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The World Cup: A Mixed Blessing for Qatari Soft Power

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

Review Article by James M. Dorsey

This article was published by the Middle East Journal and is freely available for limited time.

Qatar and the 2022 FIFA World Cup: Politics, Controversy, Change, by Paul Michael Brannagan and Danyel Reiche. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022. 186 pages.$49.99 cloth; $39.99 e-book.

The glass should have been more than half full rather than half empty. But, with a little help from its friends, Qatar has proven to be its own worst enemy in the court of public opinion. Qatari “soft power” setbacks loom large despite the United States’ praise for the Gulf state’s help in the bungled US withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 and its willingness to work with Europe to help the continent wean itself off Russian energy. Qatar’s ability to mitigate the impact of an almost four-year-long economic and diplomatic boycott led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia further garnered it sympathy as the underdog, especially because acceptance of the two states’ demands would have stripped it of its sovereignty.[1]

Moreover, Qatar has taken significant steps to address the concerns of human rights and labor organizations, even though it has yet to meet international standards, and enforcement problems remain. The country has liberalized its kafala labor regime, which left the foreign workers who constitute most of the population at the mercy of their employers; introduced the region’s first minimum income wage; enhanced workers’ rights; and improved working conditions.

Nevertheless, worker, gender, and human rights, together with alleged Qatari ties to Islamists and jihadists, have continued to dominate media reporting in the final stretch leading up to the 2022 World Cup in Doha. The reporting is the result of an explosive mix: legitimate concerns and demands put forward by human rights groups that see the final sprint as an opportunity to advance them; a greater willingness by Qatari and conservative Muslim athletes and sports entities to push back against liberal concerns — particularly the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other sexual communities (LGBTQ+) — laid bare by Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup; Qatar’s failure to put the horse in front of the cart in anticipating and responding to concerns such as hotel access for LGBTQ+ fans; and continued, primarily Emirati, effort to covertly muddy Qatar’s water through a well-funded media and influence campaign that sought to exacerbate the Gulf state’s dilemmas.[2]

To read further, please download the open access article at

[1] Frida Ghitis, “Qatar Has Officially Come Back in from the Cold,” World Politics Review, February 3, 2022,

[2] . David D. Kirkpatrick and Sheera Frenkel, “Hacking in Qatar Highlights a Shift toward Espionage-for-Hire,” New York Times, June 8, 2017,; Ryan Grim and Brian Walsh, “Leaked Documents Expose Stunning Plan to Wage Financial War on Qatar — and Steal the World Cup,” The Intercept, November 8, 2017,

Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar, a Senior Fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and Adjunct Senior Fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and the author of the syndicated column and blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

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