The other reason to isolate Qatar: Its appalling human-rights record
By Josh Block
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Tuesday, June 13, 2017, 3:03 PM
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The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain have all cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar over allegations of fuelling extremism and terrorism.
It’s true the government in Doha has a long history of supporting various radical Islamist groups and movements across the Middle East. Senior Muslim Brotherhood members, Hamas leaders, and Al Qaeda fixers reside in the country. The Taliban even has an unofficial "embassy" in the capital. Doha has also bankrolled with hundreds of millions radical Islamist opposition groups in Libya and Syria, which has angered its neighbors.
And to Qatar's critics, the billion-dollar hostage deal between the emirate, Iranian security officials and Al Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel groups was further evidence of its role in sponsoring extremists.
But beyond its support for radical groups and movements, Qatar has another dark side to it. Behind the façade of glittering skyscrapers and luxury tourist resorts, the emirate is a 21st-century slave state and prolific human rights violator.
Qatar has one of the highest prevalence of modern day slavery proportionate to its population, according to the Global Slavery Index 2016. The report found that Qatar has the fifth-highest concentration of slaves in the world, equating to more than 30,000 people out of a population of 2.24 million.
Qatar defends its deeply problematic human rights record by pointing to the fact that many of the expatriate workers come from extremely poor countries and working in Qatar makes an enormous difference to securing their families livelihood.
However, the abhorrent working conditions and cut-throat contracts they are forced to sign effectively change their status from human being to private property of wealthy Qataris. They have no rights, no protection, no value. If they die, they are simply being replaced with another condemned soul.
Domestic workers, mostly women, are deprived of their passports, wages and days off and remain at particular risk of exploitation and sexual abuse at the hands of their owners. The Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) had to shelter more than 600 runaway maids in the first six months of 2013 alone. A long-proposed law to protect domestic workers' rights continues to be delayed.
The dominant form of modern-day slavery is present in the sky-rocketing construction sector, reflecting the demand for cheap labour to build the lavish infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA Tournament and National Vision 2030. The World Cup, in other words, will be held on football pitches stained with the blood of migrant workers. The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that 4,000 workers will die in Qatar by the time the World Cup is taking place.
Many Qataris are aware of the dire situation in their country, but speaking out against the monarchy comes at enormous personal cost. A poem critical of the royals can bring you a life sentence in jail. Mohammed al-Ajami was arrested in 2011 over a poem that the court found had insulted the former emir and urged the overthrow of the government. Among offending passages from one of al-Ajami's poems was the line: "If the sheikhs cannot carry out justice, we should change the power." He was only pardoned by the current emir in 2016 after an international campaign for his release.
While Qatar aggressively pours billions of dollars into Western economies to buy leverage — it has already invested £40 billion in the United Kingdom and has previously announced that it intends to invest $35 billion in unspecified projects in the United States from 2016 to 2021 — the appalling human rights abuse is largely being ignored by Western policy-makers.
International pressure must be applied. Qatar's rift with other Arab states is a good opportunity to rethink our allegiance with the emirate and do the right thing: hold the slave owners accountable for their crimes.
Block is president and CEO of The Israel Project.