Qatar’s World Cup cover-up

WCup Qatar Ecuador Soccer
A Qatari fan holds the Qatar national flag prior to the World Cup, group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium, in Al Khor, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko) AP

Qatar’s World Cup cover-up

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Before it even began, the World Cup in Qatar had already become the most controversial in history. It provoked widespread protests from fans, players, and soccer associations who continue to campaign against Qatar’s track record on human and migrant labor rights. Homosexuality remains punishable by death in Qatar, where over 6,500 foreign laborers have died since Qatar was awarded the World Cup.

However important it is to address these pressing causes, there are others too that are worthy of attention. These include Qatar’s deadly support for Islamist extremism and soft power initiatives (such as this World Cup) that aim to shield the state from accountability for financing terrorism.


Fans might be surprised to learn that their hotels in Doha have hosted press conferences for terrorists. The regime in Qatar has a long record of supporting terrorist groups, offering safe havens to Hamas, to which Qatar has given $1.8 billion since 2012, and the Taliban, whose members received “luxury SUVs, free medical care, and air-conditioned homes” from Doha. According to expert Seth Frantzman, the regime has “likely helped bring [the Taliban] back to power.” Qatar provided Khaled Sheikh Mohammed safe haven, a salary, and is also believed to have given him a passport that helped him narrowly escape capture by the FBI. Years later, he masterminded the 9/11 attacks which killed nearly 3,000 Americans.

Doha’s deadly sponsorship of Islamist extremism persists and has destabilized much of the Middle East. During the Arab Spring, Qatar supported Muslim Brotherhood affiliates and their wars — including in Syria and Yemen, contributing to a horrific combined death toll of up to nearly one million people. It supported Ahrar al Sham, which planned attacks with Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra.

Qatar’s Islamist ties provoked diplomatic crises, causing Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE to withdraw their ambassadors in 2014, and to boycott Doha between 2017 and 2021.

For a tiny country that has endured isolation from its Gulf neighbors, soft power remains pivotal for Qatari statecraft and integration, allowing it to project influence, forge a favorable reputation in the West, and achieve integration there. This soccer tournament helps Qatar sanitize its controversial policies and proceed with impunity.

Qatar’s soft power initiatives largely emerged after the prior Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, seized power from his father in a 1995 coup. At the time, Qatar’s neighbors objected to Emir Hamad’s coup because it threatened “the status quo” of power and succession in the Gulf. A failed plot sought to remove the Emir in 1996, which Qatari state-sponsored media has blamed on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain.

In 1995, Emir Hamad and his wife founded the Qatar Foundation, which has enticed many prestigious U.S. universities, such as Georgetown and Cornell Medicine, to open branches in Qatar. In 1996, Qatar began construction on the Al Udeid Base — now the largest U.S. base in the Middle East — with Emir Hamad hoping that “the U.S. would use it in the future.” Emir Hamad founded Al Jazeera the same year, and in 1997 he relaunched Qatar Airways hoping to make it a “leading international airline.”

When Qatar again faced stigmatization during the Arab Spring, Qatar and its new Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, spent billions trying to influence the West, sponsoring U.S. universities and acquiring billions of dollars worth of Boeing planes and U.S. military equipment. The regime also cultivated its lobby in the U.S., which has ranked as the fourth-largest in spending among foreign countries since 2016.

The Al Jazeera network spawned AJ America (now defunct) and AJ+, which has amassed millions of followers by appealing to Western youth in Western languages (English, French, Spanish) with progressive talking points. It also sponsored soccer clubs via state proxies (i.e. Qatar Airways and the Qatar Foundation) such as FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and AC Milan.

It is likely that during the Arab Spring, Doha used its airlines and soccer sponsorships to counter the influence of its regional rival, the UAE, which has long sponsored soccer teams via its state-owned airline: Emirates. It’s no coincidence that Qatar Airways became a FIFA sponsor, a title that Emirates held just years before.


Qatar has even mobilized its soft power initiatives, such as Al Jazeera, as weapons against the U.S. According to Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, U.S. soldiers were ambushed during the Iraq War after having responded to anonymous tips, “only to find Al Jazeera reporters” at “what they later determined to be a massive booby-trap.” This came despite Qatar offering its soil to U.S. troops and its Al Udeid Base during the Iraq War. In sum, Qatar’s regime plays a double game and can rarely be trusted.

Qatar subverts human rights and Western security interests, having long sustained global terrorism and whitewashed it through its soft power campaigns. The West must use this World Cup to reflect on and change its increasingly dependent and dangerous relationship with Qatar, which has recently seen Doha awarded gas deals and status as a major non-NATO ally. Otherwise, we are likely to see terrorists reap benefits from a sporting event that is meant to bring people around the world together.

Jordan Cope is the Director of Policy Education at StandWithUs and the Qatari Finance Fellow for the Middle East Forum.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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