Robert Siegel On Qatar: Tiny Country, Big Influence

Robert Siegel recently returned from a reporting trip to Qatar. He joins Melissa Block to talk about some of the stories he reported while there.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

My co-host Robert Siegel has just returned from a reporting trip in the Middle East, to the nation of Qatar, and next week he'll be bringing us some stories. Robert, welcome back.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Hi, thanks, Audie. How are you?

CORNISH: So first, why Qatar?

SIEGEL: Why Qatar? You know, it's because I kept on thinking, when I would read or hear stories here about Qatar's role in Syria, Qatar's role in Egypt, Qatar's role in Libya, Qatar getting the World Cup for 2022, Qatar owning al-Jazeera, I kept on thinking why Qatar, exactly the question you posed. And so one of the questions I had was why does this little, albeit extremely rich, country, play such an outsize role in the world.

CORNISH: And you mentioned the 2022 cup, and Qatar has been in the headlines because of labor practices with guest workers who are building the venues for that. What did you uncover about that issue?

SIEGEL: Well, let me explain that Qatar is a country of about two million people, but the Qataris, the citizens, are only 260,000 of them. Everyone else is a foreign worker. And the biggest number of them are the construction workers who have been building this fabulously rich city of Doha, where most Qataris live.

They're brought in from India, from Pakistan, from Nepal, and The Guardian newspaper and Amnesty International all had very critical articles about them. In Qatar, workers are brought in, and they surrender their passports to their bosses. They couldn't leave the country if they wanted to.

I spoke to several of those workers. I also spoke to the chairman of the World Cup Committee, a fascinating guy. I want you to listen to him speaking about the practices that were disclosed in Qatar and listen to how he speaks. This is Hassan Abdulla al Thawadi.

HASSAN ABDULLA AL THAWADI: It's very, very, very important and crucial for the world to understand that the practices that have been documented, these practices are illegal under Qatari law. It's as simple as that.

SIEGEL: His aides tell me he speaks French and Spanish like a native, also.

CORNISH: Really?

SIEGEL: He's a very impressive guy, and many people would say, well, they haven't done a lot to remedy the situation. It's been documented now for quite a while. But we'll hear more about that.

CORNISH: And you were obviously out there reporting for some time. What are some other stories that we can look forward to?

SIEGEL: Other questions are about the sustainability of this place, the environmental sustainability. This is a country that imports 95 percent of its food; 98 percent of its water is desalinated. The aquifer is almost completely gone at this point. And they're actually making plans for how to grow more food in this arid nation. And I've got to hand it to them, the Qataris have very much a can-do, not just a can-pay, attitude, and they intend to make things work.

CORNISH: My co-host Robert Siegel. Robert, I'm looking forward to hearing these stories.

SIEGEL: Good.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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