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Editor’s Note: Read this article in Arabic here
Zahir Belounis has spent the best part of the last two years without wages, a club or any prospect of returning home but the French Algerian footballer now faces his immediate future without the most basic of commodities.
“I will stop food, a hunger strike, I want to do that,” explained the 33-year-old striker.
“It’s going to start next week. They treat me like a dog but I will fight. I will die here in Qatar,” he said in an interview with CNN last week.
Belounis, who had played in the lower reaches of French football, now plays for the Qatari first division club El Jaish, the army club.
Or at least, he claims, he should be.
Despite, he alleges, holding a contract that lasts until 2015 he claims to have been frozen out, threatened, moved to other clubs against his will, gone unpaid and finally barred from leaving the country, leaving him, his wife and two young daughters trapped in Qatar.
A hunger strike, Belounis says, is his final throw of the dice.
“I will stop the food and sit there [in front of the Qatar Football Association office] and bring some documents until some important people listen to me,” he said.
“I have enough evidence. I don’t speak bad about Qatar. But there are people here who are not honest. I have two daughters to take care of. No one cares I have been without salary for 23 months.”
Belounis is arguably one of the most high profile cases to emerge regarding employee rights in Qatar – reportedly its Labour Ministry received thousands of complaints last year.
When CNN contacted the Qatar Stars League and the Qatari Football Association, presenting them with Belounis’ allegations, the QFA said: “All parties are analyzing in depth the matter and action for defamation is being taken.” They declined to respond to any specific allegations made by Belounis.
Since Qatar was awarded the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals, the tiny emirate of less than two million people, and barely 300,000 citizens, found next to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – has presented a glowing portrait of itself to the rest of the world.
Its royal family, led by Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, is one of the richest in the world thanks to the discovery and exploitation of one of the largest natural gas field on earth in the late 1990s.
It has lavished money on European football too. The Qatar Foundation, funded by the same gas wealth, sponsors the shirts of Barcelona FC.
Another Spanish club, Malaga, reached the quarter finals of this year’s UEFA Champions League largely thanks to a huge injection of Qatari funds.
And the Qatar Investment Authority, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, bought Paris Saint-Germain, signing some of the game’s greatest players as they march towards the French league title. The wages for the likes of David Beckham and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have been lavish.
Yet according to Belounis, as well as several human rights groups, several players and thousands of construction workers who will be building the infrastructure for the World Cup have been abused, denied their wages and trapped in a system that they cannot escape from.
The so called Kafala system – which ties employees to a specific employer – has, according to Human Rights Wa