Here’s Why Qatar Moved the World’s Beer at the World Cup


The group stages of the World Cup started in the kidney-shaped emirate of Qatar, located on the tip of the Arabian peninsula. Situated above Saudi, it is the first Arab and Muslim nation to host these games that inspire unique national fervor. There were many questions when they won their audacious bid back in 2010.

How would the tiny, conservative country, which prefers for people not to wear shorts in the malls, host the world with all her many citizens, customs, and behaviors?

Yesterday, Saturday, November 27th, marked the end of the first week, and the answer, we who are here and experiencing it live, can say, with great humor, hospitality, and enjoyment. Fans are having a great time trying out the traditional male Gulf headdress, known as the gutra, with the coiled black a’agal, made in the color combination of the 32 countries, which has turned out to be perhaps one of the best marketing/commercial choices of merchandise in the history of merch-ing.

Men from all nationalities are getting help from Qatari police officers, security guards, and onlookers with how to put it on. You can’t really be mad at someone who is trying to learn your culture; you give a bit of trust to the person close enough to touch your head.

Where connections haven’t gone as smoothly, however, is the subject of alcohol. Football (soccer if you’re from certain places) is synonymous with drinking. A pint, or two, in a bar, while the game is on – all of this is at odds with the collective impressions about life in Islamic countries.

There Are Bars in Qatar

But, yes, there are bars in Qatar – (and the rest of the Middle East) with much higher prices for drinks than in other places because the only outlets allowed to sell alcohol are usually in four-star hotels (or higher).

Yes, people do drink in Qatar, and other parts of the Middle East, both Muslim and non, in public and at home.

You need a license to buy it from the one authorized distributor, known as QDC. Muslims are not allowed to have such licenses, and yes, it does ask for your religion on the application. Plus, your employer must provide a letter so that your total allotment does not 10% of your annual salary because lonely expats do turn to self-medication.

Yes, there is a rehab center, again for expats and locals alike, because, as we know, addiction knows no nationality or faith.

The bar area in a restaurant at the Sheraton hotel in Doha, Qatar by Hani Arif

So if the residents of Qatar have controlled access to alcohol, then why all the fuss about beers without balls?

If you’ve been reading around here for a while, you know I’ll say, the answer is complicated because Islamic identity in the Arabian Gulf has a different permutation than elsewhere in the Muslim world. Some identify this as Wahabism (a whole book in itself). Others describe the unique combination of wealth, small homogenous populations, and geographic isolation as a particular mix, different to say, Lebanon with Christians and Muslims, or Iraq with various ethnicities.

Take all of that and add the fact that alcohol is synonymous with westerners, and any concessions to it are tantamount to comprising one’s morals, for conservative Muslims, and you have the grumbling that began back in 2010.

Qatar is a case study of how leaders, with a vision, are working with a citizenry that might not have bought entirely in. The carefully curated process of modernization has been stepped forward that is sometimes met with resistance based on people’s values (sound like anywhere else we know?).

Alcohol is not the only challenge to a perception of self or nationhood – art as well, what is depicted, and what is permissible, has also been the subject of public scrutiny. Sculptures, especially of humans, for example, are not permitted in Islam, because they can tip one over into idolatry.

So the sale of alcohol in the country due to the World Cup caused several strands of conversations, both within and without Qatar.

The Beef about Beer at the World Cup in Qatar

Fans at the 900 Park, one of the specially created fan zones, selling alcohol during the World Cup

First, the officials said beverages would be available in fan zones made for footballing culture (aka beverage and big screen) near the stadia. A multi-million dollar contract with Budweiser later, and it looked like all would be well. A measure of progress in the way labor reforms have come developed over the twelve years of preparation as the stadia were being built.

Then, as the date came closer, in September 2022, it seemed the possibility of a drink would be even closer – on the premises of the stadia itself.

But, in an inexplicable twist, days before the opening, there was an about-face, first noticed by reporters who saw the Budweiser branding being moved off the stadia grounds, later confirmed by the declaration from the organizing committee that alcohol would only be in specific, authorized ‘fan zones’ with screens, games, and entertainment.

A Tweet by Budweiser (that has since been deleted) when the change in arrangements was announced.

What is puzzling to anyone who knows anything about football (or communication strategy) is that alcohol during games in stadia is, in fact, not offered worldwide. In fact, the ban against sales in Europe was only lifted in 2018; in England, you still can’t drink in your seats. At LaLiga stadia, in Spain, for another example, there is no sale of alcohol, only in nearby bars.

So what is all the fuss about? In not offering alcohol in the stadia, or even on the grounds, Qatar is actually in keeping with sound football hosting.

Well, changing the plan a few days before people who have spent hundreds to thousands of dollars land, is not a great look.

Beyond that, however, is the power dynamic between FIFA, one of the world’s largest so-called non-profits, and Qatar, a country that is continually expanding its soft power network with sports hosting as a key part of its strategy.

And also the space in which we understand what it means to live or visit an Islamic society as a non-Muslim.

Because, as I had to explain to many, many friends at home, the headlines are deceiving when they say there is no beer being sold at the World Cup.

One of the bars at a fan zone in Qatar

Perhaps this is another example of losing nuance when the conversation goes wider; there is beer in the fan zones, there is beer in licensed bars and restaurants, and there is beer here, there, and everywhere but on the grounds of stadia.

Despite how the decision was delivered, there are some interesting positive developments to maintaining the limit of alcohol:

… the medics operating the ‘drunk tank’ from Hamad hospital (hello, free health care) find themselves with much more free time than those working in other World Cups.

… many have pointed out that having lots of beer can make you miss the game because you’ll be constantly running to the bathroom.

… as people worldwide have commented on social media fora, if you can’t skip a few beers now and then, perhaps there’s a larger force at work.

And I am absolutely no expert on this, but apparently beer isn’t the alcoholic beverage of choice for most consumers….

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Connect with Mohana on Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about her work here.

To learn more about what life is like in the Arabian Gulf, check out the Crimes In Arabia series!

Why Virtue Signaling about #Qatar2022 Won’t Bring Lasting Change

The World Cup in Qatar

It’s four days until kickoff for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the first to be held in the Middle East, the first to happen in November (and not summertime), and the first with female referees.

The awarding of the world’s biggest sports gathering came with lots of controversy, which has gathered steam over the last decade. What about all the poor South Asian laborers paid terribly and working in awful conditions? And in a place where LGBTQ people have no rights – even be jailed? How could FIFIA? How …

All valid and important questions. (I’ll pose some answers below, I promise, which we can debate).

But first, let’s look at the undercurrents of the conversation because they’re equally important to what is being said. There are a lot of people who are taking up these causes – and rightly so. Advocacy is the only way things change.

One example of a brand claiming to be aware of problematic issues in Qatar despite their own contradictory employment practices and relying on inaccurate stats.

In our digital age, however, posting a popular headline can feel like advocacy, when what it has the danger of doing, is undercutting the mission entirely. Because the media is going to mediate, with misinformation, half-truths, and inflammatory images that prey on the undercurrents of this controversial, historic decision. And social media makes it deliciously easy to partake.

StopFemicides

In July 2020, there was the black and white selfie campaign going around Instagram and Facebook. Your female friend might have tagged you, saying, “You’re beautiful, and I know it!” It was then your turn to post a humble-brag, millennially-accepted glamour shot and receive dozens of comments on how, indeed, you were beautiful. Somehow this trend was connected to female solidarity, uplifting other women, and tangentially supporting women in Turkey.

#WeWontLookDown

If you tugged on this thread, you would find Turkish activists explaining that black and white photos are what Turkish media uses to report the deaths of murdered women in newspapers. And the movement to post black and white selfies was to create awareness with the idea that you, the poster, could be next, in a crime that would likely go unsolved or the assailant unpunished.

If you tugged a little harder, black and white photos were tried as a campaign strategy to raise cancer awareness in the US until it was dropped because the connection between the selfie and the cause was hard to make.

Are the women who posted black-and-white selfies bad people? No. Did they have malicious intent? No. Did the majority of them help further the cause of Turkish women? Also, unfortunately, no.

Keep Your Hair

A more recent example is the women who filmed themselves cutting their hair to support the protestors in Iran. Now, this is a much more complicated situation, so stay with me. The Iranian regime is brutal and has been suppressing its people for decades. Women, in particular, have had their freedoms curtailed, so the death of the twentysomething Mahsa Amini, as a result of beatings received while in custody of the morality police, for not wearing her headscarf properly, sparked national outrage.

Iranian women began taking off their hijab publicly, cutting off their hair publicly, and in general, breaking all the rules around veiling.

For the west, long confused by the hijab, or the Islamic practice of veiling, this was the moment many had been waiting for. Women casting off the veil on their own! Embracing freedom – what would come next – democracy?? For the others, the images just made sense. Who wanted to be told what to wear on their head?

No one. So the current cause of Iranian women was a very easy one to take up for many because it resonated with the Orientalist narratives that Muslim women are oppressed, forced to hide their hair, pressured by their society, religion, and culture to be small.

Critics of celebrities cutting their hair in solidarity with women in Iran

But, but, but, Muslim women worldwide started pointing out – would you be this interested in Iranian women if they weren’t taking off their veils? Do you really want to support Muslim women? Then… What about Muslim school girls in India whose rights are being chipped away at being told not to wear the scarf to school, or in France where Christian religious symbols are permitted but not the hijab, or fines for wearing niqab in Switzerland, or ….?

Social movements are easier than ever to be swept up in – especially when they come with catchy hashtags or a ‘Gram-worthy’ moment.

Here’s What Does Work

Don’t give up – I’m not saying what we post and share doesn’t matter. It does. The best pairing is a post with action. Remember way back when we doused each other with coolers full of freezing water? In the time before masks, and Maga hats, a quieter past (is that just nostalgia??) when the ALS ice buck challenge almost doubled the foundation’s funding? From funding grants to creating jobs for researchers to more scientific data available, the pairing of the social media video/image with the pledge to donate, was the magic combination of viral action.

If it feels exhausting – like you don’t want to do research about every single thing you post before you post it – then maybe that’s okay. I have a really good friend who often says, “I don’t know much about this, but from what I understand…” the first time I heard her say it, I was flabbergasted. Because it was so fresh, open, original, and honest.

The fact is we don’t have to be bandwagon jumpers to participate in current events. We can pick and choose, educate and inform, ourselves first, in the art of nuance. An increasingly lost art.

by Tim Reckmann

Okay, okay, can we talk about those Qatar issues now?

Yes, okay, now, we can talk about the issues specific to this World Cup in 2002 being held in the desert emirate of Qatar. The facts: the best thing that happened for labor rights in the Middle East and specifically the Arabian Peninsula, where Qatar is located, along with Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, is being a host nation for the world’s game.

Now there’s an International Labor Organization project office. Now companies with workplace fatalities are blacklisted and banned from being awarded future contracts. Now there is a minimum wage.

Is there still a lot to do? Yes. And hopefully, the world won’t forget the unpaid wages or compensation for lost lives or pending labor cases after the final match in December. It’s partial reform, and it’s a huge step in a system used regionally to discriminate against people.

The LGBTQ population is another one that has been touted as needing international attention. And what queer Arabs will tell you is that they prefer their cause to be separate from that of the western movement. In this, they are similar to ‘third world’ feminists who have been explaining for decades that western feminism ignores how race, gender, and socio-economics call for a different type of approach to women’s rights in developing countries (see above two examples, or leave a comment, because whole books have been written about this…).

What Qatari LGBTQ people will tell you – yes, there are some (that also could be a whole book) – is that being championed by western activists like Peter Tatchell has a host of complications. The main one is that their identity becomes a way to defame their own country. Tatchell’s account of being arrested while he held signs outside the National Museum conflicts with what eyewitnesses saw (police taking his photo, and walking away).

For queer people in Qatar, and other Muslim countries, associating with western forms of identity politics muddies the waters. They’re seen as foreign agents used by others to undermine the state. And as is the case with the current protests in Iran, taking up their cause serves political agendas. So, what’s to be done in their case? Again, dialogue, consultation, and discussions with the people whose issues these are.

The wheel of progress is slower than any of us would like. We can certainly help push it forward – which in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup has done by leaps and bounds. We may not be where we want to be yet. But shame is a bad teacher and an even worse motivator.

Let’s celebrate progress and plan, call, and seek for more.

And let’s hope the world doesn’t lose interest in these issues, or people, just because their use as political footballs ends at the last kickoff.

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Connect with Mohana on Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about her work here.

Purchase the Crimes In Arabia series here!

Mohadoha Black Friday – Cyber Monday deals

MohaDoha Black Friday saleMonday the 23rd: a few days until American Thanksgiving and a week left in National Novel Writing Month. My three classes of undergraduates are working on their final papers and the adults in the novel writing course are dropping like flies. In short: my days are pretty full. Knowing how modern life is, I’m pretty sure yours are too. Despite the hustle and bustle, I did manage to schedule a few freebies/discounts for the end of the week that I hope you’ll enjoy in honor of that shopping bonanza known as Black Friday.

ALL of my books will be on sale from Friday the 27th until Monday the 30th. The best prices will be over the weekend, but you’ll still get around 10% off if you wait until you’re back at your desk on Monday morning.

Since you won’t have any lines to worry about, go ahead, take advantage of 80% off all the novels, starting this Friday. Bookmark this page and fill that gift tablet with a free Kindle app.

PS: you can get a free copy of my short story collection, Coloured and other Stories any day of the year.