The World Cup in Qatar has passed without any reported arrests or police incidents involving British citizens, counter to expectations. While some have speculated that the restrictions on the availability of alcohol may have played a decisive role in the relative tranquillity of the event, Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Doha, believes this is a misinterpretation. “Much has been said about the impeccable behaviour of British citizens attending the World Cup, And they attribute the lack of incidents to their law-abiding conduct,” she says, “But the truth is that British citizens and other foreign nationals get arrested, fined, and detained in Qatar on a regular basis without having committed any disturbances or crimes. While certainly the respectful conduct of Brits at the World Cup is to be commended, we can deduce that it was Qatari law enforcement who were on their best behaviour since the end of November.”
Stirling suggests that authorities in Qatar restrained police abuses and frivolous arrests, uncharacteristically, precisely because the small Gulf State was under unprecedented scrutiny from the international media. “It is not so much because officials restricted access to alcohol that no British citizens were detained,” she explains, “But rather, it is because officials restricted law enforcement from carrying out their duties with the same hubris with which they normally behave when thousands of journalists and 3.4 million football fans with social media accounts are not present.
“The lesson from this is not that Qatar is a tolerant, liberal place where foreigners are respected and their rights protected – we know from over a decade of experience with wrongful detentions that this is not the case. The lesson is that the most effective way to ensure the safety of foreign nationals in Qatar is the presence of international media attention specifically spotlighting their security.
“The danger now is that Qatar will parley its apparently successful handling of the World Cup into acquiring the status of a favoured tourism and investment destination; but when foreigners travel there now, the media spotlight will have already moved elsewhere, and they will encounter a very different Qatar than was on display during the event. When the last football fans depart from Doha, ‘World Cup Qatar’ will cease to exist, and the police, the public prosecutor, the courts, and the government will undoubtedly revert to form.”
Stirling notes that the Qatari government will likely assume that the success of the World Cup has launched the tiny country to a new level of prestige and therefore impunity, “We mustn’t forget that officials in Doha responded intransigently to criticism prior to, and throughout, the World Cup. They threatened to review and potentially withdraw their investments in the EU if criticisms continued regarding their persecution of the LGBT community; they reneged on their promise to provide religious accommodations for non-Muslims, particularly Jewish visitors; they imposed restrictions on media coverage; they changed their rules on allowance of alcohol sales outside stadiums; and all of this with complete indifference to objections.
“Qatar’s government clearly feels emboldened and this is frequently being expressed through defiance of Western governments. With this strengthened sense of entitlement I would expect to see a worsening of the situation for foreign nationals in the country, particularly now that the authorities are not concerned with managing a successful World Cup, and particularly now that the world’s press will not be looking.”
Founder & CEO at Detained in Dubai