THE FALLACY OF QATAR’S TERROR LINKS


By Sultan Al-Khulaifi
Staff Writer

The state of Qatar was the target of deliberate attacks accusing it of financing jihadist groups. To verify these accusations, we need to delve into its near history. Qatar is a small country with a population of approximately 2.2 million people. It is blessed with huge amounts of natural gas reserves which has helped it advance its profile globally. The advancement of Qatar’s policies came from its Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, who pictured a country that is independent in its policies and advances peace in a turbulent region. Qatar has presented itself as a trusted peace mediator in conflicts ranging from Sudan’s Darfur civil war to militia politics in Lebanon. Qatar is accused by governments, think tanks and news outlets around the world of funding radical Islamist groups in Syria, and also of allowing terrorist funding on its shores. The accusations of funding terrorist organizations are false because Qatar has a well-acknowledged role for supporting peace and peaceful Islamist groups in the region, and any support for violent radical groups would harm its intelligently-built reputation that it has worked hard to maintain.

Qatar has established itself as a successful and trusted conflict mediator. When the Arab Spring revolutions erupted in 2011, the country saw an opening for increased influence in the region and believed that these revolutions would bring about positive change. Qatar’s role in the Arab Spring was most apparent in the Syrian Revolution. When the Syrian people protested Bashar Al Assad’s rule and were received by an unrestrained violent crackdown, they resorted to arms to protect themselves. Qatar, along with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, was among the first countries to help the Syrian people defend themselves from the regime’s terror.

Throughout the first phases of the revolution, the Free Syrian Army made considerable gains and had significant successes, to the extent that everyone believed that Assad would be toppled sooner rather than later. Global legitimacy of his regime quickly began to wane, as evidenced by President Obama’s call for him to step down. Despite this, the Syrian regime proved to be resilient thanks to generous help from Iran, who provided them with men and arms. When the Free Syrian Army was unable to defend the Syrian people, Al Qaeda established its branch in Syria – Jabhat Al-Nusra (remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq also moved there). The Nusra Front flourished because the people perceived them to be better defenders of society, compared to other moderate groups, against Assad’s aggression. Some have accused Qatar of funding Al-Nusra. However, Qatar only funded the Syrian Coalition. Qatar cannot be blamed for the emergence of The Nusra Front in Syria because the aforementioned group has its own funding process from military gains.

Qatar took measures to show that it was serious in its fight against terrorism. Qatar enacted laws that serve to formalize and oversee the process of funding charitable donations throughout the country. Prime Minister Sheikh Abdulla bin Nasser Al-Thani ensured that the country is firm in stopping terrorist funding on its land. He said,

“We have reinforced our commitment to these initiatives with two new counter-terrorism laws introduced this year. The first, focused on cybercrime, gives our government new powers to monitor and stop terrorist groups from promoting their activities or recruiting for their causes online. The second expands our ability to closely monitor the transactions of charities based in, or with links to, Qatar. Through this, Qatar will be better able to identify individuals who may be trying to channel funds to terrorist groups.”

Qatar was made a scapegoat for the prevalence of Islamist groups over secular groups fighting the Assad regime, as evidenced by the article written by Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations in The New York Times. The dominance of radical Islamist groups in Syria coincided with a backlash against Islamists overall in the region, beginning with the fall of Mohammed Morsi—the first elected president in Egypt’s modern history. Qatar supported two different governments after the toppling of Hosni Mubarak—both the transitional military government and Morsi’s government. This was done through government grants and billions of dollars’ worth of investment. Although Qatar tried to influence different actors in various countries in the region, it does not make sense for Qatar to have fund extremists because this contradicts the country’s political ideology. On the contrary, Qatar is liberal in its actions domestically (through hosting American universities) and internationally (by supporting a variety of international initiatives to fight terrorism).

To understand why Qatar was specifically targeted in the media for terror links, it is important to recognize the country’s official stance on such issues. Qatar believes that Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which do not resort to violence and believe in democratic institutions, are not terrorist organizations. The Qatari Emir said in a CNN interview that he disagrees with the notion that all Islamist groups are extremists; looking at all Islamist groups as being terrorist will only help radical groups in attracting new recruits because Muslims will feel threatened by the notion that Western powers are attacking their religion. In fact, radical groups such as ISIS use the aforementioned notion as a tool for recruitment. Qatar supports Islamist groups who share universal, political values such as nation-statehood and belief in democracy. It must be mentioned that the Muslim Brotherhood, in all its branches, believes in these values whereas, other groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban do not.

It is important to understand that Qatar has different standards in assessing whether Islamist organizations are terrorist or not. The country refuses to taint all Islamists as terrorists because these groups have a strong presence in Arab communities, demonstrated by their huge wins in elections in post-Arab Spring elections. Also, labelling all Islamist groups as terrorist organizations would lead to more violence because these groups will feel marginalized and resort to violence as a result.

Qatar would be risking its international reputation as a peace broker and mediator in the international arena if it finances ISIS and other radical groups. Therefore, I do not believe that Qatar funded radical groups such as ISIS or The Nusra Front. Moreover, the country was firm in explaining its opposition to tainting all Islamists as extremists. Qatar believes that terrorism in Syria is caused by the extremism and genocidal nature of the Assad regime itself. In politics, countries weigh their decisions through cost and benefit analysis, and where the cost outweighs the benefit incurred by the country, the country in question will not pursue that particular strategy. Thus, terrorist groups could not have been funded by Qatar because funding these groups is a project that is too politically costly for Qatar to pursue.

Photo by Agencia de Noticias Andes

PLAYING HOST TO THE WORLD CUP: PROMISED LOCAL BENEFITS TAKE A DIVE?

By Andrew Muse-Fisher
Staff Writer

Over the next eight years, the world will watch as Brazil, Russia and Qatar respectively host the World Cup. Though the money and labor that goes into the preparation of the world’s most viewed sporting event is ultimately used as a show of the strength and vitality of these nations, the efforts of these nations have exposed the individual issues that hinder their establishment or re-establishment of a positive global image. And as this trio works to rid themselves of the domestic problems within their own borders, they are also working towards the goals of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. A closer look into the relationships of the host governments with its people and with FIFA reveals how the spirit of the World Cup is being pushed out by the search for profit and growth at the expense of the citizens of these countries.

In June of this year, the World Cup will commence in the country with a history of zeal for the sport. Brazil, whose five World Cup wins are the most by any country, began preparing in 2007 after its bid to host was approved by FIFA.[1] Naturally, the Brazilians celebrated this opportunity to develop infrastructure, increase health and education and reduce poverty within the country, just as the government promised in its campaign to win the bid. [2] The government, too, saw potential to reinforce Brazil’s developing economy. After two decades of economic growth that allowed Brazil to develop a strong economy, it has done little to sustain continued growth. [3] Brazil has relied on increased internal consumption in recent years, while simultaneously losing prospective outside investors. [4] This has slowed economic growth and has created a need to draw attention from the outside world to their potential for further development and possible investment. [5]

It is hardly surprising that they pursued the 2014 bid, but since they started preparing, they have put their need to attract foreign investment and global recognition before the needs of the Brazilian people, especially those living in the favelas. During the initial planning stages in 2010, the costs of building and renovating stadiums was estimated to cost 5.4 billion Brazilian Reais, or $2.3 billion. However, by 2013, the cost reached BRL 8 billion– $3.4 billion. [6] The total cost of the Cup stood at BRL 25.6 billion, or $10.8 billion. Unfortunately for Brazilian taxpayers, investors will cover only 15% of the total cost. [7] These costs only cover the expenses of staging the cup, and do nothing to fund improvements to healthcare, education or the reduction of poverty as Brazil promised to do in its winning bid. [8] This places the burden of the Cup largely on the citizens of Brazil, while they are receiving very little of what they were promised at the outset. In some cases, the government’s actions have directly contradicted their pledge to share the benefits of the World Cup with all Brazilians.

Though the country has experienced growth in recent years, a large amount of the Brazilian population still lives in slums or favelas. In order to construct roads necessary to connect the host cities, some residents of favelas were evicted with little notice and their homes were then demolished to make way for the infrastructure. [9] To follow this, the government raised public transportation prices. In response, 1.5 million Brazilians protested outside the last game of the Confederation Cup, a small-scale version of the World Cup, in June 2013. [10] Initial protests centered on the destruction of favelas and the price hike; they soon grew to include calls for greater urban mobility, and investment in health and education. [11] The protestors were met with tear gas and rubber bullets, and two protestors died in the chaos. [12] Shortly thereafter, the government announced promises to increase spending on urban mobility, while several cities retracted the increased transportation prices. [13] Though the government acted quickly to pacify the protestors, the question remains on whether they will act on their promises or if the government is simply trying to calm down dissatisfied Brazilians until the World Cup passes. If some of the most avid soccer fans in the world are too busy protesting to cheer on their team and country, Brazil will have a difficult time attracting positive attention.

On top of the obstacles Brazil has faced in allocating funds, it also has had trouble meeting deadlines, especially in terms of stadium construction. Though twelve stadiums were supposed to be built or renovated completely by 2012 in order to meet FIFA regulations, three of the stadiums were still under construction at the beginning of 2014. [14] These last-minute preparations have done little to alleviate the atmosphere of chaos in Brazil. Regardless of the amount of progress Brazil has made in the time allotted, they still had to restructure regulations in order to cut corners and meet deadlines set by FIFA. [15] That is, early on in the process, Brazil passed legislation that allows them to ignore certain environmental regulations in construction, while their debt limit was raised. [16] Both of these shortcuts suggest long term problems if Brazil does not take action to reverse the environmental and economic effects these might incur once the games are over. In other words, by putting FIFA’s guidelines before the demands of the public, while simultaneously searching for the support of investors, Brazil is potentially wasting an opportunity to ensure a strong future for both the economy and its people.

Four years after having hosted the winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia will host the 2018 World Cup. Russia won the bid on the grounds that they do not currently have the infrastructure in place to hold the games, but do have the economic resources to establish this infrastructure. The decision was further sealed by the fact that Russia has experience in planning an event on such a large scale, partly because of their preparations for Sochi. It is indeed a win-win for both FIFA and Russia in that FIFA can have confidence in Russia’s ability to prepare, while Russia will get the much needed opportunity to strengthen its infrastructure. [17] Currently, Russia is constructing high-speed rails to connect cities with stadiums. While the government is paying 70% of the cost for the rails, it sees it as an endeavor with great potential to help create jobs and help the economy overall. [18] Even if the railways are not going to pay for themselves, the government is confident it will help to better connect the country. [19]

In addition to stitching the country together, Russia is also hoping to boost GDP from tourism from 2% to 7%. [20] The World Cup is, of course, a perfect opportunity to augment their tourism industry, but it also provides another chance for Russia to brush off the remaining parts of its image reminiscent of its communist days. By further opening itself to the world’s view, it can portray itself as a modern democracy and not a backwards regime, an image from which Russia is trying distance itself. [21] So far, Russia’s 15 billion Euro venture is remaining more or less free of complications, at least when compared to Brazil’s effort. [22]

That is not to say, however, that Russia has remained free of the drama that is typical of these processes. Similar to the discussions of Russian homophobia that were hot button issues before Sochi, there have been accusations of racism within the Russian soccer fan base. Black players playing for and against Russian teams have been subjected to racist chants and banners from the crowd. [23] Manchester city player, Yaya Toure, has gone so far as to call a protest within potential participants against the Russian World Cup. [24] Though Russia has ample time to recover from such incidents of racism, a protest by high-profile players could be detrimental to the success of Russia’s Cup and all it is trying to achieve by hosting it. [25]

At the same time, Russia is dealing with allegations of corruption in regards to its bid for the World Cup. While the country has denied these accusations, they have opened themselves up to an investigation. [26] This investigation was hindered as Michael Garcia, a representative of the FIFA ethics department, was denied access to the country for unrelated reasons. [27] Though these allegations may just be standard procedure, they stand to show the potential for corruption in an event where there is so much to be gained. If Russia continues steadily on its course to the 2018 World Cup, the games should go off without any major snags, and ultimately help Russia’s economy and image as intended. Russia, however, is not new to accusations of corruption or misconduct so there are no guarantees it will be able to emerge unscathed in the court of world opinion.

Beyond the horizon of Brazil and Russia lies the Qatar World Cup. Like Brazil and Russia, Qatar sees the World Cup as a prospect for increased economic activity and as a way to show the world its strength as a developing nation. The latter is especially important for the tiny oil rich country, as they strive to make a name for themselves that Brazil and especially Russia earned years ago. [28] In order to guarantee a successful Cup, Qatar has allocated around $100 billion for the games. [29] Regardless of this large sum of money, the country has been quick to cut costs, particularly when it comes to labor. Qatar has recruited migrant workers from several South East Asian countries to work on stadiums and infrastructure projects. [30] During the summer of 2013, nearly one worker died per day. [31] If workers continue dying at this rate, then around four thousand workers will be dead before the games start. [32] These deaths are largely attributed to the high temperatures, and minimal access to water and food in some cases. [33] The workers are also subjected to cramped living conditions, and job mobility is almost nonexistent because of contracts the workers agreed to in order to work in Qatar. [34] Though the majority of workers report decent working conditions, these extreme cases cannot be ignored. [35] Labor groups outside and within Qatar have called for FIFA to push the Qatari government to amend labor laws to prevent further instances of abuse, though it ultimately comes down to the government’s discretion on whether or not to do so. [36]

Simultaneously, the U.S. Treasury Department has released accusations that former members of the Qatar Football Association may have ties to Al Qaeda and Hamas. [37] Others closely tied to the selection process have been accused of anti-Semitic speech. [38] Though these may be a political smear campaigns on behalf of the United States, they may also represent racial and ethnic tensions that might form a roadblock later on in Qatar’s preparations. [39] A more prevalent issue facing Qatar’s hold on the World Cup is the possibility of corruption in the bidding process. [40] The FBI is currently investigating whether or not a member of FIFA accepted money from a Qatari company in order to secure the bid for Qatar. [41] Between abuse of the labor force, possible links to terror and corruption, and the fact that the Qatar is relatively far off, it is conceivable that the bid might be revoked from Qatar. This holds especially true if the corruption allegations are found to be legitimate. Though it is the farthest away of the three World Cups to come, the Qatar World Cup is already encountering complications that make it stand out as the most worrisome. Indeed, it not only highlights internal issues that Qatar must deal with or ignore, but it also implies either a weakness or neglectful attitude that allows such abuse and scandal to occur under the umbrella of FIFA.

Brazil, Russia and Qatar are three very different nations, but each stand to receive similar gains by hosting the World Cup. In order to host the games effectively, they need infrastructure to sustain such large crowds and the development of infrastructure can act as a boost to their growth. And if they pull off the games successfully, then the trio will be able to show the world their strength in resources and organization. While the individual governments know what they want to gain from hosting the World Cup, their populations also have wants and expectations from the process. Unfortunately, the motives of FIFA, the group that runs the games, trump the desires of citizens in hosting countries. Moreover, FIFA and host governments have more in common in what they are trying to achieve. This has in part caused the marginalization of the people that, ideally, should be receiving the benefits. Brazil has forgone attempts to increase access to education, healthcare and overall quality of life, especially to those with lower incomes, while construction and consulting firms are getting paid regardless of their slow pace. In Qatar, the benefits are not making their way down to those at the core of the process: laborers risk dying only to end up a statistic of the poorly planned preparations.

Of course, if these governments are successful in using the World Cup to strengthen their economies as planned, then the people will experience at least some of the profits. However, the long term benefits are not likely to be as direct or as effective as what they have demanded. If this holds true, then these countries are not utilizing the potential of the World Cup to the extent that they could to greatly aid those of all income levels, not just elite segments of society. And if it is the case that the gains of the World Cup are not distributed efficiently, then this raises questions about corruption in the sense that those in charge of the planning of the Cups can manipulate the effects in the favor of a select few. But there are questions that remain. Is this corruption caused, at least in part, by the demands set out by FIFA? And furthermore, does this corruption exist in these countries normally, or is it something that is only brought out in the spirit of the Cup? Regardless, as Brazil, Russia and Qatar each take the spotlight, they have the opportunity to show the world their strengths as a nation and to prove that they are above corruption, while simultaneously reinvigorating the spirit of the cup for both their underserved communities and avid soccer fans.

Photo by Catalytic Communities

Notes

[1] Carrión, Maria. “Brazil’s Poor Pay World Cup Penalty.” Progressive 77.7 (2013): 26. Master File Premier. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Taberer, Vivienne. “Brazil’s Economy Could Be Primed For A Comeback Going Into The World Cup.” Institutional Investor-International Edition (2013): 244. Business Source Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Conti, Juan Pablo. “Brazil 2014 The Last-Minute World Cup.” Engineering & Technology (17509637) 9.2 (2014): 50-53. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 201 4.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Wahl, Grant. “The Two Brazils?” Sports Illustrated 120.9 (2014): 60. Master File Premier. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[9] Amaral, Marina and Natalia Viana. “Brazil Vs. The World Cup.” Nation 297.3/4 (2013): 6-8. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Conti, Juan Pablo. “Brazil 2014 The Last-Minute World Cup.” Engineering & Technology (17509637) 9.2 (2014): 50-53. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 201 4.
[15] Amaral, Marina and Natalia Viana. “Brazil Vs. The World Cup.” Nation 297.3/4 (2013): 6-8. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[16] Ibid.
[17] “From Russia With Love.” New African 501 (2010): 66. Master File Premier. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[18] “High Speed To The Urals.” Railway Gazette International 168.9 (2012): 39. Business Source Complete. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[19] Ibid.
[20] “From Russia With Love.” New African 501 (2010): 66. Master File Premier. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[21] Ibid.
[22] “Russia’s World Cup Set To Cost €15 Billion.” Construction Europe 24.7 (2013): 4. Business Source Complete. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[23] “From Russia With Love.” New African 501 (2010): 66. Master File Premier. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[24] “Yaya Toure Suggests Black Players Could Boycott 2018 Russia World Cup.” International Business Times 25 Oct. 2013: Regional Business News. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Interfax. “Russia Says Will Assist FIFA in Probing Bidding Campaign to Host 2018, 2022 World Cups.” Russia & FSU General News 07 Oct. 2013: 1. Regional Business News. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Rawlings, Nate. “Qatar Gets Scolded Yet Again For Migrant Worker Abuses.” Time.Com (2013): 1. Business Source Complete. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Ibid.
[37] “The World Cup Hosts in Bed with Terrorists.” Daily Mail 19 Mar. 2014: 72. Regional Business News. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[38] Ibid
[39] Ibid.
[40] “Call to Take World Cup off Qatar if Votes Were Bought.” Daily Mail 19 Mar. 2014: 73. Regional Business News. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[41] Ibid.