With the looming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and the myriad nefarious controversies, allegations of corruption and skulduggery surrounding its “winning” hosting the event, we shall be examining a catalogue of inescapable ugly truths that envelope this country, its romanticised and delusional image portrayed to a susceptible public, body of corporations, financiers, public figures, governments and ultimately FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association).
Primarily, the awarding of the 2022 FIFA World Cup to Qatar created a number of concerns and obvious red flags regarding both Qatar's suitability as a host country and the fairness of the FIFA bidding process. Criticism from a number of media outlets, sporting experts, and human rights groups highlighted problems such as Qatar's limited football history, the high expected cost, the local climate, and significantly, Qatar's human rights record. Additionally, there have been numerous recorded allegations of bribery between the Qatar Bidding Committee and FIFA members and executives involved in what should be a transparent, ethical and fair process. Several FIFA members have since gone on record saying that the decision to award the tournament to Qatar was a “mistake”, notably including Theo Zwanziger and ex-FIFA President, Sepp Blatter.
The conundrum of Western relations with Qatar
Lille, Marseille, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Reims, and now Paris are all banning so-called ‘fan zones’ from being organised in their cities that would allow residents to watch the World Cup on giant screens in public spaces; citing human rights and environmental objections t...
Qatar of course forbids, under strict laws, homosexuality of any type or preference and therefore any resultant LGBT activism that might arise from its hosting FIFA. This initially impacted the country’s awarding of the games due to its blatant anti-gay stance (with a member of the Dutch Parliament for the Party for Freedom (PVV), even proposing that the Dutch football team play in pink, instead of the country's national color - orange - to protest the gay rights situation in Qatar). Naturally Qatar quickly back peddled once it realised the negative media ramifications of enforcing and maintaining its traditionally homophobic attitudes towards same-sex relationships. The head of Qatar's World Cup bid team, Hassan Al-Thawadi, said that everybody was welcome at the event, so long as they refrained from public displays of affection. "Public display of affection is not part of our culture and tradition", he stated. Despite, hotels have warned gay couples not to book.
Qatar Airways, one of the apparent global leaders in Middle Eastern aviation whose in one of its many mission statements boasts “Together, Everything is Possible, We dare to deliver an experience like no other. We’ve grown fast, overcome challenges, and set trends that others follow. But the story doesn’t stop there. Our future is written by our people.” These are fantastic claims for a company that has set a benchmark for some of the most reprehensible human rights abuses of not only its employees, but its passengers too.
Since its inception and introduction into the once neophyte Middle East aviation industry back in November of 1993, (an era where an airport consisted of a mile of ex-military paved concrete runway in the sand dunes and a few dusty Nissen huts serving as passenger terminals), Doha based Qatar Airways (QA) in its quest to compete with neighbouring Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), each with their own fledgling state airlines, aggressively sold itself as a leader in the industry. Amman, Jordan, was its first regular route in May 1994. In April 1995, the airline's CEO was Sheikh Hamad Bin Ali Bin Jabor Al Thani who employed a staff of just 75. By this time the fleet consisted of two basic Airbus A310s that served a route network primarily within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Middle East (ME), as well as more ambitious long-haul routes; including Bangkok, Cairo, Khartoum, London, Madras, Manila, Muscat, Osaka, Taipei, Tokyo and Trivandrum. During 1995, two ex-All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 747s were bought from Boeing. The airline acquired a second-hand Boeing 747SP (a shortened version of the Boeing 747) from Air Mauritius in 1996. Things were looking promising for this vanguard air carrier in its heyday as it steadily increased its routes and simultaneously required increasing logistics, locations and staffing levels.
Now boasting a fleet of over 200 state-of-the art avant-garde jetliners, this Oneworld Alliance state flag carrier for Qatar relies on a workforce of more than 43,000 employees, the majority of which are head-hunted, gleaned or poached from other carriers and countries to bolster its professional staff and to train, enhance and maintain its required ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) operational status. Qatar’s braggadocious claims of a “5-Star Airline” that will “take you more personally” if you choose to “Go Places together” on its global routes is an amateur sloganeer’s cakewalk.
Its current chairman, Mr. Akbar Al Baker (also appointed Secretary-General of Qatar’s NTC (National Tourism Council), even goes as far as to state that; “His goal is to make Qatar Airways your airline of choice, offering the flights you want to the destinations you need. It is this which drives our collective mission to achieve ‘Excellence in everything we do’ at all levels across our Qatar Airways family of highly-skilled and committed professionals, from across the globe.” However, despite these proclamations, the clandestine track record shows that this comes at a high price for countless employees of this airline ‘family’.
Moreover, in what in normal corporate business circles would seem a distinct and dubious conflict of interests (something not uncommon in the GCC and ME), Mr Al Baker seems to have his fingers in sundry Machbous across the globe, having been awarded several sycophantic trinkets, accolades and trophies along the way to no doubt bolster the company’s façade in QA’s boardroom display cabinets. Interestingly, though holding his bountiful lofty position(s) in Doha and with QA, Mr Al Baker is also curiously a non-executive Director of (London) Heathrow Airport Holdings (HAH) - the company responsible for the running and development of the UK’s largest airport. A magnificent feat seemingly inconceivable for a lone individual to achieve successfully and efficiently, one would imagine.
Qatar Airways workforce comprises a majority of western and Asian employees for both its ground operations, maintenance, engineering, customer service and operations roles and to crew its aircraft. The majority of its aircrew (pilots and flight attendants) are hired from an array of countries, the majority of its flight deck (cockpit) crews primarily being highly trained professional pilots sought from the UK, US, Europe and Asia.
Customer facing ground and cabin crew nationalities also range from countries primarily including the UK, Europe, the Philippines, Nepal, various Asian subcontinent countries, Northern African countries (Tunisia, Morocco, Ethiopia, etc.), as well as Lebanon, Turkey and Eastern Europe. Engineering staff are also primarily sourced from first world countries due to their training backgrounds matching the technical demands and criterion necessary to ensure the standard development, evaluation, and certification of airspace systems, maintenance, procedures, and equipment benchmarks set by global aviation authorities.
In the member states of the GCC, migrant workers, (ranging from top-level ‘White Collar’ professionals to unskilled workers) compose the majority of the population, working in the aviation, construction, retail, manufacturing industry, and domestic work sectors. The GCC relies heavily on countless educated, skilled and experienced professionals to manage and run its industries, as well as hundreds of thousands of unqualified, unskilled and uneducated workers from the Asian subcontinent and the Philippines who are critical to its successful economic development. As migrant workers generally occupy the most physically intensive industries, they are systematically abused, exploited, marginalised, and silenced through threats of deportation and unemployment. However, this mistreatment of workers and employees is not just confined to these easily replaced minions.
Although each nation of the GCC individually conducts its own labour laws, the pattern of forced labour, human rights abuses and human trafficking is abnormally prevalent in Qatar. Local and international human rights organizations have reported on the abuse of migrant workers, but these populations are highly vulnerable due to lacking or unenforced rights’ protections, likened to modern day slavery. This applies to white collar skilled professionals as well. This practice falls under what is referred to as the “Kafala” (sponsorship) system.
The residency of migrant workers is monitored under the Kafala system. Under this capricious scheme, employees are individually assigned and nearly entirely controlled by an employer. Migrant workers in particular are often recruited via fraud and deception, becoming susceptible to a range of human rights violations, including and not limited to sexual, physical and psychological abuse by employers. Reports also include confiscation of passports, deliberate starvation of employees, restrictions on mobility, excessive work hours, delayed (or even non) salary payments, and subpar working and living conditions. Migrant workers are reportedly often deported for minor transgressions, including complaining about working conditions. Upon arrest, workers may be jailed and deported, without inability to appeal. While dubious legal remedies exist, language and mobility barriers often limit accessibility and a corrupt, racism-laced judicial system often ends badly for most naive victims.
The dearth of foreigners lured to the GCC and its promises of “tax-free” earnings, seemingly too-good-to-be-true opportunities and the perks of such a lifestyle unobtainable in their native homelands naturally appeal to persons of all faiths - practising or not, the majority being mostly non-Muslims. This began during the oil boom of the 1970s which created a tremendous demand for foreign labour in the Persian Gulf frontier states. Unsurprisingly, the number of workers needed to drive the emerging economies of the Gulf states was bound to include significant numbers of such non-Muslims. For example, there are now estimated to be more than three and a half million expatriate Christians working in the six GCC states, mostly Catholics from the Philippines, India, Europe, UK, US and other primarily Judaeo-Christian nations. Though this is a deliberately ignored actuality, the elephant in the room dictates that such non-believers (“Kafir”) are discriminated against, treated less humanely and held to a lower standard which with experience, some could describe as disdain, injustice and contempt by employers and authorities at every level, especially within the judicial system and inequality within the workplace - whether for skilled, or unskilled workers across all trades and work environs. Most often this manifests from natives employers often concocting “transgressions” and escalating otherwise benign work-related infractions to more serious consequences for many. These arbitrary infractions can also occur outside of the normal workplace and expected working hours and what would otherwise be in one’s own personal time and privacy. We shall be exploring and exposing just some of immeasurable documented instances of these human rights violations in a series of upcoming editorials.
But for now, let’s focus on Qatar and its flamboyant national airline which as described, also uses the above bait to draw its diverse workforce from various skill sets and backgrounds. The scope of abuse and maltreatment of its multinational labour force, ranging from flight crews to ground crews, engineers, corporate staff and even marketing experts is far-reaching and mostly unreported.
There are instances for example whereby female flight attendants for Qatar Airways have been stalked, harassed, surveilled, abused and penalised for not arriving at their accommodation “on time” after finishing their shifts, for “fraternising” with male colleagues or unrelated males, as well as using social media “inappropriately”. There are a plethora of accounts of employee abuse of both cabin crew and pilots for “discrepancies” such as being deemed “too fat” for work, not wearing a uniform cap correctly, having too much or too little makeup or lipstick, being “too jovial”, being “overtly gay” or publicly humiliated for being LGBT, or for allegedly having “inappropriate interrelations” while on a shared crewed flight. These incidents frequently result in a consequent summons to a meeting in QA’s corporate offices to be forced to write false formal apologies under duress and receive severe warnings, removal from anticipated crew roster flight schedules and sometimes worse.
Al Baker is pushing his vision of Doha as a great hub for international air traffic. He pushed his vision of Qatar Airways just as forcefully, where all annual reports are classified and board members are anonymous, but the brand name is well known, just the way Al Bakar wants it.
One former flight attendant with QA (who wishes to remain anonymous), recounts her experiences of just one incident of many abuses while she was with the airline. According to her, she met with leadership on a couple of occasions. She states; “He can storm unannounced into a lecture room for new flight attendants, and without another word monopolise the situation. He will also personally take flights just to measure staff service capabilities and he shows up at briefings in which Qatar Airways flight attendants stand with their fingers at chest height so that nails, complexion and hair can all be inspected at whim.”
On one occasion, leadership showed up at a briefing where our flight attendant was present, she greeted him politely and directly. He did not reply. "You need to lose weight!" he demanded instead - and abruptly left the meeting.
Every day, the flight attendants log onto the company intranet, where the flight roster schedules are kept and updated. One morning, when this flight attendant logged on, all her flights had been deleted. No one had warned her. Her schedule was empty. Everyone in the company knows what that means. She quickly went to an ATM. Here, she withdrew 10,000 Riyals. She has been working for two years. No complaints had been filed against her. On the contrary, she has been promoted and been given special assignments. But she knows that if she didn't withdraw her entire salary right then, Qatar Airways would freeze her local bank account. She had been detected and was therefore dispensable.
The same tyrannical rules don’t just apply to cabin crew, pilots of many years’ experience and skilled backgrounds are also subject to harsh retribution should they abuse their “privileges”. In another documented case, a captain with many hours flight time and a career spanning two decades formed an amicable and ultimately close relationship with a flight attendant he was often crewed with.
During their flights, their acquaintance naturally developed. This, in a normal and civilised professional environment would be a natural, private and acceptable occurrence. Despite colleagues' warnings, their relationship instinctively matured and the flight attendant slept over at this captain’s lodgings one night. The reaction was immediate. The girl was arrested, spending three nights in Qatari custody. The pilot was stripped of his flights. The flight attendant was ultimately shipped back to her home country, penniless, with the status “deported”, (which means she will be denied any future entry into Qatar). The pilot's comparatively milder punishment was a final warning. Any further infraction from him within the next six months and he would have to leave Qatar Airways. Needless to say, soon after the incident, this captain recognised the potential ramifications and while he had the opportunity, resigned while on leave in his own country.
Stewardesses and pilots working for Qatar Airways have all signed a detailed Non Disclosure Agreement about not discussing the company, sharing their views on Facebook or showing pictures of their uniforms. “Getting fired is easy,” says a crew member (wishing to remain anonymous), who claims that luck is the reason she still has her job.
“There was a period a few months ago when four staff housing buildings were more or less emptied. Every time you were hanging out with another stewardess, mobile phones kept ringing: she's off, now she's off. I was talking to a friend one day when six of the girls in her building had been fired in the same week.”
The company's sudden redundancies are as constant as the international recruitment days every weekend. Stewardesses are fired for wanting to change roommates, for posting an inappropriate Facebook status, for getting a discreet tattoo, for returning to the housing five minutes after curfew, for letting a man that they know who is neither their husband or father give them a lift to work, or for simply smoking a cigarette during their time off.
QA pilots are often forced to complete required paperwork in contravention of international aviation safety standards and law, or face severe disciplinary action and even termination or breach of their contracts. These include non-reporting of inadequate required rest periods between long-haul flights for aircrew, falsifying aircraft and pilot’s flight logs and other required paperwork, being instructed to violate restricted airspace, and being penalised for determining recommended operational aircraft fuel loads required for flights. One captain explains that he often was called to the flight operations management after a flight because he “took on too much fuel” for a flight sector into a notoriously renowned difficult airport approach, situated in a hazardous location that requires at least 45 minutes “minimum emergency fuel” lest this destination airport weather was below internationally stipulated safe landing parameters and he - as captain - would have to make the informed decision to divert to the nearest available airport (requiring such excess fuel) where it was possible to safely land. It seems inconceivable that QA admonishes and reprimands pilots for being professional and applying their years of training and skills for the safety of their passengers, crew and aircraft, as well as adhering to international aviation safety regulation protocols.
As if there were not already enough recorded scandals surrounding this deeply problematic airline, in recent news, Marc Bennett, a senior British executive at a subsidiary of Qatar Airways was found hanged in a Doha hotel room just ten weeks after being detained and allegedly abused, beaten and tortured by Qatar’s secret police over allegations that he sent confidential business correspondence to a private email address. Authorities in Qatar have typically rushed to rule Bennett’s death a suicide, attempting to once again sweep yet another scandal under its Arabian carpet, despite their counterparts in the UK declaring that there was “no specific evidence of suicidal intent”. Evidently a trailblazer in the travel industry, Bennett was filched by Qatar’s tourism authority, Discover Qatar, in 2017.
After the desert state won the right to host the 2022 World Cup later this year, it tasked tourism expert Bennett to help sell the country as a modern, safe, forward thinking international tourism destination, despite the country’s prominent image to the contrary. As senior Vice President of the organisation, he was charged with developing the country’s tourism industry in time for the FIFA World Cup which will be held next month. Ironically, Bennett had worked to improve the image of Qatar, where allegations of human rights abuses are rife, and was said to work closely with Qatar Airways boss, Al Baker. But after he signalled he wanted to leave his role, he found himself arrested and detained for weeks. Bennet was due to leave Qatar for London in October, 2019. His tickets kept on getting cancelled, and two days later he was summoned to Qatar Airways’ head office in Doha where the police were waiting for him. Bennett was released from detention on November 10, 2019, but he was barred from leaving the country, and his passport had been confiscated.
On Christmas Day, 2019, Bennett was found dead. He had not left a suicide note.
The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) got involved in the case, but in a bizarre twist, diplomats dropped the case just a week after Liz Truss became Foreign Secretary. In a bizarre coincidence, Truss visited Qatar just a month after Bennett’s death and within months, the Qatari government unveiled a £10 billion investment package in Britain. Until now, Bennet’s death remains unresolved.
In summary, while Qatar boasts an idealistic, progressive and forward momentum via its endless glossy torrents of advertising media, its inherently fundamental regressive and Bedouin feudal tribalism and corrupt traditions far outweigh any advances it may have achieved, usually at the expense of the blood, sweat and tears of foreign skilled expertise, experience, knowledge and manpower. Its definitive appalling human rights record speaks volumes and we shall be addressing this in a series of detailed articles, including highlighting the boundless and shameless corruption and exploitation of workers and personnel surrounding the hijacking of FIFA 2022.