Pandey from the ILO Nepal. “Without the World Cup being awarded, nothing would have changed in Qatar, but we have to remain critical even after the World Cup.”
Human rights are global and non-negotiable. Wenzel Michalski hopes that the World Cup in Qatar will lead to lasting changes, at least for associations. “I hope that the kind of FIFA presidents represented by Gianni Infantino will soon be a thing of the past. And that the human rights agenda that FIFA set itself in 2019 will be taken seriously and that a future award will also include the implementation of environmental protection measures and human rights,” emphasizes Michalski.