This week—and, indeed, until December 18—much of the world’s attention will be focused on Qatar, where the quadrennial soccer World Cup is taking place. For the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the games this year have taken on special significance, as Ben Cohen explains:
Iran’s World Cup appearances are invariably an opportunity for Iranians living outside their homeland to express their patriotism while loudly opposing the ayatollahs. . . . Speaking to the players as they were paraded in front of him before departing for Qatar, the Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi told them, “Some don’t want to see the success and victory of Iranian youth and wish to disturb your focus. Be very vigilant on this.” As much as that might sound like advice, it is in fact a threat—and given that the regime has murdered nearly 400 people and arrested more than 15,000 since the protests began in September, it is a threat that should be taken seriously.
The regime is taking all the measures it can to ensure that mass sessions of soccer watching don’t become the occasion for additional protests. To that end, it can count on its allies in Qatar, an obscenely wealthy Gulf emirate that thumbed its nose at the Abraham Accords with Israel some of its neighbors signed up to, and which continues to back the Hamas terrorist organization in Gaza. At the end of last week, the Qataris announced that they had revoked the World Cup credentials of Iran International (IITV), an anti-regime broadcaster based in London with a solid following in Iran despite the regime’s various censorship mechanisms.
Those who tune into the games should at least be aware of the context in which they take place. Over 6,000 migrant workers have lost their lives in unsafe, unsanitary conditions to build the air-conditioned stadiums where the matches will be hosted. More than 90 percent of the population, consisting exclusively of foreigners, lives under a form of apartheid, to the point that they are banned from entering the [upscale] malls where Qatari citizens purchase luxury goods and eat at Western food outlets. Women are second-class citizens while homosexuality is the subject of medieval repression, with gay men who are also Muslim facing the death penalty if they are apprehended.
Moreover, Doha appears to have reneged on promises to allow public Jewish prayer, and the preparation of kosher food, while the games are going on.