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Friday, July 25, 2014
Why Is the 2022 World Cup Being Held in a Country That Practices Modern-Day Slavery? (JMD quoted in The Nation)
Michelle Chen on July 23, 2014 - 1:40 PM ET
This summer, the populist fervor of Brazil’s World Cup sparked riotous street protests against the country’s economic hierarchy. But the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is being built in an even more unequal country, and there will likely be little public unrest, just vast expanses of deserts and skyscrapers, where the country’s poorest workers are forced to toil in silent captivity.
In this miniature oil empire, a tiny elite lords over an impoverished majority of imported workers. Now that thousands of those migrants are constructing the state-of-the-art arenas and gleaming modern transit hubs of world football, rights advocates are pushing for an abolition of Qatar’s medieval labor regime.
Human rights activists estimate the true costs of the World Cup in terms of the rising migrant death toll, estimated at about 1,200 nationwide since the World Cup was awarded, projected to reach 4,000 by the time the games begin. According to advocates, the harsh labor conditions at the game sites and surrounding infrastructure have led to a massive fatality rate; causes range from construction-related injuries to cardiac arrest to suicide.
In recent weeks, the Qatari government has presented reform plans such as strengthening employment contract law, improving housing standards and better regulating wage payments. Though it has shown more openness to labor reform than other Persian Gulf states, the government disappointed advocacy groups by stopping short of endorsing a minimum wage or unionization rights, and providing no set timetable for policy changes. Recently, the Qatar Foundation, a quasi-governmental think tank, issued one of the most extensive analyses yet of migrant labor issues, with similar reform recommendations, but still did not endorse the radical changes that rights groups have demanded.
Though the reform proposals encourage greater transparency and oversight of employers, along with international collaboration with migrant’s home countries, they basically leave intact (aside from a name change) the traditional structure of labor sponsorship, known as the kafala system, which activists say is at the root of the mistreatment and exploitation of migrants.
Investigations by media and advocacy groups like the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Human Rights Watch have revealed that workers bound by kafala, mostly from South Asia, often live in squalid encampments, labor all day in hazard-prone, sweltering building sitesand often suffer fraud and wage theft. But the social and political isolation cuts the deepest. Workers are legally captives of their employers, blocking them from changing jobs or leaving the country.
The Qatar Foundation’s report, authored by the migration studies scholar Ray Jureidini, recommends developing “standardized ethical recruitment practices in the labor sending countries” and cutting down on excessive recruitment fees that put migrants in heavy debt. The report also recommends standardization and transparency in contracting. Nonetheless, it does not address workers’ needs for freedom of movement and the autonomy to break from an employer or leave the country. It also dismisses the idea of an equal pay law, arguing that “Qatari citizens have the highest GDP in the world,” so comparable wages for poor foreigners would be unfeasible.
Activist warn that whatever the law states, migrants in the kafala system typically have almost no legal recourse against abusive employers or protection from retaliation for challenging authority. The ITUC’s report on Qatar labor quotes a driver from the Philippines: “we are afraid to complain to the authorities. We see that workers who do complain are either blacklisted, deported or threatened. Our managers told us that workers who go on strike get deported within 12 hours.”
Even when migrant contract workers lose their jobs, they may end up stranded indefinitely if their employer does not give permission for them to return home. Workers who run away or are “abandoned” by their bosses might wind up homeless, unemployable and trapped on foreign soil.
Besides the World Cup labor camps, female household workers are even more vulnerable to abuse, as well as sexual violence. Thousands of domestic workers reportedly flee their bosses each year. A domestic worker, who ran away from a boss who had raped her, told the ITUC: “When I see a Qatari man, I am always afraid because I am thinking they will catch me and put me in jail, and send me to the Philippines. Running away from your sponsor is very difficult because I don’t have any legal papers, and then I cannot get a good job.”
Rights groups say the problem of migrant labor in Qatar is not simply that laws are not followed or enforced but that contracts are often used to control workers rather than to establish a mutual partnership, and thus lock them into an extremely oppressive system.
Union activists have called for a full abolition of the kafala system and guarantees of a minimum wage, freedom of assembly and collective bargaining, in accordance with international labor standards. The ITUC has even pushed for a rerun of the Qatar vote to stop the games altogether.
ITUC General Secretary Sharran Burrow tells The Nation via e-mail that the Qatar Foundation’s latest recommendations will be toothless unless migrants are guaranteed equal treatment and access to justice:
None of the reforms proposed in the Qatar Foundation report are going to work without rule of law, including a competent and fully-staffed labour inspectorate and a functional judiciary. If you look at the thousands of workers trapped in deportation centres, or with unsolved complaints, this is nowhere in evidence in Qatar. Once again, Qatar has shown a blind spot on the fundamental right of freedom of association. Not a word is mentioned in the Qatar Foundation report about Qatar meeting it’s international obligations.
But another challenge to reform is Qatar’s social and cultural anxiety about the country’s huge demographic imbalances. Qatar has one of the highest ratios of migrants to citizens, with foreign workers making up some 85 percent of the population.
James Dorsey, longtime observer of Mideast soccer politics and senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, says that while the “enlightened autocracy” that rules Qatari society might be open to basic improvements in working conditions, the fundamental shift needs to begin on a cultural level. If Qatari officialdom ultimately decides to broach political issues like union rights and freedom of association, he says, it would follow “as a consequence of” other social and political restructuring as the country faces the fallout of minority rule.
At the same time, change is being accelerated by public pressure, as Qatar faces greater worldwide scrutiny in its bid to gain “soft power” through cultural and commercial investments.
“What the Qataris are realizing is that their winning of the right to host the World Cup not only gave them leverage, but gave others leverage,” Dorsey tells The Nation. “So suddenly…groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, they have moral authority,” amid the public outcry over worker deaths. “The ITUC,” he adds, “potentially has 175 million members in 153 countries, presumably a majority of those members are football fans, so it can actually move bodies.”
The upshot of World Cup 2022 is that in the glaring spotlight of football’s globalized populism, Qatar is finally being held to account for labor abuses that would otherwise be dismissed as just the cost of doing business. And fans around the world will now see that their fellow workers have paid the ultimate price for a few days of sporting spectacle.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Iran-Russia oil barter deal not in Iran’s interest
By Sara Rajabova
Iran and Russia's commitment to continue negotiations on oil barter deal has sparked concerns in some countries, especially the United States.
Some experts said such a deal would not be beneficial for Iran and even would damage the nuclear talks between Iran and P5+1 on Tehran's nuclear energy program.
However, a senior Iranian official said Tehran and Moscow are in talks to finalize the oil agreement irrespective of Tehran's nuclear talks with six world powers.
Commenting on the issue, James M. Dorsey, Senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies told AzerNews that a barter deal with Russia won't impact the nuclear negotiations.
"It would hedge Iran to some degree Iran against a potential failure of the nuclear talks and it would serve Russia's interest by positioning it in Iran in advance of a competitive rush should the talks succeed," Dorsey said.
Another expert believes that oil barter deal between Iran and Russia isn't in the interest of Iran.
Professor of economics at U.S. Northeastern University, Kamran Dadkhah said such a deal is quite against Iran's interest.
"On the surface it may seem that Russia is helping Iran to bypass international sanctions. But in reality it is Russia that is taking advantage of Iran's weak position to benefit economically. Russia is the third largest oil producer (after Saudi Arabia and the United States) and second largest oil exporter (after Saudi Arabia). Therefore, it cannot use the half million per day barrels of oil domestically; it has to sell it to its international customers. Therefore, Iran will be forced to accept a price far below the prevailing international oil price. On the other hand, Iran has to buy Russian goods at the market price. But because this is a barter trade (no international money involved) Russians will limit Iran to certain items and indeed to lower quality goods. Iran has had the same experience with China," Dadkhah said.
Earlier in April, Reuters reported that Iran and Russia were close to sealing a $ 20-billion oil-for-commodities deal.
Under the agreement, which is yet to be finalized, Russia will buy 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day in return for Russian goods needed by Iran.
Washington said such a deal would go against the terms of the interim nuclear deal between the world powers and Iran.
Earlier, U.S. Senators threatened to reinstate Iran sanctions that were eased under the Geneva deal in case Russia and Iran sign the barter deal.
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said in April that Tehran is determined to raise the volume of its economic transactions with Russia under long-term deals.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, who co-chairs the permanent Russian-Iranian Commission on trade and economic cooperation, said the agreement on trade and industrial cooperation with Iran is expected to be signed in September, ITAR-TASS news agency reported.
However, Novak did not specify, whether the oil-for-goods deal would be included in the agreement or not
Saturday, July 19, 2014
By Sara Rajabova
As the July 20 deadline for clinching a comprehensive deal on Tehran's long-lasting nuclear dispute is approaching, Iran and the P5+1 group is mulling on extension of negotiations.
Despite the optimism shown by some parties towards the chance of an agreement being reached, the two sides still remain at loggerheads over the main issues in the nuclear talks.
Reuters quoted Western diplomats as saying on July 16 that an announcement on the possible extension of the talks between Iran and P5+1 may come on July 18.
The officials from Iran and six countries, as well as the experts didn't rule out extending the talks as no tangible progress has been made at the ongoing nuclear negotiation.
James M. Dorsey, Senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies believes that the chances for reaching final nuclear deal before July 20 are low, but not impossible.
"The negotiators still have some tough issues to resolve. The likelihood of achieving that before July 20 is low although not impossible. The real question is whether negotiators believe the issues can be resolved. The answer to that question is a function of one's assessment of the balance of power in Iran between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Iran's Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards," Dorsey told AzerNews.
He went on to note that if the talks fail, it can lead to harsher sanctions for certain. "The West would likely feel diplomacy has for now run its course. Otherwise, there would be every reason to continue negotiations beyond July 20," Dorsey said.
Iran and the six world powers kicked off their sixth round of talks this year in the Austrian capital, Vienna, on July 3 to discuss drafting a final nuclear accord.
The P5+1 and Iran reached an interim pact last November under which Iran won some relief from economic sanctions in return for reining in some of its nuclear activities.
Their goal is to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement by July 20 that will lay to rest Western concerns about the Iranian program and ease all the sanctions on Tehran.
Commenting on the issue, professor of economics at U.S. Northeastern University Kamran Dadkhah also ruled out clinching a nuclear deal before the deadline.
"It is very unlikely that Iran and the P5+1 will reach a final agreement by July 20. But based on statements made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama on July 16 (when he imposed new sanctions on Russia), we can be sure that the deadline will be extended and discussions will continue," Dadkhah told AzerNews.
Noting that real progress has been made in several areas, Obama said the talks might continue beyond the deadline under the interim deal. He added that there was "more work to do."
He said the U.S. government would consult with Congress as it decided whether additional time was needed to complete nuclear talks beyond the July 20 deadline.
On the possibility of fail in talks, Dadkhah also expects new sanctions on Iran.
"Most likely there will be a combination of new sanctions and continuation of diplomacy and discussions. Because the alternative would be military action and so far President Obama has shown that he is not going to take that route," Dadkhah said.
The negotiators from Iran and P5+1 group cannot come to an agreement over the major issues that paves way to discussion on the extending the talks.
The two sides have made no announcement on any continuation of negotiation, at the same time they didn't made remarks on stopping the negotiation if talks fail.
Delay in the talks is not for the hands of neither Iran, nor the Western countries. Thus, the six world powers have made big progress to solve nuclear dispute with Iran and is very close to reach deal. Suspension of negotiations would mean to cross a line on all efforts of the sides.
On the other hand, it is also detrimental for Iran, as the country would again struggle with sanctions and experience the same economic difficulties as it was before.
Therefore, the continuation of talks and resolving the nuclear dispute will be beneficial for all.