As the FIFA president Sepp Blatter publicly recognized last week that organizing the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 was a mistake, one of the most controversial Cup ever planned still raises questions. How to deal with the summer heat? What to do with the hundreds of migrant workers reduced to slavery? Is Qatar ready to welcome the biggest international sport event? For Gabriel Malika, author of the novel Qatarina, the answer is clear: no.
A keen eye, a frank and rapid talk going straight to the point, this French ex-advertiser executive doesn’t beat around the bush. After a first novel getting a straightforward snapshot of Dubai where he spent the past nine years, Gabriel Malika now decided to tackle Qatar and the huge debate raised by its successful bid to 2022 World Cup.
“I have been working in Dubai for nine years, and the last two years I spent all my time doing back and forth between Dubai and Doha. When I heard about the FIFA’s decision to choose the Qatar as the 2022 World Cup hosting country, I just couldn’t believe it!” he exclaims. “This was how Qatarina started. I wanted to explain to the ones who don’t know yet about Qatar what is the real issue of such an event.”
Released last January, the polemic novel Qatarina tells the imaginary tale of a little Islamic conservative emirate, Qarabie, huddled up on itself between the desert and the sea, sitting on a source of row materials, and about to welcome a major global event: the world cup of holeball. Of course, as Malika mischievously specifies it at the beginning of his novel, “any resemblance to existing persons and places is purely coincidental”. Or not.
“The novel is following the model of the fable, telling truths via backdoors,” explains the author. “Not everything is true in it. Some details are speculations from my imagination, picked from associations of ideas. I have always thought that stories are far more efficient to teach something, to deliver a message, rather than essays, because they touch the imaginative part of each of us. In this novel, I’m trying to imagine what could be a World Cup in Qatar, when we know how Qatar works and how the previous world cups went. And the result is a catastrophe!”
“Qatar is not ready to deal with crowd, sex, alcohol and everything coming with any World Cup organized i the world”
The whole story is seen through the eyes of an American professor expatriated in Qarabie, passionate by the glorious history of Islam but a little lost and uncomfortable with the norms of a society that is complete foreign to him. Through a budding romance with the ambassador for Ministery of Tourism, the beautiful and mysterious Qatarina, he will be plunged into the heart of the world cup issues and of a political conspiracy. One by one, Gabriel Malika examines and put forward very different aspects of the political, social and economical system that characterize the Qatar today, its biggest issues and also its worse contradictions: the living conditions of migrant workers, the freedom of speech, the segregation between men and women, the contradiction between modernity and traditions…
“The Qatar is a micro country wanting to play with the big boys. It wants to be recognized on the international scene as a modern state welcoming global events and playing international roles, but it still refuses to accept everything that is coming with it. We saw how went the last world cups. Sex, prostitution, drug, alcohol, crowd. It is part of the package, and the Qatar actually is not ready for that. Despite the image of a modern state that they try to spread in the media, with the Sheikha Moza wearing trousers and defending women’s rights, they still remain very conservative. I don’t doubt that some elites are trying to push Qatar on the way to modernity, but they are most of the time limited by the pressure of Islamic conservative powers. Alcohol and prostitution are strongly prohibited, men and women in the society are strictly separated, they can’t even touch each other.
This reality leads actually to a funny scene in the novel, where policemen are trying to calm down female supporters who are swimming in a public fountain but without having the right to touch them, and seem completely overpassed by the situation, incapable to control it. This surrealist scene tells exactly the problem of this world cup. Qatar’s structures and moral norms are simply not prepared to face this kind of little incidents, and it may lead to tragedies as at the end of the novel.”
In reality, the choice of the FIFA has been toughly debated among professionals of football, but most analysts were raising as the main reason the Qatari meteo. With heats peaking at 50 degrees in summer, staying outside more than fifteen minutes is a torture. For Gabriel Malika, this reason is a pretext to hide the real reasons and the real issues of this nomination. “The climate is an issue, but it is far from being the major one.” Another problem giving Qatar a poor image in the media and making Western countries quite uncomfortable is the question of migrant workers. The number of investigations and reports denouncing the living and working conditions of migrant workers coming from South Asia, sometimes close to slavery, has been increasing recently.
“There are many issues Qatar will have to deal with in the next few years. It would not be impossible as soon as the government would make the reforms that need to be. But for the moment, it seems that they are not making these reforms, they are getting even more conservative.”
Qatar has still eight years to prove itself. If the fiction comes true? The future will tell.