Time to Quit Qatar

Time to Quit Qatar

By:
02/09/2018

2018 marks the 13th  anniversary of the opening of Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q). Georgetown’s satellite campus in Doha is a joint partnership between the university and the Qatar Foundation. Although the Qatar Foundation bills itself as a private non-profit, Qatar’s ruling House of Thani holds three of its key leadership positions, and the U.S. Department of State describes it as a “quasi-governmental organization.”

This editorial board urges Georgetown to end its relationship with the Qatar Foundation and move to close GU-Q. By partnering with the Qatar Foundation, Georgetown is tacitly endorsing the government of Qatar and its policies, many of which are antithetical to Georgetown’s mission as a Jesuit institution.

Qatari law limits the human rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community. Qatari women must obtain government permission to marry a foreign national, and cannot transfer Qatari citizenship to their children. Any man convicted of having same-sex relations may be sentenced to a seven-year prison term. All of these policies run counter to Georgetown’s Jesuit commitment to community in diversity.

Most appalling, however, is Qatar’s kafala labor system. Under kafala, migrant workers who come to Qatar, often from impoverished states like Nepal and Bangladesh, are locked into one job and forbidden to unionize. Kafala also prohibits migrants from leaving Qatar without employer permission, and even allows employers to confiscate workers’ passports in some cases. If a migrant worker tries to leave an abusive job, they will face legal prosecution, and Qatar often forbids workers from returning to their home countries, even during emergencies.

In 2022, Qatar hopes to showcase itself on the international stage as the host of the FIFA World Cup. The associated need for gigantic soccer stadiums has caused migrant worker abuses under the kafala system to skyrocket. Human Rights Watch alleges that hundreds of migrant workers die every year as they are forced to work in extreme heat to prepare Qatar for the soccer tournament.

Because of the high-profile nature of the World Cup, Qatar has drawn increased international criticism over the kafala system. In October 2017, Qatar made a show of committing to new domestic labor reforms. This editorial board views these reform pledges as ineffectual at best and insincere at worst. Workers are still not allowed to leave the country if they have outstanding debts, which are common because of predatory labor placement organizations, the high cost of living in Qatar, and regular wage theft.

Migrant workers make up 90 percent of Qatar’s population. It is not an exaggeration to say that Qatar’s international aspirations would not be possible without widespread human suffering and the systemic denial of human rights to workers. To be a migrant worker in Qatar is to experience modern slavery, first-hand. By partnering with the Qatari government, Georgetown is complicit in these crimes.

Georgetown has taken many steps to make itself a more inclusive university in the 21st  century. In 2008, Georgetown was the first Jesuit university to open an LGBTQ Resource Center on campus, and in 2015, Georgetown began to publicly reckon with its own involvement in the institution of slavery in the United States. To continue to partner with a country which systematically discriminates against citizens because of their gender and sexual orientation, and which routinely denies migrant workers their most basic human rights, tarnishes Georgetown’s reputation and taints its mission.

It is time to quit Qatar. To be sure, the divorce will be painful, and the university may suffer financially as a result. But this editorial board believes that Georgetown should be willing to accept any such costs. The integrity of our school is at stake.  

Update: In 2017, President DeGioia and the Qatar Foundation established the Qatar Foundation-Georgetown University Joint Task Force on Worker Welfare to identify practices and policies to enhance migrant worker welfare at GU-Q.

This information was disclosed to the Voice on Feb. 13.

The text of the editorial remains unchanged.

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