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Penny Yi Wang

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Last week, Doha News ran an opinion piece by a Qatari woman who argued that her country is being treated unfairly by the world’s press. Here, long-term Qatar resident Vani Saraswathi, Associate Editor of Migrant-Rights.org, explains why she disagrees.

When I was first asked to present a counterpoint in a debate about Qatar media coverage, I didn’t think I had anything new to say.

There were some points in “Why I believe that Qatar is being victimized by Western media” that merited a nod; but by and large it wasn’t a piece I agreed with.

When I read it, I was mostly thrilled that there were Qataris who respected Doha News enough to ignore its blocking by the government and to continue to send them their views.

Then thousands of miles away, an executive order was passed.

A powerful majority felt victimized and threatened, unleashing unimaginable misery on the vulnerable and disenfranchised.

A dear friend and co-worker was also affected, albeit not as badly or seriously as some others, as she herself admits.

Alongside all that anger and fury, what emerged was the power of the civil society.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens standing up for what they believed in, aware of their privilege and using it for a greater good.

The media were pushing back, not cowing down to pressure or bullying. Lawyers were gathering at airports to offer pro-bono services.

It was then that I revisited this opinion piece.

Playing the victim

For too long Qatar has played the victim card.

It blames countries that send migrants to its shores, and it blames the skewed population ratio, talking of “cultural dilution” by migrants, with no genuine attempt to accept blame or responsibility.

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But if you live in Qatar, you do not need the “Western media” to reveal injustices. It’s in our face, day in and day out.

You see it in your workplace, you see it in ghettoized living spaces, you see it in how housemaids are treated, you see it in how construction workers lie around in the summer heat, and if you care enough to look into their faces of these lower-income migrant workers, you will also see it in their eyes.

But blue-collar workers are all but invisible in Qatar.

Most higher income migrants, aka expats, are too scared to speak up, as they have much to lose if they do. And the nationals obviously don’t think this is a real problem, meriting their censure.

So, I wonder what the author’s definition of dignity is, when she writes this:

“As a Qatari national possessing knowledge as well as a first-person perspective as to what truly occurs in our country and how our workers are treated with respect and dignity, I feel compelled to take some steps to separate facts from fiction and begin an educated defense.”

Domestic worker abuse

An educated defense would be to spend a few weeks with blue-collar and domestic workers, and then proving that the injustices you see are just exceptions and not the norm.

Simply parroting the government’s PR is too defensive.

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In her piece, the author makes a passing reference to domestic workers.

“Meanwhile, Amnesty International has made similar claims…”

Doesn’t she think the 90,000 plus women working in Qatar as domestic workers, without laws to govern them, deserve more than a snide dismissal of the Amnesty report?

How can one live in Qatar and not understand the absolute power wielded over domestic workers, and their lack of options?

A large part of my work involves advocating for rights of domestic workers in the GCC, and to see such scant regard for the problems they face in an “educated defense” is disheartening.

Especially so from a Qatari woman, because they understand more than many others the desperate need for empowerment.

Good journalism

Yes, it is true enough that the media has misreported or sensationalized labor issues in Qatar over the last six years.

Two years ago, Migrant-Rights.org was among the first to call bluff on a very misleading Washington Post graphic, despite backlash from critics who said we were “going soft” on Qatar.

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However, there has also been exemplary journalism (primarily by the Guardian) looking at problems no one else has bothered to report on.

This includes North Koreans being put to work in Qatar under inhumane conditions, and the fact that Nepali death rates are extremely high in Qatar.

The newspaper’s report actually triggered extensive study and research into what was happening. It found that lack of acclimatization significantly shortens lifespans of Nepalis not just in Qatar, but also in other Gulf states and Malaysia.

That’s what good journalism does. It lays bare the problems in a society, and allows experts then to do their job to resolve it.

Repeatedly, Qatar has been advised to investigate these deaths, but it still hasn’t. Had it taken that initiative, it would have probably saved some face.

Muzzled local press

Although I no longer live in Qatar, I still visit regularly for work.

And even though I never thought of Qatar as my home, I am extremely fond of the country and its people.

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And that’s why I feel one must continue to debate this issue, and not dismiss it with fatalistic reasoning of “we are being victimized’ or “Qatar won’t ever change.”

If Qatar had a free and fair media – instead of the currently muzzled group of newspapers that amount to advertising supplements – there would have been better informed reporting locally.

This would negate to a large extent the need for “Western” media to “victimize” the country or report on it.

Providing lip service, saying “it’s not perfect but we are trying,” just doesn’t cut it.

Even if you are a minority, you are more powerful than the faceless and disenfranchised majority put together.

The author is the Associate Editor of Migrant-Rights.org. The views expressed are her own, and do not necessarily reflect that of her organization, or of Doha News.

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As the 2022 World Cup approaches, Qatar has come under increasing media scrutiny. Many journalists are producing critical pieces relating to human rights conditions in the country.

In this opinion piece, Qatari Shaikha Al Mudahka analyzes the coverage and argues that her nation is being treated unfairly by the world’s press.

The modern world is one of 24/7 news bulletins, and there is no news like bad news.

The western media in particular is feasting on a climate of fear and corruption, from the US election to the UK’s departure from the European Union, and Qatar finds itself firmly in the sights of these purveyors of concern.

Reem Saad / Doha News

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Misinformation is rife in the media regarding Qatar’s labor laws and rights, particularly those surrounding the construction industry.

With the country caught in the eye of the recent corruption storm that surrounds FIFA and the awarding of the 2022 World Cup, many outlets have been leveling accusations against our governing bodies.

Allegations abound

There are countless examples.

As recently as 2014, major British newspaper The Guardian used loaded and unhelpful language to describe working conditions throughout Qatar.

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Guardian front page

The Washington Post also jumped on this bandwagon with minimal evidence and was forced to issue a retraction after posting a hugely inflammatory and misleading graphic relating to fatalities in Qatar’s construction industry.

This is just the tip of the iceberg from the aforementioned publication, which like a dog with a bone continues to pursue this line of reporting.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has made similar claims, as have the BBC, and CNN.

Anecdotal stories have also been reported as cold hard fact, and the reputation of Qatar is suffering globally as a result.

Protective laws

In the face of such media prosecution, and as a Qatari national possessing knowledge as well as a first-person perspective as to what truly occurs in our country and how our workers are treated with respect and dignity, I feel compelled to take some steps to separate facts from fiction and begin an educated defense.

Qatar’s labor laws were last amended in 2004, in a decree signed by Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani; further amendments were introduced in December.

Shrief Fadl / Flickr

Workers walk along a street in Doha

Contrary to the beliefs peddled by certain media outlets, Qatari construction workers are not thrust into dangerous working conditions without the appropriate preparation and education.

Indeed, Article 11 of the Labour Law State of Qatar, which is available to the public and viewable by anybody upon request, states that full training is a legal requirement, and a non-negotiable responsibility of any employer.

On a similar note, Health and Safety regulations are laid out in Article 42.

This states that all workers must ensure they are physically capable of performing the tasks asked of them, and that they must also ensure that neither they nor their colleagues are placed in any physical danger.

Reem Saad / Doha News

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Article 44, meanwhile, protects the rights of the worker, stating that they must be suitably equipped to perform the tasks assigned, and that if reasons out of the individual’s control dictate that they are unable to do so, they are still to be treated as though they completed the task at hand.

Articles 99 to 115 continue to lay out very firm Health and Safety laws to protect workers, with great responsibility and legal responsibility placed at the feet of the employers.

Enforcement

Of course, laying down these laws is only part of the battle; enforcing them is quite another.

After all, by the letter of the law it is illegal to rip a copy of your favorite CD to your computer, but nobody is breaking down any doors for that.

Huge improvements are being made, such as the construction of a “Labor City”, a state-of-the-art accommodation complex that houses migrant workers.

Peter Kovessy

A street at Labor City, on the outskirts of Doha

Even The Guardian had to begrudgingly accept that this is a positive step, though naturally they also find the time to make allegations of mistreatment in the same article.

The same newspaper also reported how several rogue employers were swiftly closed down by the nation’s labor ministry last year. Such efforts to eliminate any stains on Qatar’s reputation continue.

Even Britain’s Daily Mail, a newspaper famed for its hardline stance and lack of sympathy towards Middle Eastern nations, picked up on this story.

Meanwhile, calls to action are also being made for citizens to assist authorities in eliminating such mistreatments. It will take quite some time for the established narrative in the west to be altered, but work is being done.

Human trafficking

Qatar has long faced accusations of ‘human trafficking’ within the construction industry; indeed, the US State continues to watch the situation from afar.

Steps are being taken to alter this perception, however.

The Arab Initiative to combat human trafficking was launched during the Doha Foundation Forum 2010, alongside the Qatar Foundation for the Prevention of Human Trafficking. Alas, once again these claims appear to revolve around fictional denunciations.

Amnesty International

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A popular claim among elements of the media is that workers in Qatar are not permitted to leave their contracts of their own volition, a statement disproved by a cursory glance at the Labor Law.

Article 47 dictates that detailed records are kept for all employees, ensuring that they are treated fairly, and Article 51 points out that any employee can terminate his or her employment at any time.

I would never be so bold as to claim that workers’ rights in Qatar are perfect, and contracts undoubtedly favor the rights of the employer in certain circumstances.

This, unfortunately, is a consequence of capitalism in private business enterprises – as is the occasional late payment of salaries, an unwelcome inconvenience that affects employees of all nations and creeds.

Elephant in the room

Article 73 restricts workers to the standard 40-hour working week with mandatory rest breaks, and any additional hours must be justified and compensated fairly.

Article 93, meanwhile, is pleasingly progressive, stating that any female worker must be paid the equivalent wage of a male counterpart and provided with the same opportunities, with maternity leave also available.

Poundwire

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This makes a mockery of another frequent accusation, that female workers are treated less favorably than their male counterparts.

Now, we need to address the elephant in the room – the talk of excessive fatalities within the construction industry in Qatar.

Once again, we can turn to our friends at The Guardian, who provide some deeply unpleasant reading for any citizen of Qatar.

Leaving aside for one moment that the highly respected Forbes magazine has listed construction as one of the deadliest occupations in America, The Guardian pointed out that 44 workers died while working on construction sites in Qatar between June and August 2013.

I would never think of making light of this, and genuine thoughts and sympathies are extended to the families of these unfortunate souls.

However, construction is a dangerous industry, and this is the case worldwide.

Rome not built in a day

The privately contracted construction industry accounts for the largest amount of these workplace accidents, at over 20 percent, with a similar number also contracted by a government entity.

Chantelle D'mello / Doha News

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It is particularly interesting when we consider that the occupations of these workers fall in line with Qatari fatalities – laborers and manufacturers, roofers, and operators of heavy machinery.

2014, the year after The Guardian posted its alleged expose, saw the highest number of workplace fatalities in the US in six years, including a spike in mortalities for electricians – an occupation earmarked as having a suspiciously high fatality rate in The Guardian’s report.

Despite this, the United States does not face a similar scrutiny to Qatar. As always, it appears that a media narrative can spin and twist perspective on a situation until it is erroneously deemed to be an unimpeachable fact.

‘Not perfect’

Are things perfect in Qatar, and beyond improvement? Of course not. However, the same can surely be said of all places of employment and walks of life, and Rome was not built in a day.

With Qatar undergoing an increase in liberal attitudes, growing into a truly global nation, western attitudes towards the country began to soften as long as 10 years ago.

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The nation of Qatar has unfortunately been swept up into a scandal beyond its control with recent events from FIFA, but steps are being taken to improve – steps that are turning into prominent strides.

We may live in a world of 24/7 news bulletins that thrive on negativity, but the media will surely soon need to find a new target to feed the misery machine.

When that day arrives, Qatar will extend a hand of friendship and understanding to challenge misconceptions with practicality.

Thoughts?


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this Opinion article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Doha News’ editorial policy.

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Author and journalist Andrew Hallam  – AKA The Millionaire Teacher – believes that many expats lose money by investing with the wrong brokers. The expert, who will be visiting Qatar next month, explains below why this happens, and what you can do to protect yourself and your finances.

Most stock market investors have been celebrating lately. The past 20 years have been kind.

That might sound crazy if you live in Qatar. If you have bought investments sold by local expat brokers, you probably think I’m nuts.

That’s because Qatar – and the rest of the GCC – is filled with unscrupulous financial advisors.

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Yes, they are refined. Yes, they seem kind. But they sell investment products that pay them huge commissions – at their investors’ expense.

How do you know if you have a bad investment product, sold by one of these advisors? There are two acid tests.

Bad investment products

Firstly: global markets have risen a lot over the past few years.

Stocks gained 6.47 percent in the past year, 39.7 percent over the past three years and 55 percent over the past five years.

Qatar Exchange

Qatar Exchange / Facebook

Qatar Exchange

Longer-term, they gained 84 percent over the past 15 years and 243 percent over the past 20 years.

This represents the average return of all global stocks, not just a single hot, geographic sector.

So if your investment yield hasn’t gone up, that should set off some alarms.

Secondly: if you can’t pull your money out without paying a hefty fee, you’ve been dragged to the dragon’s lair.

Andrew Hallam/Facebook

Andrew Hallam during a seminar in Oman

I’ve written two books giving tips on how best to invest. In the first, I criticized high investment fees, but I was like a well-meaning guy complaining about non-lethal snakes.

I had no idea, at the time, what goes on the Middle East. That’s where King Cobras strike. In this region, expensive financial products get sold to almost everyone.

‘King Cobras’

So in a second book, I describe the sort of products that get sold in the Middle East. Often, investors pay more than 4 percent a year in fees.

Let’s put this in perspective: if global stocks earn 7 percent, investors paying 4 percent in fees are giving up 57 percent of their annual profits to these charges.

If global stocks only earn 4 percent, investors are giving up 100 percent of their profits to fees.

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Furthermore, many of these long-term funds are sold with front-loaded charges.

This means commissions for the whole length of the contract – say, 25 years – are paid in the first two years of the product.

So if you decide you want pull your money out early, you can lose all of it.

Yesterday’s funds

Even if you plan to keep paying into an investment product for the long term, many advisors in this region aren’t schooled on diversification.

They often build portfolios that are stuffed with yesterday’s winning funds. But funds that do well during one time period often stink the next.

For example, if you started an offshore pension in 2007, it’s likely stuffed with emerging market funds, and little else. They were coming to the end of a really good run.

Gold bar

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If you started your portfolio in 2011, it’s probably stuffed with gold or precious metal funds with, once again, little else.

In fact, if you invested with a typical advisor in Qatar, I probably know what funds you own if you tell me when you started.

Instead of being properly diversified, it will be stuffed with whatever asset class or geographic sector had recently done well – before you signed the contract.

But you wouldn’t drive a car by looking through the rear-view mirror. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. Nor should you invest that way.

Spread your bets

Investors in the Middle East need a fair shake. Their retirements depend on it.

That’s why it’s important to own a low-cost diversified portfolio that represents every geographic sector. What’s more, you can do this yourself, without the need for an advisor.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

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You could build a diversified portfolio with just three exchange-traded index funds (ETFs).

The first fund would represent your home country stock market index. The second would represent a global stock index. The third would include a bond market index.

You could build such a portfolio using a variety of low cost brokerages, such as Saxo Capital Markets or TD Direct International, based in Luxembourg.

Thoughts?


Andrew Hallam is the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School and The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.

He will be speaking at six different venues in Qatar from Feb. 12-21. See here for his schedule. Many of the talks aren’t open to the public, but if you have a public venue to offer, he is willing to speak for free. He can be contacted at millionaireteacherspeaks@gmail.com.