A group of people were airlifted out of Qatar’s Doha airport last week. The passengers had volunteered to leave the country the day before – to avoid the potential harm they might face from Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup in the heat of summer. In doing so, they took a massive personal financial risk – a risk that will likely, and too late, end up costing Qatar much more money than it already has.
Qatar already invested tens of billions of dollars to host the World Cup. It invested heavily in infrastructure for the tournament, paid off local labor leaders, and increased the taxes of wealthy Qatari citizens. But behind that ostentatious construction project is a fearful population. A 2017 Emirati national who has lived in Qatar for 25 years told me, “In this country, you have to be a cultural doyen before you can have security. And fear rules everything here.”
The World Cup will almost certainly be the death of them – and they seem to recognize that. In 2017, Qatar’s ruling family commissioned an emisorial survey in hopes of determining the emotional value of being part of the World Cup. The results showed that soccer’s popularity was more valuable than the money spent by sports and industry to enter the competition. Considering that Qatar, one of the richest nations in the world, could spend less on the tournament than each of the 32 countries that will be competing in the tournament, it should come as no surprise that citizens who might reap the rewards of hosting the World Cup did not welcome the event.
In Doha, where Qataris live and work, even public-service workers have been given X-ray vision and other security measures to comply with law enforcement rules. “Public space is being considered restricted. So you won’t be able to wander around the street. Public transportation is being regulated; the street cafés aren’t allowed,” one hotel concierge said. “You get your passport stamped like for immigration purposes. The casual way of life is forbidden. You can’t get drunk here. The sole rules apply to women.”
Asked if he could provide a rule that required the U.S. to work in Qatar, the concierge replied, “No, I think not. We can. But the US government would not like to support us in that particular area, that’s why we work so many hours to meet our deadlines.”
That’s hardly an enviable spot to be in – yet, most Qataris are not aware of their desperate circumstances. Their government is funded by the gas and oil revenues of a Sunni Muslim country with enormous wealth. Their recent behavior makes it clear that the Qatari monarchy believes that glamour is the payoff, not payback.
“When you live in Qatar,” Qataris say, “you get life by money. It’s very sophisticated, and I don’t say that because I don’t like it. It’s what’s possible to do.” But is it the right thing to do? In the end, the dark side of being a luxury brand in a seemingly liberal country will mean the price of the Qatar World Cup is higher than any of the hosts could have imagined.
Carl Cameron served as chief political correspondent and congressional liaison for Fox News Channel from 1997 to 2000. He is currently a political contributor on Fox News Channel, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a professor of political science at George Mason University.