Connect with us

Middle East

Qatar World Cup sparks culture controversies

Published

on

Footballers with diametrically opposed views on homosexuality and alcohol consumption have sparked heated controversy about Islamic mores and human and workers’ rights in Qatar’s final stretch in the run-up for next year’s FIFA World Cup.

Two things stand out in the controversy beyond the specific arguments put forward by opposing camps.

First, some fault lines cut across community lines rather than pit one community (Muslims) against another (non-Muslims).

This is true for fans in autocracies like Qatar and Saudi Arabia who are less concerned about workers’ rights and supporters of European clubs acquired by Gulf buyers with deep pockets and a willingness to spend.

That is not to deny that some in the Gulf states do care about rights just like numbers of Western fans remain critical of Qatar despite reforms of its labour system and Saudi Arabia following the 2018 killing in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Secondly, the dividing lines are far sharper and far mor entrenched when it comes to social and moral norms than they are with regard to, for example, workers’ rights.

The divide over rights and allegations that mega-sporting and other events allow autocracies with tarnished records to launder their reputations comes as human rights groups are increasing pressure on Qatar.

The activists want the Gulf state to reform its labour regime further, properly enforce adopted reforms, and lift all restrictions on women’s rights.

In contrast to LGBTQ rights and alcohol consumption, human and workers rights are the one sphere the fault lines cut across religious and ethnic lines.

Saudi race car fans and drivers rejected calls for an F1 boycott of this month’s tournament in Jeddah as well as the notion of sportswashing, the use of sports to counter criticism of the kingdom’s tarnished human rights record.

“The country was closed off from the world. Now it is changing, and they should support us wanting to,” said Reema Juffali, Saudi Arabia’s first female professional race-car driver.

Similarly, Newcastle United fans celebrated the acquisition of their club by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund even if some expressed concern about the kingdom’s human rights abuses.

That didn’t stop thousands wearing Saudi garb from welcoming the new ownership and Newcastle’s perceived newfound wealth with wild scenes of singing and drinking when the club played its first match in October after the takeover.

Australian gay footballer Josh Cavallo kicked off the sexuality debate when he declared in early November that he would be afraid to play in the Qatar World Cup because of the Gulf state’s ban on homosexuality and harsh legal penalties ranging from flogging to lengthy prison terms.

One of the few players to discuss his sexuality publicly, Mr. Cavallo expressed his concern a month after coming out as gay. Mr. Cavallo said other footballers had privately expressed similar fears.

Supported by its member clubs, England’s Premier League launched its  Rainbow Laces campaign shortly after Mr. Cavallo spoke out. The campaign involved rainbow-themed branding, armbands, laces, and badges displayed at matches played between November 27 and December 2.

Qatari officials have insisted in recent years that LGBTQ fans would be welcome during the World Cup but would be expected to respect norms that frown on public expressions of affection irrespective of sexual orientation.

Paul Amann, founder of Liverpool FC’s LGBT supporters’ club Kop Outs, met in 2019 with Qatari World Cup organizers before traveling to Doha with his husband to evaluate the situation for himself.

I’m very satisfied that their approach is to provide an ‘everyone is welcome’ ethos that does include respect, albeit through privacy. I’m not sure if rainbow flags generally will ever be accepted ‘in-country,’ but maybe in stadia,” he said upon his return.

Responding to the pro-LGBTQ campaign and probably reinforcing Mr. Cavallo’s fears, retired Egyptian soccer legend Mohamed Aboutrika insisted that homosexuality “is not compatible with Islam.”

Considered one of the best Egyptian players in history, Mr. Aboutrika went into exile in Qatar, where he is a commentator for beIN, the Gulf state’s sports broadcasting network. Authorities accused him of membership in the controversial Muslim Brotherhood and added him to an Egyptian terrorism list after his departure.

Mr. Aboutrika has denied allegations that he funded the Brotherhood. The group was banned after the 2013  military coup that overthrew Mohammed Morsi, a Brother who was Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president.

Mr. Aboutrika has long been known for his Islamist sympathies, empathy with Ultras Ahlawy, one of several militant soccer fan groups that played a crucial role in the 2011 mass protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, and his support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, blockaded by Israel and Egypt.

“Our role is to stand up to this phenomenon, homosexuality, because it’s a dangerous ideology and it’s becoming nasty, and people are not ashamed of it anymore. They (the Premier League) will tell you that homosexuality is human rights. No, it is not human rights; in fact, it’s against humanity,” Mr. Aboutrika charged.

The Qatari parliament and state-aligned media, imams in Saudi mosques, Saudi diplomats, and Al-Azhar, the citadel of Islamic learning in Cairo, rallied to reiterate Mr. Aboutrika ‘s condemnation.

Nevertheless, Mr. Aboutrika remains toxic in his native Egypt despite his advocacy of Islamic mores. Two players of his former team, Al Ahly, were dropped from the club’s squad for shaking hands with the former footballer during the FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar in February.

At the same time, Mr. Aboutrika remains popular among the club’s supporters. In Qatari stadia, Egyptian fans celebrated Mr. Aboutrika during the Arab Cup that ended this weekend, chanting ‘Ya Trika.’

What is evident in the sexuality debate is that few people, if any, will be convinced by arguments raised by the opposing side. Both sides of the divide feel deeply about their positions. The best one can hope for is a live-and-let-live middle ground that is what the Qatari 2022 World Cup organizers appear to be proposing.

The question is whether the controversy has let a genie out of the bottle. Largely state-controlled media and clerics, and others in Qatar and elsewhere in the Middle East have fuelled the fire. Qatari World Cup organizers’ statements have sought to calm Western fears but, together with government officials, have refrained from attempting to manage emotions at home.

There are no winners in this controversy. Neither LGBTQ fans and players nor Qatar wins if the argument produces a situation in which the environment in the run-up and during the World Cup becomes toxic.

Speaking to Middle East Eye, an Egyptian resident of Doha summed up the dilemma: “BeIN Sports are in a difficult position. The human rights organisations will criticise them for not firing Aboutrika. But Qataris will criticise them if they do fire him,” he said.

Egyptian-born Liverpool player Mohammed Salah has so far stayed out of the fray. Yet, he has not gone unscathed in the reassertion of Islamic mores.

Dar al-Ifta, an Egyptian Islamic advisory, justiciary, and governmental body, last month criticized the player for not explicitly condemning alcohol consumption in an interview on Egyptian television.

Instead, Mr. Salah said he did not think about alcohol and had no interest in trying it.

“Not thinking about doing forbidden things is an act of worship in itself,’ Dar al-Ifta said.

A broader debate on the role of religion in education and society at large informs the assertion of Islamic mores. Gulf states have taken significant steps in recent years to liberalize social mores.

Saudi Arabia has lifted a ban on women’s driving, loosened gender segregation, enhanced women’s rights, and introduced Western-style entertainment, but, like Qatar, has yet to abolish male guardianship entirely. The UAE has liberalized alcohol consumption and allowed co-habitation of non-married couples.

This weekend, Qatar celebrated its national day with a military parade. Alongside Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Qatar has increasingly emphasised a national identity defined as much by nationalism and national belonging as by religion.

Representatives of Al Azhar and Egyptian parliamentarians, activists, and pundits clashed this week over the need to memorize the Qur’an and the use of Quranic texts rather than poetry and literature in Arabic language classes.

“Separating students in the religion class is (a) form of discrimination that divides society,” said journalist Isaac Hanna, the head of the Egyptian Association for Enlightenment.

Mr. Hanna suggested removing religion from school curricula and replacing it with a course on morals and citizenship.

In a world in the throes of social and economic, if not political transition, controversies about mores emanating from the Gulf’s increasing role in international sports suggest that deep-seated beliefs and attitudes may not keep pace with top-down reforms.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

Continue Reading
Comments

Middle East

Iraq: Three Years of Drastic Changes (2019-2022)

Published

on

When the wave of the protests broke out at the beginning of October 2019 in Iraq, the Iraqi politicians did not realize the size of the gap between the demands of the protesters which were accumulated more than seventeen years, and the isolation of the politicians from the needs of the people. The waves of the protests began in a small range of different areas in Iraq. Rapidly, it expanded as if it were a rolling snowball in many regions of Iraqi governorates. Moreover, the platforms of social media and the influencers had a great impact on unifying the people against the government and enhancing the protest movement.

Al Tarir Square was the region where most protesters and demonstrators were based there. At that time, they stayed all day in this region and set up their tents to protest and demonstrate against the public situation of their life.

The protesters demanded their looted rights and asked for making economic reforms, finding job opportunities, changing the authority, and toppling the government presided by Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. The protest stayed between ebb and tide, pressuring the political authority in Iraq.

A new period began in the history of Iraq where clashes between the protesters and the riot forces broke out in Al Tahrir Square and many governorates in the south of Iraq. Tear gas and ductile bullets were used against the protesters to compel them to retreat and disperse them. But the protesters insisted on continuing their demands. Many protesters were killed and wounded due to the intensive violence against them. The strong pressure with falling many martyrs gave its fruit when the Iraqi representatives of the Parliament endeavored to achieve the protesters’ demands by changing the election law into a new one. On 24 December 2019, the Iraqi Parliament approved of changing the unfair Saint Leigo election law into the open districts. The new law divided Iraq into 83 electoral districts.

Moreover, this violent protest led to the collapse of the Iraqi government presided by Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi. He was compelled to resign by the end of 2019. Many political names were nominated by the Iraqi politicians but the protesters refused them all because they were connected with different political parties.

Finally, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who worked in the Iraqi Intelligence Service and had no party, was nominated by the politicians to be the new Prime Minister. He was well-known for ambiguity and far from the lights of media.

Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has become the Prime Minister in March 2020. The protests were over at the beginning of April 2020. With the taking of responsibility of helping Iraq, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi promised the protesters, who were called “Octoberians”, to hold a premature election, and the election was fixed on 10 June 2020.

Many politicians tried to postpone or cancel the premature election. Under their pressure, the premature election was postponed and fixed on 10 October 2020. During Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s period as a Prime Minister, he opened new channels with the Arab states to enhance the cooperation and held many summits to support Iraq in the next stage.

Attempts to postpone the premature election by the Iraqi politicians were on equal foot, but all these attempts failed and the election occurred on the due time.

Before the election, many Octoberians and influencers encouraged the people not to participate in the election. On the day of the election, it witnessed low participation, and people were convinced of not happening any change. These calls gave their fruits in the process of elections in Iraq where the election witnessed very low participation, and most Iraqis refused to participate and vote to the nominees even though there was a new election law. When the elections were over, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) in Iraq announced that the results would be within two days. After announcing the results of the election partially and defeating many political factions in the Iraqi arena, many convictions were directed to the commission, and it was convicted by fraud and manipulation with the results. This aspect affected the activity of the Commission and led to put great pressure on it. After two weeks of pressure and convictions, the final results of the elections were announced and many political elite Iraqi leaders were defeated gravely.

The results of the election gave a new start through new leaders who were supporting the October revolution that happened in 2019. And most names of these winning movements and alliances were inspired by the October Movement. Those, who represented October Revolution, were also convicted by other Octoberians that Octoberian winners in the election deviated from the aims of the October Revolution.

A new struggle has begun between the losers in the election and the new winners who will have the right to be in the next term of the Iraqi Council Parliament of Representatives. Moreover, many independent individuals won in the election, and the conflict would deepen the scope of dissidence between the losers and winners. Finally, all raised claims of election fraud have not changed the political situation.

The final results of the election had been announced, and the date of holding the first session of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives was fixed to nominate and elect the spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives.  The Shiite Sadrist movement, which represents 73 seats, has wiped out its competitors. This aspect has compelled the losing Shiite competitors to establish an alliance called “Coordination Framework” to face the Sadrist movement, represented by the cleric Sayyed Muqtada al-Sader. On the other hand, Al-Takadum Movement (Progress Party), represented by the spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives, Mohamed Al-Halbousi, has taken the second rank with 37 seats.

The final results of the election had been announced, and the date of holding the first session of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives was fixed to nominate and elect the spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives.

Finally, the first session of the Iraqi Council Parliament of Council was held. Mohamed Al-Halbousi has been elected as the spokesman of the Iraqi Council Parliament of Council. During the next fifteen days, the president of the republic will be elected.

Continue Reading

Middle East

China-US and the Iran nuclear deal

Published

on

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian that Beijing would firmly support a resumption of negotiations on a nuclear pact [China Media Group-CCTV via Reuters]

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with  Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi on Friday, January 14, 2022 in the city of Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province.  Both of them discussed a gamut of issues pertaining to the Iran-China relationship, as well as the security situation in the Middle East.

A summary of the meeting published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored the point, that Foreign Ministers of Iran and China agreed on the need for  strengthening bilateral cooperation in a number of areas under the umbrella of the 25 year Agreement known as ‘Comprehensive Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China’. This agreement had been signed between both countries in March 2021 during the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister announced the launch of the agreement on January 14, 2022.

During the meeting between Wang Yi and Hossein Amir Abdollahian there was a realization of the fact, that cooperation between both countries needed to be enhanced not only in areas like energy and infrastructure (the focus of the 25 year comprehensive cooperation was on infrastructure and energy), but also in other spheres like education, people to people contacts, medicine and agriculture. Iran also praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and said that it firmly supported the One China policy.

The timing of this visit is interesting, Iran is in talks with other signatories (including China) to the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal 2015 for the revival of the 2015 agreement. While Iran has asked for removal of economic sanctions which were imposed by the US after it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the US has said that time is running out, and it is important for Iran to return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement.  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview said

‘Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’

The US Secretary of State also indicated, that if the negotiations were not successful, then US would explore other options along with other allies.

During the course of the meeting on January 14, 2022 Wang Yi is supposed to have told his Chinese counterpart, that while China supported negotiations for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal 2015, the onus for revival was on the US since it had withdrawn in 2018.

The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to China was also significant, because Foreign Ministers of four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — and Secretary General of GCC,  Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf were in China from January 10-14, 2022 with the aim of expanding bilateral ties – especially with regard to energy cooperation and trade. According to many analysts, the visit of GCC officials to China was driven not just by economic factors, but also the growing proximity between Iran and Beijing.

In conclusion, China is important for Iran from an economic perspective. Iran has repeatedly stated, that if US does not remove the economic sanctions it had imposed in 2018, it will focus on strengthening economic links with China (significantly, China has been purchasing oil from Iran over the past three years in spite of the sanctions imposed by the US. The Ebrahim Raisi administration has repeatedly referred to an ‘Asia centric’ policy which prioritises ties with China.

Beijing is seeking to enhance its clout in the Middle East as US ties with certain members of the GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a clear downward spiral in recent months (US has been uncomfortable with the use of China’s 5G technology by UAE and the growing security linkages between Beijing and Saudi Arabia). One of the major economic reasons for the GCC gravitating towards China is Washington’s thrust on reducing its dependence upon GCC for fulfilling its oil needs. Beijing can utilize its good ties with Iran and GCC and play a role in improving links between both.

The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is likely to become more complex, and while there is not an iota of doubt, that the US influence in the Middle East is likely to remain intact, China is fast catching up.

Continue Reading

Middle East

Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?

Published

on

Image source: atalayar.com

“Being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a little fish in a large pond” is a maxim that aptly summarizes Egyptian regional foreign policy over the past few decades. However, the blow dealt to the Egyptian State in the course of the 2011 uprising continues to distort its domestic and regional politics and it has also prompted the United Arab Emirates to become heavily engaged in Middle East politics, resulting in the waning of Egypt’s dominant role in the region!

The United Arab Emirates is truly an aspirational, entrepreneurial nation! In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” could have been invented to define the flourishing city of Dubai. The UAE has often declared that as a small nation, it needs to establish alliances to pursue its regional political agenda while Egypt is universally recognized for its regional leadership, has one of the best regional military forces, and has always charmed the Arab world with its soft power. Nonetheless, collaboration between the two nations would not necessarily give rise to an entrepreneurial supremacy force! 

Egypt and the UAE share a common enemy: political Islamists. Yet each nation has its own distinct dynamic and the size of the political Islamist element in each of the two countries is different. The UAE is a politically stable nation and an economic pioneer with a small population – a combination of factors that naturally immunize the nation against the spread of political Islamists across the region. In contrast, Egypt’s economic difficulties, overpopulation, intensifying political repression, along with its high illiteracy rate, constitute an accumulation of elements that serves to intensify the magnitude of the secreted, deep-rooted, Egyptian political Islamists.

The alliance formed between the two nations following the inauguration of Egypt’s President Al Sisi was based on UAE money and Egyptian power. It supported and helped expand the domestic political power of a number of unsubstantiated Arab politicians, such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The common denominator among these politicians is that they are all fundamentally opposed to political Islamists.

Although distancing political Islamists from ruling their nations may constitute a temporary success, it certainly is not enough to strengthen the power of the alliance’s affiliates. The absence of true democracy, intensified repression by Arab rulers and the natural evolution of Arab citizens towards freedom will, for better or for worse, lead to the re-emergence of political Islamists. Meanwhile, Emirati wealth will always attract Arab hustlers ready to offer illusory political promises to cash in the money.   

The UAE has generously injected substantial amounts of money into the Egyptian economy and consequently the Egyptian State has exclusively privileged Emirati enterprises with numerous business opportunities, yet the UAE has not helped Egypt with the most critical regional threat it is confronting: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi’s exaggerated fascination with UAE modernization has prompted him to duplicate many Emirati projects – building the tallest tower in Africa is one example.

The UAE’s regional foreign policy that hinges upon exploiting its wealth to confront the political Islamist threat is neither comprehensible nor viable. The Emirates, in essence, doesn’t have the capacity to be a regional political player, even given the overriding of Egypt’s waning power. Meanwhile, Al Sisi has been working to depoliticize Egypt completely, perceiving Egypt as an encumbrance rather than a resource-rich nation – a policy that has resulted in narrowing Egypt’s economic and political aspirations, limiting them to the constant seeking of financial aid from wealthy neighbors.

The regional mediating role that Egypt used to play prior to the Arab uprising has been taken over by European nations such France, Germany and Italy, in addition of course to the essential and ongoing role of the United States. Profound bureaucracy and rampant corruption will always keep Egypt from becoming a second UAE! Irrespective of which nation is in the driver’s seat, this partnership has proven to be unsuccessful. Egypt is definitely better off withdrawing from the alliance, even at the expense of forgoing Emirati financial support.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending