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Opinion: Qatar is playing a double game on LGBTQ issues

Joscha Weber Bonn 9577
Joscha Weber
November 10, 2022

The comment by Qatar's World Cup ambassador about homosexuality shows Qatar is just paying lip service to tolerance, says DW's Joscha Weber.

Aerial view of a stadium in Qatar at night, lit up in shades of purple and violet
Qatar's modern stadiums don't reflect the mores of the country Image: Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy/AFP

A poster recently circulated online depicting rules governing conduct deemed acceptable in Qatar (archived here). According to the poster, the Gulf state forbids, among other things, alcohol, dating and homosexuality.

It was quickly established that the poster wasn't actually issued by the Qatari government but rather by a citizens' movement in Qatar that wanted to communicate local customs to foreigners.

Qatar's World Cup 2022 organizers hastily distanced themselves from the poster. It was "not from an official source," and contained "factually incorrect information," they said in a statement: "Qatar has always been an open, tolerant, and welcoming nation."

Really? No. What is factually correct is that public displays of homosexuality are criminalized in Qatar. According to Article 296 of the Qatari penal code, "leading, instigating or seducing a male in any way to commit sodomy or dissipation" is punishable by no less than one year in prison. 

Not all fans are welcome in Qatar

Homosexuals can — if found out — be prosecuted, some Qatari hotels refuse to admit homosexual couples, and presenters on Qatari television make homophobic remarks even going so far as to threaten homosexuals with the death penalty.

So is anyone actually surprised when officials also make homophobic comments? Not really.

Headshot of Joscha Weber
DW's Joscha Weber

Yet there was an international outcry following remarks by Qatar's World Cup ambassador and former international player Khalid Salman, who said in an interview with Germany's ZDF public broadcaster that being gay was "haram," meaning forbidden, and "a damage in the mind."

Tolerant? No — not all fans are welcome in Qatar.

And everybody knows it: football's international governing body FIFA, politicians, the media. And yet, now, suddenly everyone is shocked. Even though organizations like Human Rights Watch have been highlighting massive human rights abuses in Qatar for years. The rights organization even recently reported on LGBTQ people in Qatar who had been abused in prison.

When the Emir of Qatar says, as he recently did at a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, that "all people are welcome" in Qatar, then adds, "We expect and want people to respect our culture," this simply means that not everyone is allowed to come as they are. And the fact that the German government has made few critical comments probably has something to do with the fact that Germany, needing to find alternatives to Russian gas, has recently inked a deal to import gas from Qatar in 2024, something which Qatar is already using as leverage.

Women as "wrapped candy"?

Qatar is playing a double game. It likes to present itself to the outside world as a modern, up-and-coming state that has undergone a process of transformation in recent years.

However, Qatar still discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. And also, incidentally, on the basis of their sex. There is no other way of interpreting another scene from the ZDF documentary "Geheimsache Katar" (Secret matters: Qatar), in which close friends of the Qatari World Cup ambassador describe women as "candy" that people prefer "wrapped" — meaning veiled — not "unwrapped."

On the left, a white man in a black T-shirt, looking at a man with a grey beard in a white robe and red-and-white keffiyeh.They are sitting in the back of a golf cart.
ZDF sports reporter Jochen Breyer interviewed Khalid Salman, Qatar's World Cup ambassadorImage: Mateusz Smolka/ZDF

Will the 2022 football World Cup really improve the human rights situation in Qatar? Will anyone really still talk about it once the ball is finally rolling, apart from a few Western media outlets? And will anything really be done for the LGBTQ community, women or migrant workers in the country when the World Cup is over?

It's doubtful.

This article has been translated from German.

Joscha Weber Bonn 9577
Joscha Weber Editor and fact-checker focusing on separating facts from fiction and uncovering disinformation.@joschaweber
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