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Thu 19 Jun 2014 09:29 AM

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Regional rifts a threat to peace in Qatar: report

Mounting political isolation, foreign labour concerns, put Qatar on list of countries most likely to see peace deteriorate

Regional rifts a threat to peace in Qatar: report
Qatar flag

Qatar is among the 10 countries most likely to experience a deterioration of peace in the next two years, according to an annual global analysis.

Qatar’s recent rifts with its Gulf neighbours, as well as Egypt, and worsening censorship and foreign labour concerns risk peaceful development in the country, which has ranked the highest of all GCC states on the Global Peace Index (GPI) since 2009, a report by the Institute for Economics and Peace released this week says.

High incomes and social development, as well as the rare orderly transition from Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, as Emir in June 2013, have helped quell discontent in the country.

However, the report says while Qatar has helped pro-democracy movements in the Middle East and North Africa there is evidence to suggest authorities do not tolerate such unrest at home.

The country’s involvement in neighbouring disputes, particularly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, also has alienated its Gulf neighbours.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha in March, claiming Qatar was interfering in their internal state affairs. Those countries also called on Qatar to overturn its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“However, Qatar continues to court Islamist groups, and its powerful media arm, the state-owned Al Jazeera TV, continues to place internal conflicts in neighbouring countries under the spotlight,” the report says.

“[The removal of the ambassadors] has led Qatar to a point of isolation in a region torn by rivalries.

“Difficulty in developing peaceful relations with regional powers is among the greatest threats facing the country at present.

“Although an armed conflict with fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and Egypt is a distant scenario, a prolonged stand-off with the former could undermine Qatar’s efforts to become a regional financial and business hub.”

However, the report noted, the tensions so far have not affected Qatar’s business relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, on whom it relies for much of its construction material needed for its enormous infrastructure program, particularly as it prepares to host the football World Cup in 2022.

The country’s peaceful ranking also is affected by limited freedom of expression and concerns over foreign labour rights.

Qatar ranked 138 out of 167 countries on the 2012 Democracy Index. The authoritarian regime does not tolerate criticism of authorities, while a conservative political system protests vested interests of a few powerful Qatari families.

A law creating an Advisory Council with two-thirds of members to be elected was passed in 2008 but has never been implemented, with the council still fully appointed.

International human rights groups also recently have upped their criticism of Qatar’s treatment of foreign workers, particularly the country’s sponsorship system that effectively ties a worker to their employer with no freedom to leave the country without permission.

“The government plans to amend parts of its Labour Law, but the nascent state of the judicial system will prove problematic for foreign workers seeking to hold their employers to account,” the report says.

“An abundance of cheap labour in developing countries means that the Qatari government can easily replace domestic foreign labour, should labourers protest their working conditions in public.”

Qatar spent $6.1bn, or 3.1 percent of gross domestic product, preventing and dealing with violence last year, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace.

It ranked 22nd on the Global Peace Index, out of 167 countries.

Kuwait (37) is considered the second most peaceful of the GCC states, followed by the UAE (40), Oman (59), Saudi Arabia (80) and Bahrain (111).

The economic impact of violence last year was felt the most in Oman, which spent 13.8 percent of its gross domestic product on preventing and dealing with violence.

The other nine countries listed as being most likely to deteriorate in peace in the next two years are Zambia, Haiti, Argentina, Chad, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nepal, Burundi, Georgia and Liberia.