Msheireb Laid Bare:
This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now. I hesitated each time because I guess I was scared. Scared of the aftermath of simply mentioning a very influential member of the royal family.
So, what’s changed? Definitely not the fear - that’s a constant.
I suppose I’m just frustrated, more than usual, at how the very people with the responsibility to look after our welfare are complicit in our misfortune, AND how they manage to get away with it every time, all while being celebrated members of society.
And so, this individual looming over Z’s story needs no introduction, but still, allow me: She is this bold, articulate, outspoken woman, respected internationally for her humanitarian efforts, and credited locally for some key reforms and initiatives involving education, women’s empowerment, public health, etc.
What drew me to her in the first place some years ago, or the idea of her, was her advocacy for the education of underprivileged, vulnerable, marginalised children and young adults in conflict and poverty-stricken regions worldwide. This is someone I look(ed) up to.
She also happens to be the co-founder & chairperson of Qatar Foundation, an organisation dedicated to “unlocking human potential”, whose welfare standards for migrant workers are nothing short of a benchmark in the region. (I’ll be mentioning these Standards a lot)
If you hadn’t already figured it out by now, the individual in question is none other than Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, aptly known to us (migrant workers) as ‘The Queen’. So, what’s the connection between her and Msheireb Downtown Doha? Well, apart from being on the Board of Directors (she chairs that as well), she has an office there which she visits regularly, like clockwork. Plus, she stops by in some of the numerous cafes and restaurants within the property once in a while.
Now, Qatar Foundation (QF), like I mentioned before, has these Standards for migrant worker’s welfare which were designed to apply to QF contractors and sub-contractors. Standards which guarantee quality of life and decency for migrant workers. You would think that the same standards would be applicable - as intended - to all QF subsidiaries/entities, the culprit in question being one Msheireb Properties (MP).
See the thing is, not only is Msheireb Properties a QF entity, which means the Standards are applicable here, but also, it just so happens that MP was a part of the committee that developed these same Standards. This Working Committee was formed under the directive of Eng. Saad Al Muhannadi, an instrumental figure in the development of these Standards, who is also on the Board of both QF and MP.
Back to Her Highness. You would also think that as the head of QF, the Workers’ Welfare Standards would permeate wherever she sets foot; that just by the virtue of her presence within the property, conditions for migrant workers would automatically improve. Like, that was a no-brainer. In my (naïve) mind, this was someone who inhaled and exhaled QF’s core values. Someone who wielded the power and influence to make a difference for us with just one word.
Imagine my surprise when she showed up for the first time, sometime around the peak of summer, July 2nd to be precise, and security guards were told to stand outside in the sweltering heat for the duration of her visit. In fact, they had already been posted outside since 7:00am in preparation for her arrival. The whole thing took like 5 hours and they took no breaks! None. Even when she arrived and went into her office, you would think that the guards would be released until the time came for her to leave. But no, the guards bore the unnatural heat and humidity, the ensuing perspiration, and the discomfort for the whole 5 hours! As if that wasn’t enough, when she left, the guards went back to their normal duties, running back and forth outdoors, as if they didn’t just go through five hours of inhumanity.
We were graced with her presence for the rest of the summer, which saw the guards work outdoors for hours on end, in clear violation of the summer working hours set by the government (at the time, this was 11:30am - 3:00pm, from June 15th to August 31st ). When that prohibition period ended, the conditions outside didn’t. Obviously.
It was still unbearably hot and humid, BUT now, it was no longer against the law to have people work outside. So, there were no legal grounds to challenge it, only moral. Which is a seemingly foreign concept to ADLSA, MOI (Ministry of Interior), MP & QF - all of whom I wrote to during all this. I also mentioned this to the ILO Office in Qatar, who surprisingly never responded.
Her personal security team, by the way, were never outside for nowhere close to that long. The only time they were exposed to the elements was when they escorted her from the maroon Bentley limousine, to the refuge of the air-conditioned building, and back. Cumulatively, no more than 3 minutes.
I also remember around that time, Doha News carried the story of Aspire security guards who were made to stand outside under the trees during summer, as if the shade offered permanent refuge from the heat and humidity. Similar to ours in almost every way. Only difference was in this case, there was a video to back it up. This kind of thing is actually really widespread around Qatar, and some people remain ignorant, even going so far as to boldly deny it, which is akin to an insult.
Enough of that detour.
Okay, so we know she was visually aware of the guards who were made to stand outdoors in the unbearable heat and humidity, well within the ADLSA summer ban. She saw them as she was driven up to the building, as she walked to her office and later, back to her vehicle. Can’t claim deniability for that atrocity.
I can also confirm that she used to visit Msheireb before the lockdown, and at the time, we were crammed six of us into a tiny room in a labour camp somewhere within the Industrial Area. Said room was characterized by bunk beds, mould, and bedbugs, and the labour camp by appalling food and insufficient amenities. Eight toilets for seventy-two of us on each floor. Similar ratio with the shower cubicles. No hot water during the winter…
Yes, she has a lot of responsibilities, and she personally may not be responsible for workers’ welfare and all that, but, how did these conditions exist right under her nose? It makes no sense. Like, aren’t there people who answer to her, people whose responsibility it is to uphold the Welfare Standards? As a leader, she is responsible for these people, and the fact that all these abuses and exploitation happened under her watch is baffling, and disheartening. Not only that, these conditions persisted even after I had reported them to the proper MP & QF channels. I’ve been doing this since December 2019.
Nothing has changed since then, save for the halved room occupancy. For that we have Migrant-Rights.org and Twitter to thank.
Oh, wait… the only other thing that has changed is the new uniform with the Msheireb logo virtually everywhere, which gives people the false impression that we are valued employees of the project. Which is a rather creative PR/Marketing strategy if we’re being honest. We now even have Msheireb branded face masks, which will go a long way to help us avoid Covid in our crowded labour camp. Wow, so thoughtful of them.
She still comes to Msheireb regularly. Guards still stand for extended periods of time without proper breaks. We still live in the same Industrial Area labour camp. Same appalling food quality. Same long and uncomfortable commute to work. Still no hot water, especially with the winter as spiteful as it is. As if that’s not enough, with four off days a month, we still (at the time of writing) earn QR.1250 for 12 hours of laborious work, an amount below the government-set minimum wage.
It’s March already, and an overwhelming majority still haven’t been given new contracts to reflect the changes. Rumour* has it that they are going to stick to the bare minimum, QR. 1300. For comparison, security guards working at QNB already earn QR. 1,700 -1,900 for 8 hours’ work.
Again, with Msheireb Properties being one of QF entities, it’s logical to assume the QF Welfare Standards would apply to us, even as sub-contractors, but what we’re seeing is, apart from NGOs and a few actual human beings on Twitter and Instagram, those who are responsible for our welfare remain indifferent to our plight.
Surely, the head of QF (or her underlings), would see to it that employee welfare was upheld within the prestigious property whose Board she chairs, where one of her offices is situated, and where she frequents socially. What does that say about her? Is all the generosity, benevolence, progressiveness, and advocacy credited to her all just a façade?
What does that say about Qatar Foundation, an institution I’ve written to numerous times, an institution riddled by doublespeak, inaction and bureaucracy; an institution I so strongly believed to be the representation of change?
I finally understand why ADLSA never acted on any email I sent, or any issues I reported (rather articulately might I add) regarding MP. When an entity has that many untouchables on its Board, there really isn’t much that can be done in the way of justice for the exploited.
And, as long as there are untouchables, there will always be stories like Z’s.
On a personal note, Sheikha Moza is/was a role model (the idea of her still is). She inspired me to sheepishly harbour very real dreams and ambitions of setting up an organisation to combat hunger, abject poverty, homelessness, human trafficking, etc. - all of which I have partaken of, in varying degrees.
And now, seeing first-hand how indifferent she is to the voiceless, powerless, and invisible workers right in her backyard, I’m just… gravely disappointed.
I guess it’s true what they say, “Never meet your heroes…”
*EDIT: I can now confirm the new contracts that people are signing.
QR. 1,000 basic salary. QR. 300 food allowance. Total QR. 1,300. That’s it. No other allowances. Well, it’s a perfectly legal minimum wage, but for such a ‘prestigious’ entity, with direct links to Qatari royalty, it's basically as low as they can legally go.
I did an article looking into the inadequacies of Qatar’s minimum wage, check that out here.