Monday May 20, 2024

Five things to know about World Cup host Qatar

Qatar, of football World Cup, is a key US ally in the Middle East that is rich in gas and oil

October 19, 2022
Qatar flag (l), a close-up of the fifa world cup troph (r).— Unsplash
Qatar flag (l), a close-up of the fifa world cup troph (r).— Unsplash

PARIS: Qatar, the host of the football World Cup, is a key US ally in the Middle East that is rich in gas and oil.

Here are five things to know about the desert peninsula:

5. Small but powerful

Qatar is one of the smallest Arab states with a population of 2.9 million, most of whom are foreign workers.

The country was a British protectorate for 55 years until 1971.

It has been ruled by a monarchy, the Al-Thani family, since the mid-19th century. The current emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, rose to power in 2013 after his father Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani abdicated.

The country's first-ever legislative elections were held in October 2021. None of the 26 women candidates won a seat in the 45-member Shura Council.

4. Owner of the Shard

Qatar is one of the world's largest producers and exporters of liquefied natural gas.

It has one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world at $61,276 in 2021, according to the World Bank, two-and-a-half times that of Saudi Arabia.

The Qatar Investment Authority, one of the biggest sovereign wealth funds in the world, has spent lavishly to snap up key landmarks and luxury brands in Europe, including Britain's luxury store Harrods, London's Shard skyscraper and France's Balmain fashion house.

3. Showdown with Saudi

Qatar weathered a major diplomatic crisis and a three-and-a-half-year blockade by its Gulf neighbours between June 2017 and January 2021 with only limited damage to its economy.

Tensions had been brewing since the Arab Spring of pro-democracy movements, which Doha had supported but fellow Gulf monarchies had not.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Doha, accusing it of supporting terrorism and fostering close ties with their regional rival Iran — charges Doha denied.

Riyadh and its allies made a number of demands of Qatar in return for ending its isolation, including that it close down Al Jazeera, its pioneering pan-Arab news channel which was accused of acting as a megaphone for the Arab Spring protests, and end economic cooperation with Iran.

Qatar rejected the demands and rode out the blockade, which was eventually lifted, under pressure from the United States, which sees both Saudi Arabia and Qatar as key allies.

2. Spending big on Neymar

Qatar has poured billions of dollars into sports at home and abroad, snapping up France's leading football club Paris Saint-Germain in 2011, which famously spent a mindboggling 222 million euros to acquire Brazilian Neymar in 2017.

Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) also owns Belgian first-division club KAS Eupen and announced on October 10 that it will acquire nearly 22% of the Portuguese club, Sporting Braga.

The Gulf state has hosted a string of international sports competitions in order to try to boost its global standing, including the Asian Games in 2006, the Asian Cup of Nations in 2011 and the world athletics championships in 2019.

1. Skewered over rights

Ever since Qatar's shock win in the race to host the World Cup, the spotlight has been on its human rights record, particularly its treatment of migrant workers.

Reports of high numbers of deaths and injuries on Qatar's giant construction projects — strongly denied by Qatari authorities — as well as accusations of punishing hours, grim living conditions and workers being deported for protesting unpaid wages have caused controversy.

The Qatari government has responded to the criticism by introducing a minimum wage, dismantling a scheme that gave employers stringent controls over labourers and imposing stricter rules on working in the summer heat.