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Friday, March 28, 2014

Egypt's Sisi ditches uniform, quits as defence minister (JMD quoted on AFP)

Egypt's Sisi ditches uniform, quits as defence minister


Image grab from Egyptian state television Al-Masriya on March 26, 2014 shows General Abdul Fatah Al-Sissi announcing resignation from military position to stand in the upcoming presidential elections during a televised address in Cairo
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Cairo (AFP) - Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ditched his military fatigues on Thursday and resigned as Egypt's defence minister, a day after announcing he would stand for president.

Meanwhile, General Sedki Sobhi was sworn in as the new defence minister and army chief, and Lieutenant General Mahmoud Hegazy replaced Sobhi as army chief of staff, the presidency said. Hegazy is the father-in-law of Sisi's son.Sisi turned up in civilian clothes at the weekly cabinet meeting to submit his resignation after quitting as army chief the previous night, state news agency MENA reported.
Declaring his widely anticipated candidacy in a televised address on Wednesday, Sisi vowed to fight "terrorism" and work towards restoring the battered economy.
The wildly popular Sisi faces no serious competition in the election to be held before June, and is widely seen as the only leader able to restore order after more than three years of turmoil since the Arab Spring overthrow of veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak.
"With all modesty, I nominate myself for the presidency of Egypt," Sisi said in his address, wearing his uniform.
He vowed to fight militancy, which has killed more than 200 policemen and troops since the military ousted elected president Mohamed Morsi last July.
US deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Washington was not backing any candidate in the election, saying "it's the Egyptian people themselves who must decide both the direction of their country and its leadership".
It was "critical that they are able to do so in an environment that allows the free expression of political views without intimidation or fear of retribution", Harf said in an email to AFP.
Washington has been critical of Egypt's military-installed government for the slow transition to democracy since Morsi's ouster.
But the cabinet reiterated on Thursday that it aims to "build a modern state based on democratic institutions".
Egyptian media hailed Sisi's speech, splashing it across their front pages.
The announcement was also welcomed on the street, with people saying Sisi becoming president was inevitable.
"Sisi is too powerful. If he had remained as defence minister, he would have become a headache for any president. Therefore there is no alternative to him" but to become president, said tour operator Ali Amin.
Sisi's candidacy is likely to further inflame Islamist protests and worry secular activists who fear a return to rule by the military and the strong-arm tactics of the Mubarak era.
Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood rejected Sisi's candidacy outright.
"He led a coup to become president. He is a man who has killed daily since the coup," Ibrahim Munir of the Brotherhood's political bureau told AFP by telephone from London.
- Real power behind Mansour -
Sisi is believed to be the real power behind interim president Adly Mansour, under whose watch police have killed hundreds of Islamist protesters and detained about 15,000 suspects since Morsi's ouster.
The crackdown has worried the international community, which was outraged after 529 Morsi supporters were sentenced to death this week over deadly riots.
Many Egyptians, deeply disillusioned by the Islamist Morsi's single year in power, have supported the crackdown in the hope of seeing stability restored.
For those Egyptians who want an end to the violence that has scared off investors and tourists, hitting the economy hard, Sisi's military background is an asset.
The army is seen as the country's most stable institution, and Sisi can count on further aid from friendly Gulf states who have pumped billions of dollars into Egypt since Morsi's ouster.
Analysts say Sisi will face stiff challenges in tackling the economy and security issues.
"To turn the economy around, deep and painful restructuring is needed, something the military-backed government has avoided so far," said James Dorsey, Middle East Expert at Singapore-based S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
"He will lead a deeply divided country in which a significant minority feels disenfranchised. He would need to build bridges to prevent further polarisation and violence."
State news agency MENA also reported that the government has decided to demolish a building near Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square which once was the headquarters of Mubarak's National Democratic Party.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Qatar likely to reform controversial labour system

By James M. Dorsey

‎Qatar is preparing a radical overhaul of its controversial kafala or labour sponsorship system in response to mounting criticism that threatens reputation capital it hopes to gain from hosting the 2022 World Cup.

The expected reform is likely to include shifting sponsorship of foreign workers, who constitute a majority of the tiny Gulf state's population, from individual employers to the government. It would also allow workers to seek alternative employment without permission of their sponsor after a period of notification. Qatar would further work with the major supplying countries to establish regulated employment agencies to cut out corrupt middlemen.

It was not immediately clear whether the‎ changes once announced would satisfy international trade unions and human rights groups that have denounced the kafala system as modern day slavery and called for its abolition.

Pressure is mounting on Qatar with world soccer body FIFA president Sepp Blatter scheduling a second trip to Qatar following extensive debate of the issue as well as continued questions about the integrity of the Qatari World Cup bid at a meeting last week of the group's executive committee.

Qatar has suffered substantial reputational damage as a result of the criticism and questions. The Gulf state, which is engaged in a cold war with neighbouring Saudi Arabia because of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, needs to take the sting out of criticism give that the World Cup is a centrepiece of its sports strategy that is designed to create the kind of soft power necessary to compensate for its lack of military hard power.

While it has actively engaged with its critics and two of its major institutions – the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy and Qatar Foundation- have issued charters of workers’ rights and welfare standards to be included in contracts, Qatar is still perceived as moving too slowly.

The International Confederation of Trade Unions (ITUC), Qatar’s harshest critic, has questioned the Gulf state’s sincerity, charging that it is treating the issue as a public relations problem.

The charters and proposed changes to the kafala system which puts employees at the mercy of their employers focus on workers’ material and living conditions as well as corruption in the recruitment system that puts foreign workers into heavy debt even before they arrive in Qatar.

Qatar hopes that these changes will enable it to fend off demands like the right to form independent trade unions and collective bargaining that would fundamentally alter the Gulf state’s social structure in which the citizenry accounts for a mere 12 percent of the population as well as its enlightened autocracy.

Members of a visiting European parliament delegation said Qatari officials had discussed the expected changes to the kafala system with them. The parliament held in February a hearing about labour conditions in Qatar.

"The Qatari government has assured us they will make reforms to the sponsorship system and bring forward a law for the protection of domestic workers, where sexual abuse of women is at its greatest," said Richard Howitt, a British Labour Party member of the European parliament.

Mr. Howitt posed three questions at a news conference which reflected the changes Qatar was preparing. 
"Will the government itself become the sponsor rather than the employer? Will the government introduce a right for employees to seek a new job after a notice period without requiring permission from the previous employer? Will the government help set up regulated recruitment agencies in co-operation with sending countries, to end the problem of employees getting so indebted that they cannot escape?" Mr. Howitt asked.

The changes would keep the kafala system in place but would remove its most onerous bits. Sponsorship by the government promises that workers will no longer be exposed to the whims of their employers. Freedom to switch employers reduces a workers dependency.

Qatar Foundation, which drives social and educational development in the Gulf state, has been working on a reform of the recruitment system for more than a year in a bid to ensure that workers do not pay heavy fees to middlemen for their recruitment and kickbacks of some $600 per head to corrupt company human resource managers. Its charter adopted by the World Cup organizers establishes the principle that a worker should not pay for his or her recruitment. Qatar appears to have opted for working with mostly Asian countries supplying labour to establish regulated employment agencies rather than setting up its own recruitment system.

The trick for Qatar now is to match its words with deeds. "Our visit is not done, we must continue this work. But the openness and the huge commitment to improve the situation is something we take back home. This has been a very positive start, “said German Christian Democrat Angelika Niebler.

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Military-backed house cleaning extends to Egyptian soccer

Outgoing Al Ahli chairman Hassan Hamdi suspected of corruption

By James M. Dorsey

Efforts by Egypt's military-backed government to clean the country not only of its political critics but also of businessmen with close ties to ousted President Hosni Mubarak extended into soccer this week with the arrest on corruption charges of Hassan Hamdi, the longstanding chairman of. Al Ahli’s SC, Africa's most crowned and popular club.

The arrest of Mr. Hamdi, who has long denied charges of wrongdoing, were first levied against him during the reign of President Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brother toppled by the military last year. It came amid an apparent power vacuum in advance of presidential elections in which various institutions, including the security forces and the judiciary, are jockeying for position. A date for the registration of presidential candidates is expected to be announced this weekend.

That vacuum is a reflection of a backroom tug of war between the military and former business associates of the Mubarak regime that was toppled in a popular revolt in 2011. The military is seeking to prevent the re-emergence of neo-liberals close to Mr. Mubarak’s jailed businessman-cum politician son Gamal who posed a threat to the armed forces’ vast commercial interests.

Mr. Mubarak, his sons and their neo-liberal business associates, including steel magnate Ahmed Ezz, were among the first to be put on trial by the military regime that replaced the ousted president three years ago. A court announced this week that a retrial of Mr. Ezz and six others on charges of profiteering and squandering public funds would begin on April 12.

The military since the fall of Mr. Morsi has been selective in choosing which of the major Mubarak-era businessmen it was willing to rehabilitate. "The NDP neglected society. Their corruption is the reason people are still suffering. They will never come back and the Mubarak era will never come back. A new era is coming, “a senior military officer told The Guardian.

The vacuum has allowed independent judges in a rare disciplining this month of members of the security forces to convict police officers in two separate cases for the deaths of an icon of the revolt against Mr. Mubarak, Khaled Said, whose killing in 2010 became a protest rallying point, and 37 prisoners detained after the toppling of Mr. Morsi.

The relatively light ten-year sentences for two officers accused of killing  Mr. Said and a police captain responsible for the death of the prisoners were magnified by the sentencing to death on Monday of 529 defendants for the slaying of a police officer, the largest group convicted to death by a court in recent memory.

The mass sentencing, by a judge who on Tuesday opened proceedings against 682 people including Mohammed Badie, the spiritual guide of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, appeared to have been sparked the judge’s anger and reflect agreement among many in the judiciary with the government’s stepped up repression in the last eight months.

More than a 1,000 people have been killed and 16,000 other incarcerated since the ousting of Mr. Morsi. The judiciary is believed to be keen to prevent a repeat of Mr. Morsi’s efforts supported by demands by the revolutionaries who ousted Mr. Mubarak that their ranks be cleansed of supporters of the ancien regime. 

Mr. Hamdi, a former soccer player and Al Ahli captain, has headed the club, whose supporters played a key role in toppling Mr. Mubarak and have clashed repeatedly in recent months with security forces, for 12 years. He was for much of that time also head of the advertising agency of Al Ahram, Egypt’s influential state-owned newspaper. Al Ahram chairman Mamdouh al-Wali was banned from travel in February pending an investigation into possible corruption.

A judge banned Mr. Hamdi and several senior Al Ahram executives and editors from travel earlier this month. It was the second time Mr. Hamdi’s movements were curtailed. The Illegal Gains Authority banned him from travel and froze his assets in 2012 after fans repeatedly stormed Al Ahli headquarters demanding his resignation. Mr. Hamdi was released from prison at the time on a bail of two million Egyptian pounds ($330,000). He was questioned before his release about the accumulation of his wealth estimated at 500 million pounds $ 82 million).

Military police were reported months after Mr. Mubarak’s fall in 2011 to have seized three boxes of documents that Mr. Hamdi and then Al Ahram editor-in-chief Osama Saraya had allegedly attempted to smuggle out of the editor’s office. They were confronted by publishing house employees who suspected that the boxes contained documents that would prove the two men’s involvement in corruption.

Mr, Hamdi was due to step down this month in advance of new club board elections after the government adopted a new law that limits the tenure of sports club board members. World soccer body FIFA, concerned about government interference in club elections in Egypt, said it was sending a mission to investigate.

The arrest of Mr. Hamdi coincided with efforts by Al Ahli and its Cairo arch rival Al Zamalek SC to persuade security forces to allow them to play this weekend two African championship matches in Cairo rather than in Gouna, a town 450 kilometres from the Egyptian capital. The interior ministry ordered the matches to be played in Gouna to prevent a repeat of clashes with militant soccer fans in and around stadia in recent months.

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Qatar firm ‘paid $2m’ to FIFA official, family (JMD quoted on Al Arabiya)

Qatar firm ‘paid $2m’ to FIFA official, family

Former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner (R) allegedly received a $1.2 million payment from a Qatar-based firm owned by Mohamed Bin Hammam. (File photos: Reuters)
A Qatari firm paid almost $2 million to a senior FIFA official and his family just after the Gulf state won its controversial bid to host the 2022 World Cup, a UK newspaper has claimed.
Former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner and his sons were paid $1.95m by a company controlled by former Qatari football official Mohamed Bin Hammam, an investigation by The Telegraph found. A further $400,000 was allegedly paid to one of his employees.
The FBI is now investigating Warner’s alleged links to the Qatari bid, The Telegraph reported.

The allegations were made by The Telegraph, based in London
The Telegraph reported that Kemco, which is said to be owned by Hammam, “appeared to pay $1.2 million to Mr Warner in 2011”. Warner’s two sons and an employee were allegedly paid an additional $1 million.
Qatar’s Hammam had once been a candidate for the FIFA presidency, but in 2011 withdrew from the race after being implicated in trying to bribe voters from the Caribbean.
A note from one of Mr Warner’s companies, Jamad, to Kemco allegedly requested $1.2 million for work carried out between 2005 and 2010, The Telegraph reported.
“The disclosures will add to concerns that some FIFA executive committee members were not impartial when they cast their votes in December 2010,” the newspaper said.
In a video, Warner was seen being questioned by The Telegraph, but declined to comment.

Warner declined to comment when questioned by the newspaper. (Image courtesy: The Telegraph)
The documents unearthed by The Telegraph raise fresh questions over Warner and Hammam, who have both faced previous allegations against them.
In 2011, Warner resigned from all posts connected to soccer after being accused of facilitating bribes to members of the Caribbean football union on behalf of Hammam.
Warner served as vice-president of FIFA for 14 years, and was one of 22 people who decided to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup. Yet the vote was plagued with allegations of corruption among officials.
Both officials have been in hot water previously, notes James Dorsey, author of a blog and related book entitled The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.
“One has been banned for life from involvement in football for questionable practices [Hammam], the other resigned from FIFA voluntarily to avoid investigation [Warner],” he said.
Dorsey said it was too soon to jump to conclusions about the more recent allegations against the two men.
“It’s up to investigators to find out whether these payments have anything to do with the Qatari bid,” Dorsey said.
“Whether or not these payments are related to the Qatari bid is the important question. It’s not clear what Bin Hammam’s role was, if any, in the bid,” he added.
Dorsey also speculated that Hammam’s interests and those of the Qatari officials “diverged as the bid moved forward, as they were not happy with the way he challenged FIFA President Sepp Blatter in running for the top post in the football organization.
Qatar has faced criticism from many sides over its hosting of the 2022 World Cup. Working conditions for laborers and the country’s harsh climate have been cited by critics.

Qatari denial

A spokesman for the Qatar 2022 committee denied any wrongdoing in the bid process when contacted by Al Arabiya News.
“The 2022 Bid Committee strictly adhered to FIFA bidding regulations in compliance with their code of ethics,” the spokesman said, reiterating a previous statement.
“The Supreme Committee For Delivery & Legacy and the individual involved in the 2022 Bid Committee are unaware of any allegations surrounding business dealings between private individuals.”
But the Qatari response has drawn curiosity from Dorsey.
“I found the statement to be an interesting formulation. It said that those involved in the Qatari bid were unaware of allegations about private business dealings. In other words they didn't deny the business dealings but said they were unaware of any allegations.”
Last Update: Tuesday, 18 March 2014 KSA 17:20 - GMT 14:20

Bin Hammam payments question Qatar World Cup bid and FIFA/AFC anti-corruption efforts

Mohammed Bin Hammam and Jack Warner 

By James M. Dorsey

Media reports of questionable payments by a company owned by banned former world soccer body FIFA vice president and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohammed Bin Hammam to another disgraced former FIFA executive committee member, Jack Warner, raise renewed questions about Qatar’s controversial winning of the right to host the 2022 World Cup as well the integrity of FIFA and the AFC’s efforts to root out corruption.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the Doha-based Kemco Group wholly owned by Mr. Bin Hammam, a Qatari national who was banned by FIFA in 2012 because of “conflicts of interest” during his AFC presidency and FIFA vice presidency, had paid some $2 million to former FIFA vice president Jack Warner and others related to him shortly after Qatar was awarded the World Cup.

In a statement to the Telegraph, the Qatari committee responsible for World Cup-related infrastructure rejected any knowledge that would call the payments into question. “The 2022 Bid Committee strictly adhered to FIFA’s bidding regulations in compliance with their code of ethics. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy and the individuals involved in the 2022 Bid Committee are unaware of any allegations surrounding business dealings between private individuals."

Mr. Warner resigned from FIFA in 2011 to avoid investigation by the group about his role in an alleged attempt by Mr. Bin Hammam to buy the votes of Caribbean soccer officials in his campaign to unseat Sepp Blatter as head of FIFA. Mr. Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy because of the corruption allegations and has since insisted that he is innocent. Mr. Bin Hammam ended an almost two-year effort to fight the FIFA ban under pressure from Qatar.

The renewed focus on Mr. Bin Hammam’s activities comes as Qatar is under severe pressure to reform its labour system that deprives the country’s majority population of foreign workers of basic rights in accordance with international standards. It also comes as FIFA is debating a change of its rules to make the AFC president automatically a member of its executive committee.

The disclosure by The Daily Telegraph puts renewed pressure on AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa to act on the recommendations of an internal audit by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) of 
Mr. Bin Hammam’s financial management of the group. Sheikh Salman, despite electoral promises to the contrary, has effectively squashed the audit that advised the AFC to seek legal counsel for possible civil and legal action against the Mr. Bin Hammam and review or cancellation of a $1 billion master rights agreement with Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG) that Mr. Bin Hammam negotiated. 

“Significant payments (totalling $250,000) have also been made to Mr. Jack Warner for which no reason has been provided. We note that Mr. Warner and Mr. Hammam have been subject to averse media coverage concerning alleged corruption,” the PwC report said. The payments included the purchase of a camera and a Samsonite bag.

A 54-page Singapore court ruling rejecting a demand by WSG that this writer disclose his sources because of an alleged breach of confidentiality noted earlier this year: “Corruption anywhere raises serious questions as it inevitably undermines good governance. If occurring in international organizations, it would not only undermine good governance but also distort international competitiveness and subvert fair play…. To adapt a well-known dictum, sunlight is the best disinfectant for corruption.”

Mr. Bin Hammam’s banning and Sheikh Salman’s moves to squash further investigation of allegations of wrongdoing came amid the worst scandal in FIFA history with approximately half of the group’s leadership having been accused of corruption or penalized. FIFA has since introduced a number of reforms that have failed to remove the taint of an old-boys’ club that is accountable only to itself.

The payments disclosed by The Daily Telegraph are certain to be included in an investigation of the Qatari bid by FIFA investigator Michael Garcia. Mr. Garcia is expected to submit his report later this year.

Qatar has consistently denied wrongdoing in its bid for the World Cup. It has also asserted that Mr. Bin Hammam despite his prominent position in world soccer was not involved in its bid. Qatar was believed to have been unhappy with Mr. Bin Hammam’s bid for the FIFA presidency because it feared that simultaneously winning the World Cup and the top position in world soccer might be too much.

Controversy over Qatar’s bid has been fuelled by a lack of transparency on the part of the Gulf state as well as envy and sour grapes on the part of competitors who committed far less funds to their World Cup bids.
The integrity of FIFA and AFC efforts to combat corruption and wrongdoing was called into question by Mr. Blatter himself when he effectively in February 2011 confirmed and justified an alleged Qatari transgression in its World Cup.

In a BBC interview, Mr. Blatter confirmed that Qatar and Spain and Portugal colluded to trade votes for their respective 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids despite an earlier official FIFA investigation that concluded that there had been no vote swapping. Mr. Blatter went on to effectively whitewash the alleged violation of FIFA bidding rules.

“I’ll be honest, there was a bundle of votes between Spain and Qatar,” the Daily Telegraph quoted Mr. Blatter as telling the BBC. “But it was a nonsense. It was there but it didn’t work, not for one and not for the other side.”

The alleged deal between Qatar and Spain and Portugal is believed to have involved seven of the 22 FIFA executive committee votes in the December 2010 awarding of 2022 World Cup to Qatar and the 2018 tournament to Russia, The Iberian bid won seven votes in two rounds of voting before it was eliminated while Qatar won with 14 votes.

The risks that governance of world soccer will be called into question by the new revelations of questionable payments by Mr. Bin Hammam to Mr. Warner were enhanced by the fact that groups like FIFA and the AFC no longer fully control the issue.

Well-placed sources said that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating Mr. Warner, including his relationship to Mr. Bin Hammam and the Qatari bid. The sources said that one of Mr. Warner’s sons was cooperating with the inquiry.

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Qatar labour controversy becomes part of Gulf dispute over Muslim Brotherhood

By James M. Dorsey

Saudi-led efforts to isolate Qatar because of its support of the Muslim Brotherhood have expanded to exploit criticism of labour conditions in the Gulf state in advance of the 2022 World Cup.

Arab trade unions and non-governmental organizations have added their voices to criticism of Qatar by international trade unions, human rights groups and world soccer body FIFA. The Arab criticism appeared however to be motivated more by mounting pressure on Qatar from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt than concern for workers’ welfare.

In an interview with Al Monitor,  Abdul Wahab Khudr, an adviser to the Egyptian Trade Union Federation and editor of the Arab Workers News Agency, said that the International Federation of Arab Trade Unions was considering deposing Qatar as its president in advance of next month’s Arab Labour Conference in Cairo. Mr.  Khudr said that the move was being discussed because Qatar had refused to allow the creation of trade unions and did not adhere to international labour standards and conventions.

Mr. Khudr admitted however that the trade union moves were motivated primarily by a Saudi-led effort to isolate Qatar because of its continued backing of and hosting of prominent Muslim Brothers and other Islamists in exile. Saudia Arabia followed Egypt earlier this month in banning the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

The kingdom alongside the UAE and Bahrain withdrew its ambassador from Doha earlier this month in a bid to force Qatar to change its policies. Egypt, whose armed forces last year toppled the government of Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brother, and the country’s first democratically elected president, followed suit.

Mr. Khudr was careful not to mention in his criticism of Qatar the Gulf state’s kafala or sponsorship system that puts foreign workers at the mercy of their employers because Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have similar sponsorship systems and also do not allow the formation of independent trade unions.

“Qatar has a bad record with the Egyptians because of its role in the January 2011 and June 2013 revolutions. Qatar played a clear inciting role and sought to create confusion and support terrorist groups in Egypt,” Mr. Khudr said referring to the popular revolt three years ago against President Hosni Mubarak and last year’s coup against Mr. Morsi.

The Arab trade union move came as international trade unions charged in advance of a crucial FIFA executive meeting that despite Qatari pledges workers on the Gulf state’s first World Cup stadium were being housed in “squalid accommodation” and that Qatar had failed to adhere to workers’ standards that it had adopted. The Qatari committee responsible for World Cup infrastructure asserted that the unions had gotten their facts wrong.

The union charges included in a report released this weekend by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) based on a recent inspection trip to Qatar came as FIFA executive Theo Zwanziger was drafting recommendations for how the world soccer body should handle the controversy over labour conditions and rights in Qatar. FIFA’s executive committee is scheduled to discuss the recommendations at a meeting on March 20.

The ITUC has been campaigning for abolishment of Qatar’s kafala system, which it describes as modern slavery, as well as improved working and living conditions for foreign workers, who constitute a majority of the Qatari population, ever since the Gulf state won its bid to host the 2022 World Cup in late 2010.

The confederation’s report, The Case against Qatar, asserted that 38 Asian workers employed on the site of the Al Wakrah Stadium designed by world famous Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid were accommodated in sub-standard housing.

“With more than ten men to a room, dangerous and unsanitary cooking facilities outside their door and no personal space, this is unacceptable. Al Wakrah site inspectors reported to the media they had signed off a ‘successful inspection’ – an indication of blatant disregard for human beings,” ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow who led the group’s inspection team charged. She said the workers slept on mattresses on the floor in makeshift rooms underneath the stadium’s bleachers.

Ms. Burrow’s charges backed up by photographs in the report appeared to contradict assertions by the Qatar Supreme Committee for Legacy and Delivery that workers on World Cup-related projects are accommodated according to international standards.

In response, the committee said in a statement that it was “disappointing to read an entire section in the International Trade Union Confederation’s report dedicated to the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy littered with factual errors and attempts to discredit the positive work we are undertaking.”

It said “the most fundamental error” was “the fact that the employee accommodation referenced…is not where the construction workers who are building the new Al Wakrah Stadium, a proposed Host Venue for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, live. The International Trade Union Confederation’s report described accommodations underneath the bleachers of Al Wakrah Sports Club’s current stadium,” a 30-year old facility slated to be abandoned once the new stadium is completed.

Qatari officials added that the facility Ms. Burrow had visited was not the stadium that had been subjected to the inspection she was referring to.

Al Wakrah workers'accomodation (Source: Qatar Supreme Committee for Legacy and Delivery)

The committee said that its “108 construction workers live in a refurbished accommodation on Street No. 23 in Doha’s Industrial Area, which has been visited by TV crews from Reuters and ZDF in the past weeks. The International Trade Union Confederation never visited our accommodation, nor requested to do so.”

The committee asserted further that the ITUC had failed to raise its concern with Al Wakrah SC. It said that the club was building 24 rooms with kitchens and living rooms where its workers would be housed two to a room by the end of this month.

ITUC spokeswoman Gemma Swart appeared to evade the committee’s criticism, saying: “We can only comment on what we saw – which we have done. CNN reported 38 workers, which we referenced. This is indicative of an administration who does not take responsibility for workers.”

Ms. Burrow’s report appeared to be referring primarily to visits to sites unrelated to the World Cup. She said she had “visited several thousand workers in ten labour camps to the east and south of (the Qatari capital) of Doha. Labour camps are run by slum landlords who rent them to companies, or are managed by the companies themselves. A camp boss or company security guard patrols the camp. Many do not even provide fresh water. I tasted the salty water used for drinking and washing… It is clear that no inspector has visited the labour camps we saw for a long time, if ever.”

The report asserted further that some employers demand deposits of $275 by workers before they are allowed to leave for holidays and that some 2,500 Indonesian maids flee a year to escape abuse by their sponsors. Those assertion referred to non-World Cup related workers and domestic personnel, according to Qatari officials.

Ms. Burrow said Qatar was more interested in its public image rather than improvement of workers’ material conditions. Qatar has taken a public relations beating despite its pledges to adhere to international standards and preparatory work to remove corruption and unethical middle men from the recruitment process that puts workers in debt even before they arrive in the Gulf state.

The report charged that Qatar has yet to implement its promises and principles adopted in various workers’ charters. It also asserted that six cases unrelated to World Cup projects reported on 26 May 2013 to the labour ministry at the ministry’s request involving substandard accommodation, failure to pay agreed wages, provide adequate healthcare and grant annual leave, had yet to be acted on.

The ITUC is pressuring FIFA to demand that Qatar abolish its kafala system that is one of the more restrictive ones in the Gulf. The demand is politically sensitive because of fears among the Gulf state’s minority population of Qatari nationals, who account for ten percent of the Gulf state’s 2 million inhabitants, that they could lose control of their state, society and culture to a majority of foreigners.

Ali Khalifa al Kuwari, a government critic and democracy activist, reflects sentiment among a significant swath of Qataris with his repeated calls for a halt to the import of foreign labour. However, If a halt were adopted, the government could find it difficult to achieve its goal that includes the hosting of the World Cup of turning Qatar at break-neck speed into a 21st century city state. Qatar is expected to hire up to a million additional workers to complete huge infrastructure projects in advance of the World Cup.

In a twist of irony, Mr. Al Kuwari argues that Qatari rulers as well as other rulers in the Gulf benefit from a demographic imbalance in which foreigners account for an ever larger percentage of the population. “The great influx of immigrant workers, regardless of how necessary they are, is a benefit to the ruler, who is keen to treat people as temporary and readily disposable, rather than as citizens with all their attendant rights,” Mr. Al Kuwari said in a past interview with Germany’s Heinrich Boll Stiftung.

He noted that the number of Qatari nationals as a percentage of the total population had dropped from 40 percent in 1970 to 12 in 2010, If population projections of five million inhabitants in 2022 cited by Mr. Al Kuwari as the basis for Qatar’s multi-billion dollar metro and railway projects are correct the percentage of Qatari nationals would drop even more dramatically.

“If Qataris are unable to apply pressure to halt this growing imbalance and begin gradual reform, their natural position at the head of society will fall away and they will be rendered incapable of reforming the other and newer problems. Indeed, they will be transformed into a deprived and marginalized minority in their own land. The perpetuation of this growing imbalance threatens to uproot Qatari society, to erase its identity and culture, to take its mother tongue, Arabic, out of circulation, and erode the role of its citizens in owning and running their own country,” Mr. Al Kuwari warned . 

In an interview with Al Jazeera, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke rejected responsibility for effecting change in Qatar.  "FIFA is not a United Nations. FIFA is about sport…. We can tell the country it goes against FIFA's rules, it goes against FIFA's ethics codes. It goes against FIFA''s principle. And we can help and change. But we cannot be seen as responsible for what's happening in different countries," Mr. Valcke said.

Mr. Valcke said that Qatar was "making progress.  I am not saying that it will change in six months because that's not the case, it takes time. What we have to do is to ensure that there will be no more (workers’) deaths, that you will have a level of safety and security for the people who are working there which is the best. Because we cannot afford FIFA to be accused every time there is an accident that we are responsible for this accident,” Mr. Valcke said referring to trade union and media reports of hundreds of work-related workers’ deaths in Qatar in recent years.

A recent documentary on Qatar’s state-owned Al Jazeera television network meanwhile highlighted the role of Gulf-based contractors and local Asian recruiters in a recruitment process and indentured labour system that forces foreign workers to dip into their savings and take out loans to pay thousands of dollars in local agents fees only to find when they arrive in their country of employment that they are earning less than anticipated. The documentary focused on the supply of cheap Asian labour to US forces in Afghanistan and the role of Dubai-based companies in the process. It made no mention of Qatar.

Qatar Foundation has sought to address the issue of corrupt middlemen by adopting a charter for foreign workers that stipulates that workers should not pay for their recruitment. So far that remains a promise that not only Qatar has to make good on but also others like the US government, which as documented in the Al Jazeera documentary, has a large number of contract employees in Afghanistan who have been effectively trafficked.

For Qatar however, the stakes are high. Its reputation, a key element of its strategy to develop soft power in the absence of hard power, is at risk. Hosting the 2022 World Cup is central to that strategy. It needs to adopt a proactive rather than a reactive communications strategy and match words with deeds to repair already substantial reputational damage and prevent the labour controversy from escalating. That is all the more the case with the issue becoming part of a larger regional struggle for power.

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the same title.