4th Feb 2023


Is the overwhelming critique of Qatar hypocritical?

Listen to article

With the FIFA World Cup now in full swing, we hear less criticism of Qatar. Fortunately.

Everyone rolled over each other to be as outspoken as possible about everything that is unacceptable in the tiny Arabian peninsula. The harshest comments came mostly from people who have never been to the Arab world, let alone Qatar. In any case, it came across in the Middle East as if Europeans had once again found a reason to run an Arab country into the ground without any knowledge.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • It is a fact that a lot of Arab countries, with Gulf countries in the lead, are struggling with the split between ancient religious laws and contemporary realities

Let us be clear, Qatar is not a democracy, it is a conservative Muslim country that does not give foreign workers the rights and protection these workers deserve. Many also feel that Qatar did not deserve to host this World Cup. After all, it is not a country with a long football tradition. Moreover, there are strong allegations the country obtained the organisation through expensive bribes. Although we can ask who is most to blame here: those who pay, or those who accept the bribes?

But first, let us talk about the rights of the workers who built the stages. We hear everywhere that more than 6,500 workers died during construction. It is astonishing how many 'critical' voices are swayed by disinformation spread by countries that would rather see Qatar fail than succeed.

Those who read the report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the only international organisation that has done any work on a thorough investigation, find that a total of 50 workers died in work-related circumstances.

While writing this column, the head of the Qatari World Cup organisation suddenly talked about 400 to 500 workers having died. That is massive and unacceptable, but still 13 times lower than the figure that has been circulating for many months now.

Every death is one too many, no doubt about it.

Could the working and living conditions of those workers be better? Definitely. And that deserves criticism too.

But that was also the case in South Africa and Brazil. Back then, however, this was not an international problem, and nobody felt the urge to boycott those World Cups. Nor did countries refuse to send members of their governments to the World Cup in Russia or the Olympic Games in Beijing because of human rights violations or a (total) lack of democracy there.

So why these double standards, one wonders, against the Arab world?

A second major criticism of Qatar is the lack of rights for the LGBTQ and the big debate over whether or not to wear a rainbow-coloured armband. Again, the criticism is justified and no one should ban or discriminate against same-sex love.

Now we have to ask, is this a real problem in Qatar, as in most Arab countries, or not? After all, just because it is not allowed legally, does not mean it isn't a reality.

I know several people from the LGBTQ community in Qatar, as in other neighbouring countries. They are the first to be horrified by the whole action being taken now because it turns the spotlight on them. Why? They tell me that they can live a relatively normal life, as long as it does not draw too much attention to them.

So, we can ask whether the activists are not achieving the opposite of what they want to achieve? We can also ask whether these actions are aimed at the LGBTQ community in Qatar, or at its own European constituency?

Is Qatar's position, as in most Arab countries, towards LGTBQ hypocritical? Certainly. But what about the European stance itself? There are countries in the European Union that have written in their constitutions that marriage is only possible between a man and a woman.

Er...Hungary? Russia?

In Hungary, they even go much further and recently introduced a veritable anti-gay law, following the Russian model. Again, where were the activists during the World Cup in Russia?

Finally, it is a fact that a lot of Arab countries, Gulf countries in the lead, are struggling with the split between ancient religious laws and contemporary realities. We can focus on this and denounce it or we can note that these countries are changing at a lightning pace, and at all levels.

We can look down on the deficits of a country like Qatar, or see with admiration that the organisation is reasonably flawless. Has anyone seen the fantastic football stadiums built by female architects?

The situation in Qatar deserves criticism, but those guided by misinformation and even propaganda would do well to look into their own hearts.

Moreover, we should ask how fair it is to criticise countries without ever even having been near them? In any case, I am watching on from Cairo today at this World Cup and notice how proud people are to have made something so great possible on this side of the Mediterranean.

Author bio

Koert Debeuf is distinguished adjunct professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels and president of the board of EUobserver.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Socialists opposed parliament taking Qatar rights stand

The socialists in the European Parliament are leading compromise talks on human rights in Qatar despite voting against putting the issue to a plenary vote. The move comes after the Left demanded that the European Parliament take a stand.

No top EU officials going to Qatar World Cup

None of the four top EU officials are going to the Qatar World Cup amid a stink on human rights, but some are more brave than others in criticising the gas-rich emirate.

How EU banks underwrote the Qatar World Cup

European banks and investors have invested heavily in Qatari sovereign bonds, and construction and hospitality companies — with scant attention to well-documented human rights violations.

EU must hold Qatar to account for World Cup deaths

The EU has a unique opportunity to push its labour rights agenda in the Gulf state, with the tournament throwing the country's dismal record on migrant workers firmly into the spotlight.


To avoid war, enforce the centre

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold", W.B. Yeats wrote. Yet now, a century later in Europe — from Italy, to Hungary, to Belgium and the Netherlands, even in the European Parliament — the centre is shrinking.

How to restore the European Parliament's reputation

One of the most striking features of this scandal is the fact that it was the Belgian police — working on this case for months — who spotted what was arguably hiding in plain sight, writes EU Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly.

Europe is giving more aid to Ukraine than you think

'Europeans need to pull their weight in Ukraine. They should pony up more funds.' Such has been the chorus since the start of the war. The problem is the argument isn't borne out by the facts, at least not anymore.

Latest News

  1. Greece faces possible court over 'prison-like' EU-funded migration centres
  2. How the centre-right can take on hard-right and win big in 2024
  3. Top EU officials show Ukraine solidarity on risky trip
  4. MEPs launch anonymous drop-box for shady lobbying secrets
  5. Hawkish ECB rate-rise 'puts energy transition at risk'
  6. MEPs push for greater powers for workers' councils
  7. How Pavel won big as new Czech president — and why it matters
  8. French official to take on Islamophobia in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of the European LeftJOB ALERT - Seeking a Communications Manager (FT) for our Brussels office!
  2. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  3. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  4. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  5. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  4. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  6. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us