Thursday, May 9, 2013

Free Dorje Gurung, Boycott Qatar

I haven't written much about my time in Qatar. Our family was there for three years, ending last spring. We have since moved back to Canada. When it comes to the country and the overall experience, though there were positives, the negatives of living their ended up completely outweighing any good. I left disgusted by the culture and the country, and remain so. This is the first blog post I am making to try to start expressing the Qatar experience for me.

I wish to focus on a sad case that has hit Qatar in the past few days: The plight of Dorje Gurung. Dorje Gurung represents every expat who lives and works in Qatar. He could be ANY of us. By all accounts, he is a decent person who has been swept up in Qatari bullshit politics. I use the word bullshit because, quite frankly it is and I can't think of a more appropriate word.

Dorje Gurung is now in jail, accused of insulting Islam after a dispute with a small group of 12 year old kids at Qatar Academy. He now faces up to seven years in prison after this unpleasant and unfortunate situation which boils down to a few rotten, spoiled children's bullying.

As Doha News reports:

On Monday, April 22, Gurung said he had a sit-down chat with three 12-year-old boys who were making fun of him. Among other things, the seventh graders poked fun at his appearance, calling him “Jackie Chan,” a famous Chinese actor.
On Tuesday, April 23, the mocking again began in earnest while Gurung was in line for lunch. At first, he said the teasing was light-hearted, but then one student put his hand on Gurung’s shoulder and a finger in his nose. At this point, Gurung grew agitated and said remarks to the effect of, how would you like to be stereotyped i.e. called a terrorist?
On Wednesday, April 24, he had a meeting with school management. On Thursday, April 25, he submitted his account of what happened and was told to go home. On Sunday, April 28, he was fired.
Later that week, Gurung was jailed for his remarks. According to his friends, Gurung will remain there at least until his next court hearing, which will be held in two weeks. He still does not have a lawyer, but the Nepalese embassy previously told Doha News that it will investigate the case.
This is a disturbing case which highlights how vulnerable every expat living in the country is. And that is a large figure with well over 80 percent of the population of the country being expats, all at the mercy of any Qatari who has the desire to report you, too often out of revenge or pettiness.

Also highlighted here is the racism that exists in the country that is open, blatant and accepted. Generally speaking, if you are Asian (other than Qatari) you can expect to face racism. No one can escape this racism. This requires a whole new blog post to discuss, being both a cultural and an institutional racism unlike any I have seen in my life.

Add to this vulnerability the fact that gay men face stiff jail sentences. So, add in institutionalized homophobia on top of this and you have a culture that is dangerous and risky for many people.

Here is the problem. Because Qatar is the wealthiest country in the world, has deep pockets and is dying to get any and every major, prestigious university to set up shop in the country. Texas A and M, Carnegie Mellon, Weill Cornell and Virginia Commonwealth are a few of the schools that have been wooed to the country.

None of these Universities have any control or power, basically at the whim of the Qatar government. Yet, the big money has pushed the idea of ethics and human rights out the window. These institutions have turned a blind eye to human rights abuses that include, most predominantly in how thousands upon thousands of migrant workers are treated. They work long hours for little money often in unsafe and extremely hot environments. These people are segregated from society, are not allowed in major malls or tourists sites. They are treated worse than second class citizens, often living in horrible conditions, with next to no rights. It's a disgusting situation that is allowed to exist because of Qatar's laws which puts all power in the hands of employers, and the Qatari government. Unions are banned. And the attitude is "If you don't like it, don't come here." Millions have gone however, desperate to make money for their families back home. And Qatar has exploited this to the fullest. Every university in Qatar is in a building built by this virtual slave labour. Custodial staff and security, which are provided to schools by the Qatar Foundation, also face similar work issues, and the schools have NO control over this. So, terrible human rights violations exist within the institutions themselves.

I have painted a bleak picture of the situation in Qatar, and yet I feel as though I have barely scratched the surface. It bothers me that so many universities have bypassed ethics to establish themselves in the country. I feel that Qatar should be boycotted, and educational institutions should be reviewing their role in the country, and any new institutions planning to enter Qatar seriously reconsider. I also urge anyone considering going to work in the country to reevaluate their plans and to avoid the risks associated with working in the country.

I plan to write many more blog posts to try and fully explain the situation in the country because there is just so much that I found difficult to deal with there, that I didn't realize was going on until I spent time in the country. Now that I am out, I have the freedom to discuss these issues openly and freely. I hope to be able to do that.


  1. Qatar's faux philanthropy abroad has blinded people to the horrendous, systematic, domestic abuse of expats and migrant workers. Not to mention their religious intolerance and oppression of free speech.

    Working to recall the FIFA decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Visit for more inconvenient truths on Qatar and for a link to our petition.

    Thanks for your work.

  2. It would be informative to hear more about your experiences in Qatar.