Belgian minister meets Qatari official for "frank exchange" amid World Cup controversy
Belgian minister of Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib met with Qatar's special envoy for counterterrorism and mediation for a "frank and constructive exchange" on Wednesday. As seen in the minister's photo posted on Twitter, Lahbib attended the meeting without a headscarf. She had announced beforehand that she would travel to Qatar with a "strong, clear message" on working conditions and human rights, focusing on the rights of women and the LGBTQI+ community.
"Countering radicalism and violent extremism is also at the center of our concerns: a frank and constructive exchange with Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, Qatar's special envoy for counterterrorism and mediation", the Foreign Affairs minister tweeted on Wednesday, with a photo showing herself and the Qatari official shaking hands.
"My diplomatic meetings were confirmed, so I am going to be able to have an honest discussion", the politician had already declared before her departure. The meeting comes amid controversy about Qatar's stance on LGBTQI+ rights during the football World Cup, which the country is currently hosting. Seven European teams, including Belgium's Red Devils, decided on Monday not to wear a captain's armband in rainbow colours with the words 'One Love' - against discrimination and for inclusion - after FIFA threatened sanctions against teams that would wear the armband.
"My message will be political. It will be about defending human rights, the rights of the LGBTQI+ community, defending minorities, women's rights and labour law"
"This is a FIFA decision; it is not for me to intervene. So my message will be political. It will be about defending human rights, the rights of the LGBTQI+ community, defending minorities, women's rights and labour law", Lahbib said. She also said she was shocked by the statements of World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman, who earlier described homosexuality as "damage in the mind".
Lahbib sees her trip to Qatar as a way to support efforts to reform human and labour rights, and to "preserve a critical dialogue that will allow Belgium and Qatar to move forward".
The Belgian federal government had initially planned to send the minister to Qatar only if the Red Devils reached the semi-finals. Still, Lahbib eventually got the go-ahead for an immediate departure. Delivering a diplomatic message should not depend on sporting performance, she declared.
Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib © BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM