Qatar: LNG and political lobbying

The state of Qatar is in the headlines again this year. It is not the global promotion of extremist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood or relations with the Taliban that play a role, but liquid gas and the FIFA World Cup in winter. Homosexual couples from Europe are denied hotel bookings for the 2022 sporting event, a politician from Austria travels to Qatar and praises the achievements there.

While the Russian invasion of Ukraine is highlighting European states’ dependence on Siberian gas and oil and making new energy alliances between Europe and the Persian Gulf more likely, the autocratic rulers in Doha are also seeing this as an opportunity to improve their tarnished reputation. On the one hand, European governments seem to need the liquefied gas produced by Qatar to sustainably reduce their dependence on Russian energy sources; on the other hand, Doha sees it as a unique opportunity to use this lever for PR purposes.

Gay tourists not welcome in Qatar

As research by European journalists shows: homosexual guests are not welcome in some of the official hotels for the FIFA World Cup, which starts on November 21 this year.

Two journalists posed as a newly married gay couple who wanted to spend their honeymoon in Qatar. They asked several FIFA World Cup accommodations for a room. 56 of the 69 hotels recommended by FIFA responded.

Three of them said quite openly that the gay couple could not book a room in their hotels. These are said to be the “Torch Doha”, the “Magnum Hotel & Suites Westbay” and the “Wyndham Grand Regencey”. “Thank you for your question, but according to our hotel policy we cannot accommodate you,” was one of the responses to the request. Another justification: “As a matter of principle, we do not accept homosexual couples.”

Homosexuality is officially forbidden in Qatar and can be punished with up to seven years in prison. Islamic law even allows flogging and the death penalty.

Viennese SPÖ politicians on a business trip to Qatar

The visit of an Austrian politician to the desert state of Qatar also raises a number of questions: Omar al-Rawi, member of the Viennese state parliament, traveled to the country on the Persian Gulf for a stay of several days. According to research by “MENA Research Center”, the social democrat, who is a member of the committees for international affairs and innovation and mobility in the Vienna state parliament, has applied for a business trip to take part in an interreligious conference in Qatar, which has also been approved by the administration. Although the press spokeswoman for the SPÖ parliamentary group was unable to provide any background information on the MP’s trip at the time of releasing this article, there seems to be rumbling in the party. “We are not happy about this trip to a country that openly supports Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood,” a party colleague told MENA Research Center. It is also questionable who paid for the MP’s trip: the state parliament of Vienna, the social democratic party SPÖ or the state of Qatar.

So far there has been no public press release or statement by al-Rawi about his obviously approved participation in the “14th Doha Conference on Interfaith Dialogue”, which this year dealt in particular with the question of “hate speech”. For example, the head of the Islamic Faith Community in Austria (IGGÖ), Ümit Vural, appeared on the main panel entitled “Control and Abuse of Freedom of Speech” together with Damir Mukhetdinov, the Vice-President of the Islamic Faith Community in Russia; like the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Mukhetdinov is a fervent supporter of imperialist Kremlin policies and the suppression of freedom of expression in Russia.

Al-Rawi and Vural make no mention of their joint attendance at the Doha conference, despite a host of other events they attended together. The presence of another protagonist of the Muslim community in Austria is being ignored, at least by the IGGÖ President: Tarafa Baghajati. But more on that later!

Ambassadors of Football

Rather, the Austrian politician al-Rawi showed himself to be an admirer of ball sports in Qatar and was enthusiastic about the technology and sustainability of the FIFA stadiums on the Persian Gulf.

On his Facebook page, reserved for the Arab community, al-Rawi is silent on the inhuman working conditions repeatedly brought up by international critics during the construction of the stadiums, while he only briefly mentions on his German-language profile in a subordinate clause that he will also visit the workers’ quarters.

The Viennese MP was accompanied on his visits to the stadium by two people who also come from Vienna: on the one hand there is Tarafa Baghajati, a close comrade-in-arms of al-Rawi for years, and Siham Al-Awami, a Qatar-born businesswoman from Vienna, doing public relations work for her home country for a long time.

Al-Rawi (2.v.li.), Baghajati (2.v.re), Al-Awami (re.)

Tarafa Baghajati also attended the Qatar ruling family conference earlier this week in Doha. Together with his wife Carla Siebrasse (now Carla Amina Baghajati) and Omar Al-Rawi, he founded the “Initiative of Muslim Austrians” in 1999, which repeatedly got the reputation of being a front organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is classified as extremist.

Ms. Baghajati, spokeswoman and the female face of the IGGÖ for years, has also been cooperating with Al-Rawi for a long time, when he served as the religious community’s integration officer between 1999 and 2011. During this time in particular, they were repeatedly accused of being close to the Muslim Brotherhood. A key trigger was their unified support for the then Imam of the IGGÖ Shura Mosque, Sheikh Adnan Ibrahim. Among other things, the imam explained that Muslim men should not marry Christian women, as this would “bring foreign blood into our descendants”, “a social crime”. He also praised martyrdom and called those states that are not under Islamic rule „dar al-harb“, i.e. “land of war”. In his sermon “Jihad Philosophy and Martyrdom” he called on Muslims to be “willing to make sacrifices to be and become martyrs for Palestine and Iraq.” “There is no other way for us than jihad”. Such an appeal corresponds almost exactly to the well-known calls of the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief ideologue and Qatar-funded Yusuf al-Qaradawi. A quote published by the Austrian weekly magazine “Profil” reads: “We wish us death, martyrdom in the cause of Allah in Palestine and Iraq. One hour in a theater of war engaged in jihad in the cause of Allah counts for more than 70 years of a pious, religious life”.

The question now remains as to why Al-Rawi, Baghajati and Vural – otherwise always willing to share their political or community-related appearances – have avoided making public their joint participation in a conference of the Qatari ruling family.

And the SPÖ Vienna, the state parliament and municipal council of the Austrian capital have to put up with the question of why they approved a business trip for al-Rawi, which did the reputation of Qatar in Austria and the Muslim communities in the Alpine state a service, but could otherwise call the „City Audit Office“ on the plan: As is well known, Austria did not qualify for the FIFA World Cup!

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