Imagine the scenario. You drive to work this morning and you spend all day slogging away at the office, with sweltering temperatures of 50° C to boot. The only bonus that you have is that you are grinding away in luxurious surroundings. But, when it comes to leaving, the doors are locked, bolted and barred. You can’t get out of the place and nobody gives a damn anyhow.
That’s exactly what it’s like at the moment for expats living and working in Qatar. They are at the mercy of their business partners in order to be able to live the country and are to all intents and purposes being held hostage, complacently acceptably condoned by the governments, with little being done by the Western states where those visiting business people come from.
Qatar has enough natural gas to make every citizen of the country wealthier than any other in the world. Sheikh Tamim bin Khaifa Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar is a new ambitious determined leader that plans to make Qatar a prominent country in the world. It has close ties with the US since the US Central Command’s Forward Headquarters are located in Qatar along with the Combined Air Operations Center. It has a population of 250, 000 citizens and the rest of the population is made up of Arab nations (13%), Indian subcontinent (24% from India and 16% from Nepal, amongst others) andSoutheast Asia (11% from the Philippines). There are a total of 1.87 million people currently residing in the country, with 65% that are immigrant workers. It’s the home of Al Jazeera and it tops the list of the richest nations in the world today.
Qatar had a Gross Domestic Product of $91, 600 per capita in 2010. It increased to $100, 600 in 2011. It reached $102, 800 in 2012. By comparison, the USA had a per capita GDP of $50, 700 in 2012. 14% of households are millionaires.
Go to Qatar with the fervent desire to earn bundles of cash from the richest nation in the world and you risk losing your dignity, your freedom and even all sense of humanity. Qatar is described as the El Dorado, the Vegas of the Middle East, the place where you can strike it rich in one fell swoop. But, there’s a price for everything; nothing comes free. The propaganda is intensely maintained in the media through the channels that the state of Qatar has managed to get its hands on. People should think twice before being attracted by the Midas touch; they might not turn into very much at all and certainly not gold.
The state of Qatar is organizing the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and as such a hoard of immigrant workers have been taken on in a vision of times gone by with slave drivers forcing the workers to build , unbuild and rebuild. Those workers are driven like slaves and have their basic rights taken away from them.
Qatar might be at the top of the list of richest nations in the world, but it’s pretty damn poor with regard to workers’ rights and even human rights. But, what can be expected from a country that has a ruling family that has a hereditary title and has had its country in their grasp since the mid-nineteenth century? What can be expected from a country that has the major and most important key positions in the country and the government handed out in true fashion of nepotism to family members of the ruling Al Thani dynasty?
The only time privileges are changed and old orders knocked out is when there is a coup d’état (a peaceful one is de rigueur); wars and revolts cost money and that would be a waste, so the ousted Emir usually goes peacefully and anyhow he’s your father usually (Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani overthrew his own father and took the country in 1995).
The workers have their rights taken away and they are trapped in a Kafala from which there’s no possible escape. Kafala is literally a procedure of adoption in Muslim law that allows someone to be adopted but to maintain their own name as full adoption is legally impossible. The adopted person will not have the full rights regarding inheritance as a legitimate child that is born to the family. The adoption procedure has been extended to business and any foreigner that wishes to work in Qatar must be ‘adopted’ and surrenders all rights to their sponsor.
The Kafala allows workers to be maintained in servitude to an employer or to a business partner, with passports that are confiscated to stop them leaving the country and with courts that are banned so they have no access to legal recourse. If your sponsor does not provide the visa to allow you to exit the country, then you end up staying put until he allows you to, or until you give him what he wants from you.
More than a million workers are forced into labor by slave-drivers with immense wealth. Their salaries are unpaid or paid late, they are denied basic freedoms and yet they are building the multi-billion dollar World Cup 2022infrastructure of luxury hotels and football stadiums.
Qatar: World Cup 2022
There was already great controversy over the granting of the World Cup to Qatar since it was amidst accusations of corruption, underhand tactics and bribery as well as pressure on certain people. A secret meeting between the Emir of Qatar and the French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010 ensured that the French would vote for Qatar. One French footballer got $15 million for his support (Zinedine Zidane) and Michel Platini was told to vote for Qatar by the French President. Qatar bought the French football team Paris Saint Germain in return.
Just last year a prominent US businessman (Nasser Beydoun) in Doha was held hostage in economic slavery and indentured servitude for 685 days. He had been trying to get out of Qatar ever since he resigned from his job in 2009 as CEO of a group of restaurants in the country. The exit visa was refused by the group Wataniya Restaurants that had sponsored him to work there. He was sued for $13 million and detained in the country. He was found innocent and allowed to leave after 685 days. He stated: “Though this battle is over the war has just started. The people who held me hostage have a profound immorality, cold egotism and an utter disregard of justice and humanity.”
Beydoun is not the only one that is making the economic slavery hot the headlines in the media these days as more and more cases come to light. There is the case of the Belgian, Philippe Bogaert, that went to Doha to work as a TV producer and that has been refused an exit visa for the past two years. If a project fails, then it’s the foreigner that is considered to be responsible and he is sued to pay the money back, holding the visa as ransom to get exactly what is wanted. Boagaert is being sued for over $4.2 million.
Without your sponsor’s say-so it is impossible to do anything in the state of Qatar. You can’t drive a car, you can’t rent or buy a house and you can’t even open a bank account.
Other countries have adapted the work laws in their countries and Bahrain has done away with the Kafala, for example. The United Arab Emirates has a free zone that doesn’t apply the Kafala to attract foreign business people to work in Dubai. But, have things changed there? In Bahrain for example the Labor Market Regulatory Law came into force in April 2009. But, essentially very little has changed. The migrant workers are still expected to have a sponsor. The only gain that they have made is to be able to change employer much more easily than before (i.e. without the consent of the employer a worker can change jobs today).
The governments of these countries do very little to protect migrant workers and they do even less to apply and implement the changes in the law when they have been made. Withholding salaries is widespread. Forced labor without payment has transformed these people into economic slaves for the sole benefit of accruing more wealth and yet we do nothing. Western governments sit complacently and forget the workers that are in these countries slaving away.
Qatar has enough money and has enough investment in our countries for the governments not to rock the boat. If it rocks too much, the oil will spill and we wouldn’t want that, would we? Al Jazeera makes sure that the Western governments do little else than look on and watch. 220 million people watch Al Jazeera English alone in more than100 countries. It is watched 2.5 million times on YouTube and is the most watched TV channel there. That’s a powerful tool to be reckoned with.
In the meantime, the economic slavery continues and Qatar is a five-star oil-rich state as a result of the masses grinding away of those held hostage.