For Qatar, the World Cup is a high-stakes take a look at and a present of clout


DOHA, Qatar — In a rustic whose wealth and ambition have usually stirred questions on its identification — is it a mediator or instigator, a state bridging divides or a striver standing aside — Qatar’s nationwide museum presents a succinct and shimmering self-assessment.

“Qatar has remodeled from a state that some individuals may barely establish on a map to a serious participant in politics, the economic system, media, tradition and sports activities worldwide,” the nation’s emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is quoted as saying, in phrases which might be projected on a black background and onerous to dispute.

For all Qatar’s progress although, will probably be examined over the following month because it hosts the World Cup — an occasion that has invited a level of scrutiny and criticism the nation has not often skilled and that threatens a worldwide picture rigorously cultivated over time via inventive diplomacy, humanitarian work and industrial endeavors like sponsorship of sports activities.

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Current weeks have introduced renewed consideration to the plight of migrant staff who suffered or died constructing the infrastructure for the occasion, and to issues over how LGBTQ followers will probably be obtained in a rustic that criminalizes homosexuality. Prior to now two days, the talk shifted to outrage over a resolution to ban beer at stadiums.

Qatari officers have bristled at a lot of the criticism, arguing the nation is being unfairly singled out in a fashion that means an undercurrent of racism — and that ignores the pathbreaking nature of the event.

“Internet hosting soccer’s premier occasion in an Arab and Muslim-majority nation for the primary time is a very historic second and a chance to interrupt stereotypes about our area,” Qatar’s international minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, mentioned in a textual content message. “Soccer has the ability to construct bonds of friendship and overcome boundaries of bewilderment between nations and folks.”

And for Qatar, a profitable event may serve to validate its myriad efforts over time to lift its world stature, and amplify its clout.

Abdullah al-Arian, a professor of historical past at Georgetown College in Qatar and editor of a brand new ebook, “Soccer within the Center East: State, Society, and the Stunning Sport,” mentioned the World Cup was “one element of a much wider technique meaning to place Qatar as a big regional actor.

“It’s carving out area for itself exterior the shadow of neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Iran. And it’s completed this partly by investing in large-scale improvement tasks, in addition to media, well-liked tradition, training, medication. The World Cup suits proper into that,” he mentioned.

Not lengthy earlier than the event, Qatar confronted a much more rigorous take a look at. The story is informed within the museum in Doha — an incubator of the evolving nationwide narrative — in an exhibit in regards to the “Ramadan blockade”: a siege of Qatar imposed by neighbors together with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in 2017 that lasted practically 4 years.

The blockade divided the Center East, separated households from Persian Gulf states who had cross-border ties, and saddled Qatar — a rustic with one of many highest per capita incomes on the planet — with an unaccustomed hardship, because it instantly scrambled to supply residents and residents with meals and different provides.

Saudi Arabia and its allies accused Qatar of terrorism, which it denied. Their anger stemmed from Qatar’s assist for Islamist teams throughout the area, its sponsorship of the Al Jazeera information channel and its normal refusal to fall according to its neighbors. The feud ended final 12 months, with Qatar refusing to adjust to a listing of calls for made by the Saudi-led bloc, together with that it shut down Al Jazeera. However the tensions persist.

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There was settlement within the area on “frequent threats,” Mohammed mentioned. “But generally we don’t agree on the methods,” for countering them, he conceded.

For now, Qatar seems to produce other priorities. Earlier than it was overwhelmed with the calls for of the World Cup, Qatar returned to its function as regional mediator, helping the USA as a third-party interlocutor with Iran and the Taliban — together with serving to to evacuate U.S. residents and allies in the course of the nation’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Qatar hosts a serious base for the U.S. army’s Central Command and has largely prevented confrontation with the Biden administration, at the same time as its neighbors, bristling at what they see as American disengagement from the area, have pursued nearer ties with China and Russia.

The US has “different priorities. We can’t blame this on disengagement,” Mohammed mentioned. Governments within the area, he added “must begin to take extra accountability.”

Qatar’s “worldwide function has matured over the previous decade,” mentioned Elham Fakhro, a analysis fellow on the Heart for Gulf Research on the College of Exeter. The blockade got here as a “shock,” however Qatar nonetheless managed to drag off “a number of diplomatic victories,” she mentioned, together with brokering conflicts on behalf of the USA.

“The best situation for Qatar transferring ahead will probably be one the place it will probably stability between its worldwide international coverage ambitions, whereas avoiding one other breakdown in regional relations with its neighbors,” she mentioned.

Because the event begins, Qatar is now internet hosting these neighbors, with hundreds of followers coming from across the Arab world, together with Saudi Arabia, which is competing within the event and is meant to ship one of many largest contingents of ticket holders — a shocking turnaround after the animosities unleashed in the course of the blockade.

As followers poured in from all around the area, together with Tunisians, Iranians, Moroccans and Saudis, it had lent the event a “distinctive taste,” al-Arian mentioned: the most recent instance, if all of it goes easily, of Qatar’s mediating function.


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