Not a great couple weeks for Qatar, in their quest to present a good face to the Western world via soft power campaigns. The latest development was that two British human/labor rights investigators, representing a Norwegian organization, disappeared suddenly on assignment in Qatar. Al Jazeera America, the US arm of the Qatari royal family’s media empire, reported that the government had confirmed yesterday that it had arrested them. They are still in detention but have now been afforded access to representatives from the British embassy.
In the first official comments made by the emirate in regards to the missing men, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said the pair were “being interrogated for having violated the provisions of the laws of the state of Qatar,” the Qatar News Agency reported.
The announcement follows calls on Qatar from rights groups including Amnesty International to reveal the whereabouts and ensure the safety of the two men, named as Krishna Upadhyaya and Ghimire Gundev.
Researcher Upadhyaya, 52, and Photographer Gundev, 36, work for the Norway-based Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD).
Both went missing on Aug. 31 as they were preparing to leave Qatar. GNRD had suggested that Qatari security services were behind their disappearance and has called for both men’s release.
On Sunday, the Qatari Foreign Ministry said that all actions taken against the men are “consistent with the principles of human rights” outlined in the laws of Qatar, and that British Embassy officials have visited them to check on their situation.
Qatar, slated to host the 2022 World Cup, has been plagued with serious and credible allegations of migrant worker abuse and enslavement generally, as well as specifically with relation to World Cup construction activities. Other British investigators delivered a damning report at the start of 2014 alleging that 4,000 enslaved workers were projected to die during World Cup preparation between now and 2022. The overall foreign worker population in Qatar is more than six times the size of the ruling Qatari population, at about 1.65 million to 250,000. The foreign population has grown very sharply in the past few years so the numbers are a bit hard to track. The ruling family and local citizens are extremely wealthy.
But the other recent development has been on the topic of Qatar’s increasingly hard to ignore state sponsorship of terrorism across the globe. It’s by no means new — involving a mix of official government money and “fundraising” by local and foreign Gulf-area plutocrats, all flowing into active conflict zones — but the condemnation is starting to intensify as Qatar continues to funnel donations, weapons, and ransom payments to extreme groups so destabilizing and threatening that virtually every other country in the area has opposed or abandoned them publicly, despite their own past histories with terror sponsorship. The cozy relationship that allows for easy “negotiation” with terrorist organizations holding kidnapped Western citizens is rapidly becoming more of a reputation liability than a strategic asset. Even Qatar’s support for somewhat more moderate organizations has been criticized heavily because it has become out of step with the agenda of the other regional powers.
(The New York Times today also attributed the rising criticism and attention in Western media to the fact that Qatar’s regional rivals have been hiring U.S. consulting firms in Washington to feed stories to journalists on the subject. But one also suspects that the sheer clash of Qatar’s soft power pretensions and modernizing aims with its terrorism ties and slave labor is a pretty tempting target for journalists anyway.)
For the latest discussion of 2018 Russian and 2022 Qatari World Cup controversies and potential consequences, listen to my radio segment with Nate on last week’s Arsenal For Democracy – Episode 98 Part 2:
Part 2 – Russian and Qatari World Cups – AFD 98
For our prior discussion of the problems surrounding the Qatar World Cup, listen to my radio segment with Nate on Arsenal For Democracy – Episode 87 Part 2 – FIFA/World Cup:
Part 2 – FIFA World Cup – AFD 87