Lord Foster, the distinguished British architect, was warned by campaigners this week that he must avoid being complicit in the horrific human rights abuses going on in Qatar, where his firm is designing the 80,000-seat stadium that will host the 2022 World Cup final.
We are going to hear many more such stories in the coming years. Qatar is a most unlikely host of the tournament, and the shameful behaviour of Fifa in awarding it to that country was a betrayal of the beautiful game. Yet the other reason such stories will soon become familiar is that the pattern of human rights abuse and exploitation of workers – migrants in particular – is repeated in many other parts of the Arab world. Dubai’s disgraceful record in this regard is well-documented. Less well known is that of Abu Dhabi.
The oil-soaked capital of the United Arab Emirates may be known to most British citizens only through its ownership of Manchester City. It now hosts a grand prix, and is being turned into an extraordinary cultural hub, featuring a new Louvre, Guggenheim, and New York University. The idea is to create an intellectual and artistic powerhouse for the Middle East. Fine in principle – but the record in practice is appalling. Workers’ conditions in Abu Dhabi vary from the disgraceful to the disgusting, with widespread reports of – in effect – slavery that shame the ruling clan.
Arab investment in Western cities, London chief among them, is welcome if it boosts economic growth and keeps our economy open. But it will very swiftly lose the support of the British public if it is seen to emanate from a region that doesn’t uphold standards of decency and law that the British public have rightly come to expect.
Over the past decade, and particularly the past few years, Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other locations in the region have been extremely busy creating and consolidating ties with the West. If they want to maintain good relations, they had better rethink their attitude to employment, whether it be for the benefit of football, high art or anything else. Otherwise they might find that the open door they see in the West quickly turns into a locked one.Reuse content