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Qatar, a fragmented society in a young country

It is on the twelfth and last floor of a huge cubic tower, headquarters of the Qatar Foundation, that Machaille Al-Naimi receives. On the terrace of the white building, the stifling autumnal heat does not allow you to enjoy the view for long in the open air of the center of Doha, about ten kilometers away, and of Education City, an ultramodern university campus of 12 square kilometers. On the horizon looms one of the eight stadiums devoted to the World Cup, the kick-off of which will be given on November 20.

The lawyer specializing in business law, dressed in a navy blue abaya, Apple Watch on her wrist, embodies the quest for excellence promoted by the Qatari authorities: trained in the United Kingdom, at the Sorbonne and in New York, she directs the strategic initiatives of the powerful institution created to promote national and international educational programs.

“Building a Nation”

While his fellow citizens are reluctant to express themselves publicly, Machaille Al-Naimi handles a sharp and resolutely optimistic discourse on the condition of Qatari women: they study longer and longer, are more qualified than men and aspire to more responsibilities. professionals. However, they remain subject to the male guardianship of a father, a brother, a husband, and victims of a thick glass ceiling when it comes to accessing key positions.

“I had the impression of having benefited from positive discrimination. There is momentum to push women into the world of workI. Ltheir desire to work is not motivated by gender, but by the desire to build a nation », Machaille Al-Naimi, who also defines herself as a “active mother” sharing tasks with ” his partner “.

If Qatar, under fire from critics, is waging a fierce image battle as the World Cup approaches, the dynamic of women’s emancipation has been at work for several years in this confetti country where they enjoy the right to vote since 1999 and drive their cars. Saudi Arabia, its powerful neighbor, cannot say the same…

Sheikha Moza, mother of the current Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and second wife of the previous one, Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, played a leading role in the advancement of women, with the creation of the Qatar Foundation in 1995. to find themselves the butt of conservatives, especially from the great tribes of the emirate and shaken by the rapid changes of the past twenty years.

“It is a tribal country and there are brakes like everywhereconcedes Machaille Al-Naimi. But once the population is educated, changes are possible. I grew up like this and that’s what I pass on to my son. »

“Why would I need a man’s signature?” »

A few floors below, a stone’s throw from the immense National Library, Janna (1) would like not to have to wait a whole generation to see the condition of Qatari women evolve more frankly. ” It is unfair ! I feel like I’m being kept underage! Why would I need the signature of my father or later a husband? He doesn’t need mine! », fumes the student, forced to present a “letter of no objection” to hope to travel or find a job, even though the Constitution provides “equal opportunities for all citizens”.

Despite the beginnings of social liberalization – the age of marriage is falling and the divorce rate is increasing – the pattern remains deeply patriarchal. “It’s a shame that women still need permission from mendeplores Omar (1), a young Qatari who works in the administration, but things are changing. The problems remain especially in the most conservative families,” he says at the table of a typical restaurant on the Corniche, Doha’s emblematic waterfront, facing the skyline of the West Bay business district.

Behind him, on this Friday, a large table has lunch with the family, under a large television screen tuned to football. The men wear a traditional “thawb” – a long, immaculate tunic – and a “ghutra” – a scarf folded in half, wrapped in a black cord. The daughters and brides are in black abaya, with a luxury bag as the only visible sign of fantasy. They share coca-cola and majboos, national dish made of cooked meat with rice and tomato sauce.

A multicultural country, but two hermetic worlds

At the service, men and women, exclusively Asian and African. Exchanges are reduced to a minimum, and deference is total, a symptom of the other great fracture that affects society in Qatar: that which separates the 330,000 nationals from immigrant workers. Coming from a hundred nationalities, they represent 90% of society, i.e. more than 2 million people, and are present in all trades, from construction to the medical sector, including domestic work and services. Despite several major reforms undertaken, they still endure persistent problems of labor exploitation. The “kafala”, this guardianship which subjects the employee to the boss, has been officially abolished but there are still traces of it.

The imbalance dates back to independence in 1971, when the emirate granted work permits with a vengeance to Indians and Pakistanis to support the modernization and urbanization of the very young state. The trend has continued exponentially in recent years, with the frenzy of construction and investment, and the massive influx of workers from Asia and Africa.

A multicultural country, but two hermetic worlds. “The Qataris have no contact with immigrant workers, note Anie Montigny, ethnologist, lecturer at the National Museum of Natural History. Workers and migrants are relegated to the periphery and the slightest deviation by a migrant is sanctioned. » This specialist in Qatari society refers to the labor camps located outside the capital, such as Asian City. Living conditions there are minimal or even totally indecent, according to testimonies collected by international NGOs.

A dominant and socially superior minority

This logic of spatial exclusion is almost official. In 2015, the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning published a series of interactive maps on its website, highlighting neighborhoods where immigrant accommodation is prohibited.. “A large part of Doha is referenced as reserved for ‘family residential areas’, de facto excluding any settlement intended for immigrant workers”notes researcher Jonathan Piron (2).

Among the unspoken reasons for this segregation is the fact that foreigners, overwhelmingly single, are seen as a threat by Qatari men and women. Qataris are raised in the awareness of being a minority with the risks that entails. Another consciousness is grafted on top, cleverly reminded by the administrative and political authorities: that they are a dominant minority. Whatever their position in work, in their relationship with the other foreigner: they are socially superior. adds Anie Montigny.

For Jonathan Piron, this malaise is also due to the absence of political life, which results in a loss of bearings. “Qatarians have the feeling, with these large influxes of migrants and Westernization, that the country evolves without them, insofar as they have no voice in the matter. Despite the organized elections, decisions remain the responsibility of the power in place, and therefore of the emir, analyzes the researcher. The society, closed from a democratic point of view, is never consulted and undergoes a form of stratification where everyone wonders about his place. » Still far, therefore, from the construction of a nation.


An emirate made up of 90% foreigners

Qataris ruledby Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, 42 years old, since June 2013. He is the fourth emir since the country’s independence in 1971.

The country had 2,985,029 inhabitants as of September 30, 2022, according to official statistics, including around 330,000 nationals, the equivalent of a city like Montpellier.

foreign workers are mainly from Southeast Asia (India, Nepal, Philippines, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) and Africa (Kenya, Somalia).

Given the overwhelming proportion of immigrant workers, the country has 75% men and 25% women.

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