TIME Qatar

Qatar Women Withdraw Over Asian Games Hijab Ban

"On the one hand, everyone wants more women to participate in these games and, on the other hand, they're discouraging Muslim women who want to play in hijab"

(INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA) — The Qatari women’s basketball team withdrew from the Asian Games on Thursday to protest an international rule that bans players from wearing Muslim headscarves in competition.

The dispute over the Qatari players’ refusal to remove their hijabs — regarded by some as a rule that discriminates against Muslim women — has created a major stir at the games and raised new questions about international rules banning the head coverings.

Qatar delegation leader Khalid al-Jabir said the team had decided to withdraw and was already preparing to return home.

The decision appeared to take by surprise games organizers, who have tried to portray the regional Olympic-style event as a showcase of diversity.

Qatar was due to play Nepal on Thursday afternoon but did not show up at the venue. Officials took their places, starting line-ups were distributed to the media and announced to the spectators, but none of the Qatari players arrived.

“We did not get any intimation from the Qatar team on whether they’ll come for the match or not,” technical delegate Heros Avanesian said. “We had no option but to wait for them before awarding the match to the other team.”

Al-Jabir said the team had no choice but to pull out.

“We’re not forfeiting games — we’re not being allowed to play,” al-Jabir had said before the game was supposed to start. “On the one hand, everyone wants more women to participate in these games and, on the other hand, they’re discouraging Muslim women who want to play in hijab.”

Although sports ranging from bowling to badminton allow hijabs to be worn during Asian Games competition, basketball’s world governing body does not allow them in international competition. The issue reached an impasse on Wednesday, when the Qatari women forced the issue by refusing to play without their hijabs against Mongolia.

Asian Games officials said they did not receive any instructions from FIBA to allow head coverings, and were simply following the rules which restrict the use of headgear, hair accessories, and jewelry when they awarded the result to Mongolia.

Such restrictions were initially designed for the safety of players, but have recently been challenged on cultural and religious grounds.

Regulations about head coverings in basketball came into focus this year when two male Sikh players from India were told to remove their turbans during the Asia Cup in July in China.

Earlier this month, FIBA said it was launching a two-year trial phase allowing some players to wear head coverings. But the Swiss-based FIBA issued a clarifying statement saying it “allows exceptions to be applied only at the national level and the Asian Games is an international event.”

FIBA will evaluate the rule again next year and determine whether to allow head coverings at some level of international competition from next summer. A full review in 2016 will decide if it will become a permanent rule change after the 2016 Olympics.

In Doha, Qataris interviewed by The Associated Press said the players should have been allowed to compete while wearing the hijab.

“The girls already have a lot of social pressures,” said bank employee Faisal Salman. “Their determination to play basketball or football should be supported and encouraged by the authorities and sports bodies. Instead (they are) preventing them and discriminating against them.”

TIME Soccer

Official Says Qatar Is Too Hot to Host World Cup

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A Qatari official stands near the FIFA World Cup trophy following its arrival in Doha, on Dec. 12, 2013. Karim Jaafar—AFP/Getty Images

"Medics say that they cannot accept responsibility with a World Cup taking place under these conditions"

Qatar likely will not be hosting the 2022 World Cup, a top FIFA official said Monday. Why? The country is too hot.

“Medics say that they cannot accept responsibility with a World Cup taking place under these conditions,” Reuters reports FIFA Executive Committee member Theo Zwanziger saying. “I personally think that in the end the 2022 World Cup will not take place in Qatar.”

Qatar leaders have said they will equip stadiums, fan zones, and training areas with advanced cooling systems during the games, but Zwanziger said it won’t be enough.

“They may be able to cool the stadiums but a World Cup does not take place only there,” Zwanziger said.

A Qatari official quickly pushed back in a statement.

“Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, despite comments of FIFA Executive Committee member Dr. Zwanziger, which reflect his personal opinion and not that of FIFA,” the official said. “The only question now is WHEN, not IF. Summer or winter, we will be ready. We have proven that a FIFA World Cup in Qatar in the summer is possible with state-of-the-art cooling technology. We have demonstrated that our cooling works in outdoor areas beyond stadiums.”

[Reuters]

TIME Egypt

Toppled Egyptian President Morsi Charged With Leaking State Secrets

Mohammed Morsi
Egypt's ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi sits in a defendant cage in the Police Academy courthouse in Cairo, May 8, 2014. Tarek el-Gabbas—AP

The move is part of the government crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood

Prosecutors in Egypt Saturday charged former President Mohamed Morsi and nine others with endangering national security by leaking state secrets to Qatar and its affiliated news agency, Al Jazeera.

Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who came to power in elections following the ouster of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, was toppled in a military coup in July 2013 led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who later went on to become president. Al-Sisi’s rule has been marked by an extremely harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.

A statement from the prosecutor’s office said an investigation of Morsi “exposed humiliating facts and the extent of the largest conspiracy and treason carried out by the terrorist Brotherhood organization against the nation through a network of spies,” Reuters reports. Under the al-Sisi government, the Muslim Brotherhood is considered an illegal terrorist organization, though the once-powerful group officially disavowed violence decades ago.

The charges allege that Morsi aides helped leak documents revealing vital Egyptian military intelligence as well as foreign and domestic policy matters.

Under Al-Sisi’s rule, Egypt has also suppressed the activities of Al Jazeera, closing its offices in Cairo and jailing three of its journalists on terms of up to ten years for allegedly aiding a “terrorist group.” Al Jazeera continues to demand the release of its journalists.

[Reuters]

TIME Qatar

2 British Human Rights Workers Go Missing in Qatar

Ghimire Gundev, Krishna Upadhyaya
This undated combination photos released by the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) shows GNRD employees, Ghimire Gundev, a photographer from London, left, and his colleague Krishna Upadhyaya, a researcher, both at unknown locations. AP

The Gulf state is slated to host the World Cup in 2022

Two British human rights workers went missing while researching the mistreatment of migrant workers in Qatar, colleagues of the missing workers said Friday.

Krishna Upadhyaya, 52, and Ghimire Gundev, 36, had been in Qatar since Aug. 27 working on a report for the Norwegian-based Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) before “vanishing” five days ago, according to the organization. On Friday afternoon, a small group of human rights advocates delivered an angry letter to the ambassador of Qatar in the United Kingdom demanding “that the government of Qatar discloses what it is doing to find the two workers and ensure their safety.”

Neither the U.S. State Department nor the British Foreign Office have released any information about the situation. The Gulf state is slated to host the World Cup in 2022.

The sudden disappearance of the two men underscores growing tensions in the small, gas-rich nation, the wealthiest in the world per capita, which has drawn withering criticism in recent months for its treatment of roughly 1.5 million foreign workers, many of whom are employed in construction projects related to the World Cup.

International human rights groups and newspaper investigations have accused Qatar of fostering “slave-like” conditions, stripping visiting workers of basic rights, and allowing companies to pay them as little as 85 cents a day. Other reports indicate that workers live in cramped, unsanitary and unsafe conditions, and are forced to labor without basic protections, like adequate water and shade, in sweltering and dangerous environments.

Critics have also pointed at Qatar’s flawed immigration system, which makes it possible for employers to effectively hold migrants workers ransom by refusing to allow them to obtain exit visas. That issue rocketed into headlines last fall after professional soccer player Zahir Belounis said he was “stranded” in the country and appealed for international help to return to his home in France.

According to the Qatari government, roughly 1,000 foreign workers died in Qatar in 2012 and 2013, but human rights groups say that number is low. An ESPN investigation estimated that, even by conservative estimates, at least 4,000 migrant workers will die while working in Qatar by the opening ceremony of the World Cup.

In a large part due to such international attention, the Qatari government announced in May that it would take steps to better protect migrant workers’ rights, but human rights activists say they have yet to see any significant improvements. Sepp Blatter, the president of football’s world governing body, FIFA, has said that migrant workers’ conditions in Qatar are “unacceptable,” but has stopped short of calling to move the 2022 tournament.

The debate over migrant workers’ rights comes just months after FIFA launched an investigation into allegations that a Qatari official paid more than $5 million to secure his country’s successful bid to host the tournament. Dozens of advocates have since called for a new vote on which country should host the 2022 event.

GNRD said it suspects that Upadhyaya and Gundev, who are of Nepali heritage, were detained—the letter delivered Friday to the ambassador points the finger at Qatari police—but Qatari authorities have said nothing about the men’s whereabouts.

Upadhyaya, a researcher, and Gundev, a photographer, sent text messages to colleagues Sunday saying that they believed they were under surveillance and being followed by plain clothes police officers. They were filming interviews with migrant workers before they went missing.

Qatar, which is about the size of Connecticut and has fewer citizens than Cincinnati, has been at the center of mounting tensions in the Middle East. Its vociferous support for the Muslim Brotherhood has put it at odds with its neighbors in the Gulf and led Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates to withdrew their ambassadors from Doha this year in protest.

TIME Middle East

Hamas Still Has Some Friends Left

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament in Ankara, Turkey, July 22, 2014.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, in Ankara, July 22, 2014. Burhan Ozbilici—AP

Though Egypt has turned its back on Hamas, other countries are coming in from the cold

With the fighting in Gaza intensifying daily, the ruling militant group Hamas is finding itself pushed to the limit. Trying to match Israel’s vast military might is an impossible task, and even finding the resources to launch rocket attacks against Israeli targets could only be achieved by heavy foreign investment.

But which country wants to invest in Hamas? The West certainly doesn’t. The militant Palestinian organization has been a firm fixture on the United States’ Foreign Terrorist Organizations list since 1997. Hamas’ only hope is its neighbors in the Arab world.

Hamas has two clear allies, according to Middle East experts: Qatar and Turkey. Both have given Hamas their public support and financial assistance estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Qatar also hosts Hamas’ political bureau which includes Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal,” says Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “Qatar has a long history of providing shelter to Islamist groups, amongst them the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban.”

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, which came to power in 2002, supports what Joshi calls “other neo-Islamist allies.” Though the Turkish government explicitly rejects the label “Islamist”, their social conservatism is inspired by an Islamic ideology that Hamas shares. Last year, Meshaal visited Turkey and met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for several hours.

Both Qatar — one of the world’s richest states — and Turkey are powerful allies to have, but Hamas might wish for more support given the breadth of the Arab world. It once had it, too. Hamas used to be strongly allied with both Iran and Syria, with the former giving Hamas an estimated $13-15 million a month as recently as 2011, as well as long-range missiles. Hamas’ political bureau used to be based in the Syrian capital of Damascus before its move to Qatar in 2012.

But relations cooled dramatically with Iran and Syria amid sectarian divisions following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Iran, a Shia-majority country, backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose Alawite faith is a branch of Shia Islam. Hezbollah, a powerful Shia Islamist group based in Lebanon, also took Assad’s side.

However Hamas, a Sunni-led faction, sided, as most of the Arab world did, with the rebels. Cue Tehran cutting their allowance, Hezbollah allegedly ordering Hamas members out of Lebanon, and Hamas packing their bags for Qatar.

“Iran’s relationship with Hamas was always problematic,” says Chris Doyle, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding. “Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni group and Iran is Shia. Nevertheless, Hamas was their entry into the issue of Palestine.”

Seeking to regain its influence over this issue, Iran has attempted to foster a reconciliation with Hamas over the last 18 months. Farwaz Gerges, professor on the Middle East at the London School of Economics says the conflict in Gaza is the reason. “The current crisis has brought a kind of rapprochement between Iranian leaders and Hamas.”

Hezbollah too, Gerges notes, has invited Hamas back into the fold. On Monday, the Hezbollah-owned television channel Al Manar reported that Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, praised Meshaal for “the persistence of the Hamas resistance.” The TV station added he “strongly supported their rightful demands to end the current battle.”

Gerges is quick to point out that this doesn’t signal “a return to the warm days of the Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas leaders.” However he adds: “Out of this particular crisis, a new realignment might happen.” That may sound like good news for Hamas, but there’s another Arab country that is of late vehemently opposed to it. That would be Egypt, the largest and most influential country in the Arab world and the one responsible for drafting a potential cease-fire.

From 2012 to 2013, Hamas enjoyed Egypt’s munificence under the leadership of former President Mohamed Morsi, a longtime member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood of which Hamas is an offshoot. When Morsi was ousted last year and replaced with Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Hamas knew the good times were over.

“The most devastating thing that has happened to Hamas is the ousting of Mohamed Morsi,” comments Gerges. Sisi, whose government has orchestrated a violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, destroyed Hamas’ tunnel network into Egypt and closed the border crossing at Rafah, devastating Hamas’ finances. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two of Egypt’s financial backers, are also hostile to Hamas. Like Egypt, they view the Muslim Brotherhood as a clear domestic threat — and Hamas is guilty by association.

But perhaps Hamas doesn’t need Egypt. As the death toll continues to rise in Gaza, there is a groundswell of public sympathy across the Arab world for the group.

“Hamas in terms of people on the street is at the height of its political power in every single Arab country with the exception of Egypt,” says Gerges. “The longer the conflict continues, the more they gain in popularity. And for Hamas, what really matters is the public pulse.”

TIME Soccer

Soccer Bosses Are Turning the Heat on Sepp Blatter, Days Before the World Cup Starts

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FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been under mounting criticism in recent days. Here he takes part in the opening ceremony of the FIFA Congress in São Paulo on June 10, 2014 Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images

Sepp Blatter is being urged to not seek re-election following the latest flurry of corruption allegations

Days before the World Cup kicks off, and Sepp Blatter, the head of soccer’s global governing body FIFA, is facing a barrage of criticism from his peers, whose frustrations at the lack of action over corruption allegations is forcing them to become increasingly vocal.

The Royal Dutch Football Association head Michael van Praag, and David Gill, vice president of UEFA, which governs European soccer, have called on Blatter to not seek re-election next year, according to the BBC.

“Few people still take FIFA seriously and, however you look at it, Blatter is mainly responsible,” said van Praag.

The appeal comes amid reports that illegal payments were made by disgraced Qatari soccer official Mohamed bin Hammam in return for support for its bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Qatar was awarded hosting rights, outdoing Australia, South Korea, Japan and the U.S.

But yesterday Blatter dismissed the latest corruption claims as racist, prompting a critical response from soccer bosses in Europe.

“These allegations need to be properly investigated and properly answered,” said Greg Dyke, chairman of the English Football Association.

Asked by BBC if Blatter ought to step down next year, UEFA vice president Gill replied: “Personally, yes. I think we need to move on.”

So far, Blatter has yet to respond to the calls.

[BBC]

TIME White House

The Last Time Qatar Promised To Watch A Gitmo Prisoner, He Walked

Despite a 2008 promise in writing, the Qataris let former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Jarallah al-Marri travel to Great Britain, where he was arrested.

When he announced a deal to free prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl in the Rose Garden, President Obama assured the nation that the five Taliban leaders being released in exchange would not be a threat to the U.S., thanks to assistance from the the Emir of Qatar. “The Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security,” Obama said on May 31.

But this is not the first time the Qataris have given their word in writing regarding the release of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner. And the last time it didn’t go very well.

On July 27, 2008, the U.S. released Jarallah al Marri, a Qatari citizen who had been detained in Afghanistan in late 2001 and held thereafter at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to State Department cables made public by Wikileaks. As part of the deal to hand him over, the Qataris signed agreements that contained “explicit assurances” that al Marri would not be able to travel outside the country, the leaked documents show.

That agreement was not kept. In early 2009, U.S. counterterrorism officials received word from British authorities that they had arrested al Marri attempting to enter the United Kingdom and were holding him, according to two former officials familiar with the case. The U.S. ambassador to Qatar at the time, Joseph LeBaron, held a meeting with the Qatari Attorney General to complain. The result, according to the leaked cables, “was far from satisfying.”

U.S. officials say this time, the deal with Qatar is more iron clad, in part because of personal assurances given to President Obama by the Emir of Qatar himself. “What is different now,” a senior administration official tells TIME, is that “we have stronger assurances and the personal commitment of the head of state, which is extremely unusual for GTMO or anything else.”

LeBaron, the former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, wrote in a leaked cable from March 2009 that the U.S.-Qatari counterterrorism “relationship is not working now and has not worked well for several years.” In an interview with TIME on June 5, LeBaron declined to discuss the contents of the leaked cables, but said the counterterrorism relationship has changed since the al Marri case.

In particular, he says the personal assurance of the Emir is an important element of the current deal. “The Emir has given a significant personal assurance about the five and that will drive the central government of Qatar’s actions across all aspects of counterterrorism, intelligence, the legal process and anything else, including border control,” LeBaron says.

The Obama Administration had previously rejected release for the five Taliban leaders because of secret and top secret intelligence showing they were a continuing threat. LeBaron now works in the private sector as an advisor of foreign governments for the firm Patton Boggs, and has private sector business interests in real estate and consulting in Qatar.

TIME World Cup

Qatar Bribery Allegations Loom Over the 2022 World Cup

FIFA President Sepp Blatter announces Qatar as the host nation for the FIFA World Cup 2022  in Zurich
FIFA President Sepp Blatter announces Qatar as the host nation for the FIFA World Cup 2022, in Zurich, Dec. 2, 2010. A bribery scandal may cost the Middle Eastern nation the tournament. Christian Hartmann—Reuters

A trove of emails allegedly implicating a former Qatari official in bribery has some critics questioning whether Qatar should host the 2022 tournament

Qatar, the tiny Gulf monarchy that has spent most of the last decade punching above its weight, is in danger of losing the 2022 World Cup – and with it a peerless showcase for its global aspirations.

An investigator for the international soccer association FIFA was in Doha on Wednesday questioning Qatari officials about allegations that bribery was involved in naming the dark horse as host of the month-long tournament, bringing what many consider the greatest spectacle in sports to the Middle East for the first time. The region was due a turn after the tournament was played in South Africa and divided between Japan and South Korea, but FIFA ethics investigator Michael Garcia was already probing corruption rumors when London’s Sunday Times over the weekend revealed documents apparently showing a former Qatari official paid $5 million in bribes to soccer officials to secure the selection. The report is due to be delivered to higher-ups June 9, three days before the 2014 tournament begins in Brazil.

“This is the one way a country can literally be the center of the world for a month,” says Laurent Dubois, a Duke University professor of Romance studies who has written a book on the politics of the World Cup. “And from the standpoint of political elites, that is a kind of catnip.”

So revoking the 2022 selection of Qatar – as at least one senior FIFA official has suggested could happen – and re-opening the competition for a host nation would strike a huge blow to the country’s prestige. And after raising its global profile by investing lavishly in museums, satellite news, and universities, Qatar lately has been already coping with a string of setbacks: the Muslim Brotherhood governments it supported in Egypt and the Gaza Strip are either removed or on their heels, while the rebels it arms in the Syrian civil war are losing to forces aligned with President Bashar Assad. Meanwhile correspondents for its satellite news channel Al Jazeera remain jailed in Cairo.

“The regional situation hasn’t gone very well for Qatar in the last year, so the World Cup becomes that much more important,” says Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington. “So much is tied to the success of the World Cup, whether it’s building new hotels, or building an entire metro system from scratch, all of that is to prepare for the World Cup in eight years. So without the World Cup, what is this all going towards?”

Qatari officials emphatically deny authorizing any bribery, insisting that Mohamed bin Hammam, the official at the heart of the Sunday Times’ devastating e-mail cache, was not involved in the official effort to land the tournament. Still, the Cup was already a source of controversy for Qatar. The new stadiums and infrastructure are being built by foreign workers who account for 1.4 million of the country’s 2.2 million people, and whom human rights groups say are so badly exploited that a number have lost their lives on the job – prompting a promise from FIFA to push for better conditions. The country’s climate is also a problem: temperatures in June and July, when the Cup is played, reach 120 degrees, raising the question of shifting the tournament to a cooler time of year. As former U.S. Treasury official Jonathan Schanzer tweeted about the Taliban prisoners released from Guantanamo into Qatari custody in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl: “To be fair, Qatar in late spring and summer is worse than prison.”

But the corruption allegations play to an image of a petroleum-drenched monarchy so wealthy it simply buys whatever it wants. And they come just as as FIFA is already reeling from a match-fixing scandal, and controversy over the $11 billion Brazil is spending, amid widespread poverty and social ills.

“It’s like the pigeons coming home to roost a little bit,” says Dubois, who teaches a course on the World Cup. “There’s no justification for FIFA having so little transparency, except corruption. Really, if you think about it. Their job is to organize soccer games. Why all the secrecy?” Yet the global body has answered only to itself for so long that it’s difficult to imagine it casting aside its choice of Qatar, even in the face of documents that the newspaper says number over a million. “On the one hand it seems to be inevitable that they’ll revisit the decision,” Dubois says. “And on the other hand, I can’t imagine them doing it.”

It’s just as hard for Hamid, who worked in Brookings’ Doha office for the last four years, to fathom the loss to the host country. “It would really be devastating, I think,” Hamid says. “I’m having difficulty imagining how Qatar would recover, in terms of perception.”

TIME Qatar

Watch: Gitmo Detainees Swapped for Bergdahl Arrive in Qatar

The backlash over the U.S. prisoner swap for Srgt. Bowe Bergdahl continues. These are the 5 Guantanamo detainees released in exchange for the American soldier

The U.S released five detainees from Guantanamo Bay over the weekend into the custody of Qatar, in exchange for the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan nearly five years ago.

The video above—purportedly released by an Afghan news agency—shows the men as they land in Qatar, welcomed by hugs and smiles.

Qatar is believed to have played a crucial role in mediating the release of the American soldier, but the Qatari government remains reluctant to give details about its involvement in the operation. U.S. officials said the men will be subject to security restrictions, including a one-year travel ban.

Are the five Taliban leaders a danger to Americans?

Statistics suggest that the Taliban leaders freed may remain a threat. “Of the 614 Gitmo prisoners who had left the care of the U.S. Department of Defense as of January 14, 2014, 104 were confirmed to have reengaged in terrorism and 74 were suspected to have reengaged,” TIME’s Massimo Calabresi reports.

 

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