Why are rights organisations silent about plight of Egyptian labourers in Qatar?

The two organisations’ perceived bias for Qatar was reinforced by their relationships with figures linked to the Qatari government and Doha-backed Muslim Brotherhood.
Sunday 03/11/2019
Wherever you turn your eye. Images of the Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani hang on towers in Doha.(AP)
Wherever you turn your eye. Images of the Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani hang on towers in Doha.(AP)

The plight of Egyptian labourers in Qatar gained renewed attention after a prominent Egyptian businessman said he has been working with Egyptian NGOs to secure the release of two Egyptian engineers detained in Qatar.

Egyptian businessman Ahmed Abou Hashima said in a televised interview that engineers Ali Salem and Waleed Abdel Aziz, employed by the Qatari sports media outlet BeIN, were arrested in November 2018 on espionage charges. They were held in detention without access to a lawyer for eight months before being given a politicised trial, Abou Hashima alleged.

Abou Hashima said the men had conducted a study for him and Saudi investors on how to establish a sports channel to compete with BeIN, making espionage charges against them illogical because BeIN is not a sovereign or state-owned network.

The case is hardly unique. Other Egyptian workers are believed to have been jailed for political reasons. Nabil Mostafa, a former manager at Tawseel, which distributes Qatar’s Al Sharq newspaper, was fired from his job and blacklisted from the market for his alleged support for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and an old social media post criticising the Qatari emir. Without a job, Mostafa was unable to pay on loans to a Qatari bank, which eventually landed him in jail.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said there were 80-90 Egyptians jailed in Qatar in 2016 but Tamer Mabrouk, an Egyptian blogger who was imprisoned in Qatar at the time, said the number was higher. In his jail alone, he said, there were some 170 Egyptians being held, an indication that some of them could be subject to extrajudicial detention.

Mabrouk, who was arrested for fleeing his sponsor, after his visa and job contract were manipulated, said he and many other Egyptians were subjected to poor treatment while in detention.

“Despite the fact that the manipulation was revealed by international labour and Qatari human rights organisations, (I was subjected to) poor living conditions, limited phone access to my family and irregular visits from my lawyer, which many Egyptians endure in Qatari prisons,” he said. “Besides, threats from sovereign bodies were used to force me to give up my financial dues.”

Allegations such as Abou Hashima’s and Mabrouk’s against the Qatari government and judiciary have gone largely unaddressed by prominent human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), which frequently criticise Egypt for similar alleged human rights violations.

An Amnesty International spokesman said it had “only been approached about Ali Salem for the first time this month” and that the group would “be following up and attempting to verify the details of the case.”

Asked why the organisation is more vocal about cases alleging forced disappearances and other rights violations in Egypt, the spokesman said their reports on any individual cases throughout the world are based on testimonies and evidence they receive and can reliably and credibly check.

However, many individual cases that Amnesty and other organisations considered forced disappearances were cases in which the person secretly joined a terrorist organisation. That includes Omar al-Deeb who had been reported to be forcibly disappeared since 2016 and then he was shown in a video broadcast by a terror group in 2018.

HRW did not respond to repeated inquiries about the Egyptian workers’ arrests.

The organisations’ reactions did little to assure a family member of a detained Egyptian worker who said they seem to be biased in favour of Qatar.

“If HRW and Amnesty weren’t approached by certain cases as they claim, why didn’t they talk about the politicised trials against Egyptians in Qatar generally as a phenomenon as they are doing with the claimed cases of enforced disappearance in Egypt,” asked a relative of one of the Egyptian detainees who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Some families of the Egyptian detainees in Qatar tried to contact HRW but in vain. We believe that it is politicised against Egypt, biased towards Qatar and only focusing on human rights violations with political backgrounds for political reasons.”

The two organisations’ perceived bias for Qatar was reinforced by their relationships with figures linked to the Qatari government and Doha-backed Muslim Brotherhood.

Amnesty International’s former human rights director, Yasmin Hussein, is married to Wael Mussabeh, who worked at a charity affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood’s global network that is suspected of having ties with Hamas, a Times of London report stated. Some Egyptian activists say Hussein worked to create a pro-Brotherhood lobby at Amnesty International, but Amnesty maintains there is no evidence that Hussein supported the Brotherhood.

Many Egyptians were upset by the appearance of Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director, in a televised interview in July alongside exiled Egyptian Mohamed Nasser, who was convicted in absentia in 2015 of inciting violence against Egyptian police.

Nasser, who lives in Turkey, was recorded in January 2015 saying: “Kill the officers. I want to tell their wives that your husbands will be killed.”

HRW is also accused of maintaining strong ties with institutions supported by the Qatari government, despite its insistence on eschewing “government and corporate ties.”

The organisation’s critics point out also that one of HRW’s main funding sources comes from the Open Society Foundation, owned by Hungarian-US business tycoon George Soros, who is believed to be meeting the Qatari interests in the “Arab spring” upheaval and its objectives, which have included the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar Assad.