Maryam Al Sada
Whether you follow the news or not, you must have noticed Qatar being in the headlines. From hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the world’s most popular sports event (YES football fever is coming to Qatar!), to having one of the world’s highest GDP per capita. However, Qatar has lately been in the news due to being subjected to an unexpected saddening massive human rights violations, answering how and why is both simple and complicated. These violations are a reminder that even when living in a prosperous country where our rights are protected and our needs are answered, we can wake up to a CHANGED world we never imagined.
To explain things better we must first explain another change, a good change, one that brought us Human Rights.
HUMAN RIGHTS? WHAT ARE THOSE?
Just last year, the United Nations celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a historical milestone document for human rights. Since then, the world has steadily been improving on protecting those rights, however, the last 12 years have shown a decline in global freedoms, and a rise in human rights violations. Around the world, where there are Human Rights Violation, there are Human Rights Warriors fighting!
THE BLOCKADE-WHAT WAS IT?
This decline was experienced first hand by citizens and residents of Qatar when the blockade against Qatar started on June 5th, 2017. This date will forever be remembered by Qataris as the day of the great betrayal. Qataris were the victims of 15 human rights violations according to the UDHR. These violations were illegally practiced by the blockading countries of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. Violations included family separations, violations to the right to perform religious services, racial discrimination, arbitrary detention and, of course, blocked access to education. These violations have affected mixed families the most. Families are extremely important for us, and the GCC has a unique structure with most families having close relatives who are citizens of neighboring countries, these include cousins, uncles, aunts but most importantly siblings and parents. A fog of ever-changing procedures (cough couch..excuses..cough cough) prevented Qataris from being able to even enter Saudi, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt. This has resulted in busted businesses, broken family ties, and over 1,000 students being sent back to Qatar, in some cases, days before the completion of their education with nothing to show for years of study. The blockade abruptly stopped any trade across the border, leaving animals to starve at borders. Many relatives were unable to attend the funerals of their loved ones and were prevented from saying a final farewell to sick relatives including siblings and parents. Amnesty International has stated that thousands of people have been negatively affected by the arbitrary sanctions which have split families, and made pilgrimages to Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia extremely difficult.
EDUCATION NO LONGER A RIGHT?
The blockading countries showed no regard towards the 26th article of the UDHR, which clearly states “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”, when they banned students from the completion of their education based on NATIONALITY! Jawaher Al Meer, a Qatari student studying at Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi, was visiting her family during a school break when the blockade started. She was totally shocked when she was informed, by an abrupt email, that she will not be able to complete her studies at the university or even be allowed to collect her belongings. Such discrimination, due to nationality, by a prestigious university is a breach of Human Rights that in no way should be acceptable.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
The blockade can be considered a blessing in disguise as it has brought the issue of human rights to the forefront. Our duty as today’s youth is to be aware and educated about these rights and what they entail, and consciously support their protection for everyone. We must not be afraid or threatened by judgment or whatever society’s response would be. We need to ask ourselves, what role can we play in upholding these rights? What can we do when we see any of these rights violated? We may not be able to change the world but we can play a role in improving one person’s life and that is what we should focus on.
First and foremost we need to understand and give weight to the phrase “Youth are the Future”. This overused phrase does not only mean we are the next generation but it advocates for the youth to shape a better, safer, and more prosperous present and future for them and for generations after them. We, the YOUTH must acknowledge the power we possess through social media and try and use it to the best of our abilities. Social media gives individuals voices and power. Information is no longer just controlled by government corporations and official media outlets; every person with access to social media can create change. The power of media is proven constantly when dictators target the destruction of media first to make the world unaware of what’s truly happening. We are at a critical stage in human history in which our survival and the survival of the planet is no longer taken for granted. It is upon our generation to make sure that we take the matter into our own hands and make the changes necessary for our survival. Youth all around the globe are starting to step up where adults have been dragging their feet and ensuring that the needed change is happening. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” said author and anthropologist Margaret Mead.
June 5th should not only be considered the day of Qatar’s blockade, we should also make it the day that woke Qataris up and made us more conscious of our human rights and of those less fortunate. Let us make it the day that made us human rights warriors, fighting to protect human rights across the globe.