“Wakra Wakra” (This Time for Qatar), by Wissam Abbas

June 6, 2011

“Wakra Wakra (This Time for Qatar)” That was the song that people in Qatar were singing on the corniche in Al Wakra which turned into a huge car parking lot as FIFA announced that the State of Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup bid had been successful.

FIFA’s decision has spun controversies and mixed emotions across the world, especially in the Middle East and Arab states

For the first time in its history, the World Cup will be held in the Middle East, in the State of Qatar, a small nation with a population of 1.7 million, most of whom (around 80%) are foreigners [2010]. The decision taken by FIFA on December 2nd [2010] favored the gas-rich country over the US, S. Korea, Japan, and Australia. Its growth stands at 9% (despite the recent global financial crisis), its budget surplus, its success in organizing earlier events (the 2006 Asian Games).

“We go to new lands”

“For 2018 and 2022 we go to new lands, because the FIFA World Cup has never been in Eastern Europe or the Middle East” That was FIFA’s President Joseph (Sepp) Blatter’s statement during the media conference that followed the announcement of the bid winners. Indeed, the football tournament has never been held in the Middle East, CNN’s James Montague explains more about Qatar’s practical efforts to win the bid in his article “Qatar: From obscure desert kingdom to World Cup host”, where he lays out some unique aspects of their approach, for example bringing Pele and Maradona on a stage where they shook hands to the surprise of all football fans worldwide. He also comments on the economic progress of the country since H.H. Sheikh Hamad came to power [1995]

In contrast, The Telegraph’s Richard Spencer article “Are Qatar and the World Cup ready for each other?” sheds light on to the controversies that arise from selecting a Middle Eastern country to host this tournament. Alcohol bans in a Muslim country, the relationship with Israel, the fact that none of the stadiums is ready, and the country’s desert climate all could be mentioned, although except for the climate, all other concerns are shared by the Middle Eastern countries, although from a different angle.

Qatar: the global ambitions

Qatar’s transformation began in 1995 after H.H. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa took over power from his father in a quiet coup d’état. Since then, he has lead the country’s transformation from a small economy into the world’s second per capita in gross domestic product, and from a state that was egarded as a follower of Saudi Arabia’s lead, to a regional power wishing to present a itself as a moderator and a balancing power in regional conflicts: between the east and the west: between the Arab States and Israel: between Iran and the GCC countries: and between rival parties inside Sudan and inside Lebanon. This new approach to decades long conflicts in the region has created controversy. For example, despite the fact that there is no peace treaty between Israel and Qatar, Israel opened a trade office in Qatar in 1996. Whereas this step might have caused Qatar to be excommunicated from the GCC and the Arab League, you see the State of Qatar providing refuge and support to the Palestinians – the other side of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Behind every successful man, there is a great woman

Hamad bin Khalifa lead the change in his country’s economy and politics, but it is his wife, Sheikha Mozah who could be said to be changing the country’s culture. She is re-shaping how the world views the role of women in the GCC countries, and re-defining how women are presenting themselves in her society. A fashionable, educated, well-spoken woman who successfully combines Eastern conservative values and is a globally respected figure on Forbes list of the 100 most powerful women worldwide.

The Royal Couple

The Sheikh and Sheikha’s leadership raises controversies regarding their approach to achieve their global ambitions for Qatar. On one hand they try to stay true to their cultural values and to the country’s natural environment and deep Muslim roots. On the other hand, they try to keep things in balance by also being a good friend to the west, to Iran, to Israel, and Arab countries at the same time.

To go more deeply

CIA. (2010). The World Factbook – Qatar
FIFA. (2010). Russia and Qatar awarded 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups.
Forbes. (2007). The 100 Most Powerful Women
H.H. Sheikha Moza bint Nassir Al Misnad. (2010).
Montague, J. (2010). Qatar: From obscure desert kingdom to World Cup host.
Spencer, R. (2010). Are Qatar and the World Cup ready for each other?
Image gratefully acknowledged from www.royalty.nu website