News Release

Qatar “Deforming” Arab Uprisings

President Obama is scheduled to meet with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, this afternoon.

MESSAOUD ROMDHANI, mah.talbi at gmail.com
A human rights activist in Tunisia, Romdhani said today: “Qatar has played a pivotal role in the region. It’s acted as a go-between with the U.S. and the Muslim Brotherhood, it has used Al Jazeera and it has tried to mold the Arab uprisings by backing Salafism, a reactionary form of Islam.

“At the beginning of the Tunisian uprising, Al Jazeera played a generally positive role, but as soon as the dictator was deposed, Al Jazeera had a total shift to featuring more Islamic groups from Tunisia — giving them the platform. Al Jazeera also highlighted and fostered the uprisings in the Republics (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria) while downplaying them in the pro-U.S. monarchies (Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, Jordan, Morocco).

“All this is deforming the so-called Arab Spring, it’s leading to a Wahhabization of the region. Tunisia is a difficult place for such a thing, we used to have a moderate form of Islam, but the role of Qatar and Saudi Arabia is hurting that. Qatar is also playing a very bad role in Syria. We want the end of the dictatorship, but Qatar is pushing Syria to become like the Gulf states, which are obviously authoritarian. All this is very dangerous to democracy and human rights.” See video of Romdhani.

NICHOLAS McGEEHAN, mcgeehn at hrw.org, @NcGeehan
Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch, McGeehan said today: “Qatar has been relatively successful at projected an image of a progressive Gulf state, but if you scratch the surface, you find a very problematic situation.

“The national population is about 15 percent. Some 85 percent of the population is migrant workers. There could be another million migrant workers coming with all the construction going on in Qatar, especially with its 2022 World Cup bid.

“There are very serious abuses going in Qatar with the migrant workers — we’re not talking about insufficient compensation. We’re talking about extreme exploitation, about it resembling a form of labor that most of the world outlawed over a century ago for hundreds of thousands of workers from south Asia. If the U.S. is serious about addressing human trafficing, Qatar should be real a priority.

“Qatar hasn’t seen protests that have occurred in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia and the UAE, but its response to mild dissent hasn’t been encouraging. A poet got a life sentance, reduced to a 15-year sentence on appeal, for uploading a poem to the internet criticizing the Emir. That’s problematic in the extreme.

“We recently obtained a copy of a draft media law that provides for a very serious financial penalty for anyone publishing material damaging to Qatar — or the countries that surround it. So, for example, this would institutionalize Al Jazeera being able to critically report about other places, but not the Gulf sheikdoms.”

MICHAEL ROTHENBERG and TERRI CARRION, mrwalterblue at gmail.com
Rothenberg and Carrion are co-founders of 100 Thousand Poets for Change. They organized a petition signed by Sam Hamill, Sarah Browning, Philip Levine, Alice Walker, Naomi Shihab Nye, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and other poets for the Qatari poet Mohammed Ibn Al Ajami. The petition states that his “crime” consisted of “reciting on November 16, 2011 a poem extolling the courage and values of the popular uprisings in Tunisia: ‘Oh revolutionary, sing the praises of the struggle with the blood of the people / in the soul of the free carve the values of revolt / and to those holding the shroud of the dead tell / that every victory also bears its ordeals.”

SAM HUSSEINI, samhusseini at gmail.com, @samhusseini
Husseini is communications director of the Institution for Public Accuracy.