Qatar, a country with two faces
Its wealth is now based on five pillars: gas, the media with the Al Jazeera TV channel, soccer, the American military presence and recently diplomacy. First integrated into the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar has gradually emancipated itself to mark its difference from other Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, and the first tensions arose with the creation of the Al Jazeera channel, which allows political opponents of neighbouring regimes to express themselves.
Politically, Qatar has been considered, and is still considered, by some states as too close to extremist and terrorist movements and funding them such as Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Hamas. However, the country manages to smooth out this radical image thanks to both the presence of the American base on its soil and the diplomatic relations it has to maintain with Iran for the exploitation of the gas field they have in common, but also the will to be the representative of a modernist Islam.
It is also these multilateral relations that irritate its historical partners, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, which had put an end to their diplomatic relationship in 2017 because of links deemed too close with Iran and Turkey in particular. This barrier was lifted in early 2021 thanks to the diplomatic efforts of Kuwait and the United States. This development is symptomatic of the international support that Qatar has managed to surround itself with and its desire to be a major player in the Persian Gulf.
However, the visibility on the international and diplomatic scene and the technological development are not enough to allow the country to be recognized as modernist according to the approach of Western allies.
Qatar is under fire for the human management of the construction sites related to the 2022 World Cup, which involves a majority of immigrant workers. Migrant workers make up about 88% of Qatar’s total migrant worker population, and the preparations for the World Cup have highlighted the precariousness of this population. The debate is less about the number of deaths that have occurred on the construction sites than about the respect of workers’ rights, such as the level of play, the number of working hours or the gap between the advertised position and the position held.
According to an investigation by the Guardian, the human toll is insane: 6,500 foreign workers have perished on the construction sites. This does not prevent the leaders of Qatar from dreaming of organizing the 2036 Olympics. Will the Olympic Committee dare to entrust Qatar with the Olympics after the corruption scandals related to the organization of the 2022 Football World Cup?
The corruption procedures are still ongoing and what does the future hold for the biggest supporters of this World Cup in Qatar like Zidane, Nicolas Sarkozy and Michel Platini?
The criticism about the non-respect of human rights is growing and some soccer teams like Norway do not hesitate to threaten to boycott the world cup if these rights are not better respected outside the grounds.
Similarly, the treatment of women referees during the final of the World Cup for clubs has been much commented on and shows the limits of modernity in traditional Muslim culture.
These contradictions that link modernity and traditional culture also raise the question of how to define modernity that is compatible with certain principles of Islam rather than trying to model Western modernity on a non-Western culture. Depending on the approach taken, some people are already criticizing, such as Jen-Luc Mélanchon in France for example, new Western imperialism that does not respect cultural differences and those of Islam in particular.
The question would then be to know what comes under the universal rights of man and woman and what comes under the simple Western prism. The other challenge facing Qatar is the environmental transition for a country that derives most of its wealth from fossil fuels. Qatar has already started to diversify its investments in anticipation of a decline in fossil fuel revenues in the medium to long term.
However, it is possible that the entire geopolitics of the Middle East will be revisited when these countries will no longer have the attraction they currently have for countries that will only consume non-fossil fuels in the near future or because of the programmed depletion of this wealth.