Qatar is Off the Message



As I start my research on Qatar’s public diplomacy strategy, I was surprised by this week’s reports following the death of an Indian worker in the 2022 World Cup host preparations. What surprised me was not the fact of the death or the subsequent statistics revealing high death rates and a range of abuses against migrant workers in Qatar, but rather the hesitant and unsatisfying reactions by Qatari officials.

Scholarly literature that I had reviewed so far  (Azran, 2013; Barakat, 2012; Peterson, 2006) suggests that Qatar has skilfully adopted some of the main principles of public diplomacy and soft power. Qatar makes smart use of PD techniques, frames its messages and avoids contradictions between domestic communication and mediated diplomacy, a technique suggested as especially important by Enthman (2008). However with the case of the Indian worker, it seems that Qatar has lost its grip of clever PD. It started by denying the reports, moved on to claiming the death figures to be ‘normal’ and continued with making completely unconvincing statements to reason the numbers such as: “Indians make up the largest community in Qatar… twice the number of Qatari nationals” (Ali Bin Sumaikh al-Marri, the Head of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee).

My personal thoughts on this are that Qatar, as many other states including the US, forgets that public image is a sum of various variables. While it’s important to focus on specific issues where a state possesses competitive advantage (Qatar focuses strongly on mediation), other issues should not be overlooked. In case of Qatar there is definitely not enough focus on addressing and framing its questionable human rights practices inside the country.

To read the story:

8 thoughts on “Qatar is Off the Message”

  1. I think you’ve locked onto a big issue here and it could seriously trip up Qatari credibility come World Cup time. Particularly damaging is the potential image of a minority of Qatari citizens rolling in petro-wealth yet unwilling to invest in basic standards for the foreign workers that serve them.

    One minor caveat- for all I know, 455 deaths might actually be a normal number. My gut tells me it’s a bad number, but I have no idea what the baseline rate is for workplace deaths.

    The topic of Qatar came up for me recently through a conversation with my roommate about Sochi and Russia’s credibility. His question was: will the public be as critical to Qatar as they have been to Russia? Qatari attitudes towards gays and women make Russia look like San Francisco! Ok that last bit wasn’t a direct quote but you get my point.

    Qatar might get a get-out-of-jail free if the global media isn’t brave enough to confront a Muslim country on gender/gay rights, but I think labor rights could hurt their image. Fortunately for them, they have eight years and a lot of money to work with. It sounds like they already have a little taste of the media coverage to come, so they’d be wise to start reforms now.

    This looks like a step in the right direction, at least:

  2. Alona,

    Haha, I was just about to do my blog posting on this very issue! Here is another article that outlines the missteps that Qatar has taken in the public diplomacy realm regarding sports.

    The message is this: “Sports is central to a soft power strategy designed to embed and endear Qatar in an international community in ways that would ensure that the world would come to its aid in times of need much like a US-led force expelled Iraqi occupation troops from Kuwait in 1990. Qatar has so far missed the plank with international public opinion associating it more with modern day slavery than with being a cutting edge 21st century nation that is contributing to the global good.”

    That quote really sums up the article, but there are other tidbits in there that are worth the read. The problem is that Qatar wanted to use the sporting events as a way to implement soft power goals and create cultural diplomacy with many powerful nations. Unfortunately, they used third-country nationals to build the stadiums and treated them like dogs while paying them poor salaries. Instead of creating good relations with the countries involved in FIFA, they displayed a surprising lack of diplomatic awareness.

    I agree with the previous commentator that the media will have a field day if Qatar doesn’t attempt to clean up its image for the international audience. As far as muslim countries, Qatar is actually a very moderate place. However, it still has a long way to go. The media won’t be as harsh on Qatar as it has been on Russia. It is refreshing to see that these types of media stories will hopefully spotlight mistreatment and be a catalyst for fixing problems in society instead of causing problems.

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