These are exciting times for Qatar. The small but fabulously wealthy Gulf state has provided invaluable assistance to the United States and other Western powers in dealing with a new Taliban ascendancy in Afghanistan. It is preparing to hold its first election next month and next year it will host the FIFA World Cup, the biggest stage in international football and the second most watched global sporting event after the Olympics.
Qatar has been very successful in increasing its international profile in recent years, but now it sees that success poses its own challenges. We spoke with Sofia Meranto, Eurasia Group Middle East Analyst, to find out more about what’s going on in the country.
What will Qataris vote for next month?
A constitutional monarchy like most of its neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar will hold elections on October 2 for 30 of the country’s 45 members of the legislature, the Shura Council. In addition, the authority of the council will likely be extended somewhat to include approval of the state budget and oversight of certain ministries. However, Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Thani will retain the possibility of appointing his 15 remaining members of the council and a right of veto. He will also closely manage the upcoming elections, raising questions about how open they are and who will be able to participate. Yet the vote represents the country’s first attempt at a more inclusive political process.
Will Qatar continue to act as an intermediary between the West and the Taliban?
As much of the world has avoided the Taliban, Qatar has cultivated ties with the group in an attempt to position itself as a regional intermediary, particularly vis-à-vis the United States. He called on the militant group to open a political office in its territory in 2013. That foresight paid off this year, as the United States and other Western countries suddenly found themselves having to speak with the Taliban and ask for help in Qatar. Qatar intends to continue to take advantage of its unique position. In the short term, this strategy will make Qatar a sought-after regional partner. In the longer term, this presents some risks given that the Taliban are inflexible and that human rights violations or non-compliance with agreements could come back to haunt Qatar if it is perceived to be too closely associated with the Taliban.
What is the country’s beef status with Saudi Arabia?
Tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia have largely eased, as a widely circulated holiday photo of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Qatari Sheikh Tamim Al Thani. The two sides reached an agreement in January to end the conflict over concerns from Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region over Qatar’s foreign policy and a range of other issues. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have agreed to restore diplomatic relations with Qatar and reopen their ports and airspace to Qatari traffic. People and goods move freely in the region again, which should help make next year’s World Cup a busy event.
Why are Qatar betting so big on football?
All over the Gulf, countries are betting on sport to make themselves known and improve their image. Qatar has money to spend – it has the third largest natural gas reserves in the world – and sees investing in football as a useful way to expand its global influence and attract tourists and news. companies. This prompted the bid to host the FIFA World Cup next year, as well as the 2011 purchase of football club Paris Saint Germain by Qatar Sports Investments (which is part of the Qatar Investment Authority, a public company ). Since its takeover of PSG, Doha has injected millions of dollars into the squad, making headlines by spending huge sums to acquire the services of some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and more recently Lionel. Messi.
Does the bet pay off?
Certainly Qatar is now familiar to millions of football fans around the world who had never heard of the country until recently. And its global profile will rise even further at next year’s World Cup, when footage of the world’s second most-watched sporting event hits billions of homes. However, the investment of PSG has already aroused a strong reaction from European fans about the unfair competition of clubs financed from the deep pockets of the Gulf. And the infrastructure projects commissioned for the World Cup have drawn international attention to the treatment of low-wage migrant workers who fuel much of the Qatari economy. There have been reports of the deaths of migrant workers – more than 2 million are present in the country – in the construction sector, prompting calls for a boycott of the World Cup from some European players and federations. Qatar reacted by modifying the kafala (sponsorship) system used to bring in workers including minimum wage ($ 274 per month) and a policy to reduce heat stress to workers during the hot summer season. It will likely take time to ensure the consistent implementation of these changes and determine their effectiveness in addressing a problem long emphasized by human rights activists. But Qatar can be sure the world will watch.
Sofia Meranto is Middle East and North Africa analyst at Eurasia Group.