World

Saudi Arabia and Qatar: The Kingdoms of Slave Labor and Human Rights Abuses

Qatar is using slave labor in anticipation of the World Cup, while Saudi Arabia remains repressively patriarchal.

George W. Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah
Photo Credit: Whitehouse.gov/Wikimedia Commons

In the past few decades, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have seen their influence, both regional and global, grow rapidly. The extraordinary wealth of both oil-rich nations give them a lot of say and sway far beyond the Gulf area. Both Kingdoms have used their tremendous power of the purse, given by oil revenues, to gain a geopolitical clout that allows them to push their conservative and repressive brand of Islam. As early as in the 1980s, the Saudis, together with the CIA, were financing and arming the Jihadists: the so-called freedom fighters of the Reagan era who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Nowadays both kingdoms have their hands in the political affairs of the Middle East and entire Muslim word. Their money allows them to proselytize a hard-line brand of Sunni Islam, with a strict enforcement of Sharia law, through channels and vectors that include the Salafis, Muslim Brotherhood, and even al-Qaeda. Saudi and Qatari money builds mosques all over Europe and is also heavily invested in sectors of economic activity from banking to ownership of some of the biggest football teams in Europe, such as the Paris-St Germain in France. Saudis and Qataris are currently at the forefront of the Syrian proxy war against the government of Bashar al-Assad, where they are arming and financing the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) and its 50,000 strong foreign Jihadist mercenaries. Qatar and Saudi Arabia were instrumental in toppling of Gaddafi in Libya, as well as the Islamist hijacking of the Arab Spring from countries such as Tunisia and Egypt. In both Qatar and Saudi Arabia, wealth is controlled by very few people while more than 90 percent of the work is done by immigrants who labor under deplorable conditions. 

Qatar: 300 people, a TV network and slave labor

So few people are in charge of Qatar that it has been ironically called the nation of “300 people and a TV network.” Qatar, with the help of its state-owned cable TV station al Jazeera, has cultivated the image of a modern moderate state, even a somewhat progressive society, at least compared to ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia next door; but this is deceptive, both domestically and abroad. Qatar invests astronomical sums and spares no effort in spreading the fundamentalist teachings of Wahhabi Islam across the world. Lately, Qatar’s money has been recruiting faithful in Europe. From Greece to France and Belgium, and from Germany to Spain, the construction of mega mosques is proceeding at record pace. In Munich, a mega mosque of 65,000 square feet, which will cost an estimated $50 million, is financed by Qataris. This mosque is meant to be a key strategic point from which to spread fundamentalist Islam in Europe.

Domestically, Qatar imports almost all of its workforce from poorer Arab countries like Algeria, for white-collar jobs, while it recruits low-skilled labor from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. A recent report from The Guardian has shined an international spotlight on Qatar’s practices. In this exclusive report, Pete Pattison revealed how Qatar is using slave labor for its 2022 World Cup mega construction projects. According to Nepal’s embassy in Doha (Qatar), at least 44 Nepalese workers have died between June 4 and August 18, 2013. The report also reveals evidence of forced labor: workers whose passports are confiscated, are not paid for months, with money withheld so that they don’t run away and who are denied access to free drinking water. 

“The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of laborers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery,” wrote Pete Pattison. Qatar exploits, often in dire conditions, 1.2 million migrant workers. According to the UN International Labor Organization (ILO), Qatar is failing to implement the international convention that bans the use of forced labor. The country only signed the ILO convention on slave labor in 2007. Qatar is expected to ship in at least an additional 500,000 construction laborers — mainly from Nepal, Bangladesh and India — in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. According to the ILO, more than 4,000 migrant workers could die between now and 2022 during construction of the infrastructure for the world’s biggest sporting event. 

Saudi-Arabia: Sharia law punishes women for getting gang raped

Unlike Qatar , Saudi Arabia does not pretend to be a modern and socially liberal state. Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights, from the death penalty to basic women’s rights is appalling. If oil gives the Saudi elite unlimited resources, Wahhabism and Salafism religious doctrines allow them to rule their people with the iron fist of strict Sharia law. Salafism is a branch of Islam fundamentalism that is based in Saudi Arabia but branches out far and beyond the Middle East. The goal of Salafists is to establish a Caliphate — that is, an Islamic empire — across the Middle East, North Africa, and some say Europe. The Caliphate would be exclusively governed by Sharia law and come under the geopolitical influence of the Saudis. The oil-rich kingdom is a paradise for theocracy and the world’s most repressive patriarchal social system.

In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive a car. Worse, a strict Sharia law of sex segregation requires that a Saudi woman be accompanied by a male guardian, typically a relative, at all times in public. An egregious example of the application of such law was the handling of the 2006 rape of a young Shiite — an oppressed minority in Saudi-Arabia. A Saudi court convicted the 19-year old woman for violating the strict Sharia law of sex segregation and sentenced her to 90 lashes.  The victim said she had boarded a car with a male student friend (a violation of Sharia law); two men got into the car and drove them to a secluded area where she was raped by seven men, three of whom also beat up her male friend. Later the sentence for the rape victim was increased from 90 to 200 lashes and she also received a six-month jail term because her lawyer, Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, a known human rights activist, had publicized his client’s predicament outside of the country.

Migrant workers appear to suffer the harshest punishments prescribed by Sharia law, which include: flogging for drinking alcohol and for illegal sexual intercourse, 100 lashes for adultery, amputation of hands for theft, and capital punishment by beheading in public with a sword. As recently as December 2011, a woman was decapitated for witchcraft, and people are routinely convicted based on confession obtained under torture. Drug trafficking is a capital offense; even theft is sometimes treated as a capital offense, especially in cases where the perpetrators are foreign workers and the victims are Saudis. In 2012, 82 executions were carried out. As of May 21, 47 people had been executed in 2013, some of them beheaded and then crucified.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are colluding to establish a Sunni-dominated Muslim word. They use their oil resources and considerable wealth to promote a repressive agenda well outside their borders. Qatar postures as a proponent of modernity and progressive Islam even as it finances and arms the Jihadists foot soldiers of Islam from Algeria and Mali, to Libya and Syria. In both Saudi Arabia and Qatar, millions of migrants from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal build the wealth of Emirs and Sheiks with their blood, sweat and tears and quite often their lives.