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.
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