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 typically stirred questions on its id — 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 transformed from a state that some people could barely identify on a map to a major player in politics, the economy, media, culture and sports worldwide,” the nation’s emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is quoted as saying, in phrases which can be projected on a black background and onerous to dispute.

For all Qatar’s progress although, it will likely 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 world picture fastidiously cultivated over time via inventive diplomacy, humanitarian work and business 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 considerations over how LGBTQ followers will probably be obtained in a rustic that criminalizes homosexuality. Previously two days, the controversy shifted to outrage over a choice 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 implies an undercurrent of racism — and that ignores the pathbreaking nature of the match.

“Hosting football’s premier event in an Arab and Muslim-majority country for the first time is a truly historical moment and an opportunity to break stereotypes about our region,” Qatar’s overseas minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, stated in a textual content message. “Football has the power to build bonds of friendship and overcome barriers of misunderstanding between nations and people.”

And for Qatar, a profitable match might serve to validate its myriad efforts over time to lift its international stature, and amplify its clout.

Abdullah al-Arian, a professor of historical past at Georgetown College in Qatar and editor of a brand new guide, “Football in the Middle East: State, Society, and the Beautiful Game,” stated the World Cup was “one component of a much broader strategy intending to position Qatar as a significant regional actor.

“It’s carving out space for itself outside the shadow of neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Iran. And it’s done this in part by investing in large-scale development projects, as well as media, popular culture, education, medicine. The World Cup fits right into that,” he stated.

Not lengthy earlier than the match, Qatar confronted a much more rigorous take a look at. The story is instructed within the museum in Doha — an incubator of the evolving nationwide narrative — in an exhibit concerning 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 out of the blue 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 help for Islamist teams throughout the area, its sponsorship of the Al Jazeera information channel and its common 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 “common threats,” Mohammed stated. “Yet sometimes we don’t agree on the techniques,” 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 position as regional mediator, aiding the US as a third-party interlocutor with Iran and the Taliban — together with serving to to evacuate U.S. residents and allies through the nation’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

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

The US has “other priorities. We cannot blame this on disengagement,” Mohammed stated. Governments within the area, he added “need to start to take more responsibility.”

Qatar’s “international role has matured over the past decade,” stated Elham Fakhro, a analysis fellow on the Middle for Gulf Research on the College of Exeter. The blockade got here as a “shock,” however Qatar nonetheless managed to drag off “several diplomatic victories,” she stated, together with brokering conflicts on behalf of the US.

“The ideal scenario for Qatar moving forward will be one where it can balance between its international foreign policy ambitions, while avoiding another breakdown in regional relations with its neighbors,” she stated.

Because the match 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 match and is meant to ship one of many largest contingents of ticket holders — a surprising turnaround after the animosities unleashed through the blockade.

As followers poured in from everywhere in the area, together with Tunisians, Iranians, Moroccans and Saudis, it had lent the match a “unique flavor,” al-Arian stated: the most recent instance, if all of it goes easily, of Qatar’s mediating position.

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