Famed McDonald's ransacker takes his beef to the Gulf

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2001, 12:00am

The pipe, moustache and open-necked shirt were instantly recognisable even against the background of the Gulf.

'We have to change this system of military and economic globalisation or the human race could disappear like the dinosaurs. Our land, air, water and bio-diversity is threatened.'

Jose Bove, the 48-year-old French sheep farmer who gained world fame when he ransacked a McDonald's restaurant in southern France in August 1999, was warming to his topic.

'The events of September 11 did not change our analysis. The terrorists used the same system as the multinationals - the financial networks and offshore banking centres. The war in Afghanistan, as in Iraq in 1991, is a form of global dominance by a few powers.'

Mr Bove is representing the French non-governmental organisation Peasant Confederation, one of nearly 400 NGO representatives at the WTO meeting.

They stand for a colourful alternative to the delegates in grey business suits carrying wads of official reports.

Qatar has never seen such security, with armed police and soldiers in blue combat fatigues blocking the roads leading to the conference centre and continually patrolling the lawns next to main roads.

The Government has ordered a ban on tourist visas for the duration of the conference, making for a busy airport departure hall and a near-deserted arrivals one.

No one is more security-conscious than the 51 members of the US delegation, who travel in their own cars with security escorts and are guarded in their seaside hotel by US Marines.

Journalists covering their news conferences are instructed to come 30 minutes in advance, for an individual search of their bodies and baggage by US officers.

It was 5am and the manager on night duty at his hotel had a broad smile as a bleary guest wandered into the foyer looking for a towel.

'You are up early?' he said.

'Yes, I was just woken by the muezzin's call to prayer.'

'Ah, yes, you were woken by bin Laden.' The Saudi dissident, who is the world's most wanted man, is not on the list of the 6,000 delegates and journalists attending the WTO meeting but is clearly here in spirit, present in everyone's mind.

The conference is proving too much for some.

'Please tell me what is going on,' pleaded one African delegate, sitting listlessly on a sofa in the lounge of the Doha Sheraton, which is hosting the conference.

'Everything is being decided somewhere else, in the upstairs rooms, in private meetings. What role are we playing here?

'I need to spend years of study to understand the very terms that are being used at this conference,' he lamented.

Next to a conference room of the Doha Sheraton is a small room with spotless carpets and a carved wooden alcove. Five men in white robes and manicured beards removed their sandals at the entrance and knelt on the carpet. It was the hour of prayer.

'They are thanking Allah for the oil that has made Qatar rich,' whispered a delegate from an Asian country with no oil. 'They cannot thank Him enough.'

Oil and gas have made Qatar one of the richest countries in the world, with an estimated per capita income of more than US$31,000 (HK$240,000) this year.

They have also led to an extraordinary population structure - of the 600,000 residents, about 80 per cent are foreigners, mainly from India, Pakistan, Iran and other Asian countries, many who have lived here for many years.

'I have been here for four years but do not know how long I can stay,' said Mohammad Sadiq, an Indian Muslim and bachelor who manages a restaurant. 'I have a one-year visa but do not know if it will be extended.

'If I tried to marry a Qatari lady, I would go to prison. It is out of the question.' He said a middle class Qatari had about 10 servants, from Sri Lanka, the Philippines and other Asian countries, while the rich had up to 50.

On the street outside his restaurant, another Indian was standing by the garage where he works. 'It is the foreigners who do the work here,' he said. 'Qataris sit in offices sipping tea and go for drives in their big cars. They can get money by acting as sponsors for foreigners or setting up a business on behalf of the foreigners. I have to keep paying money to sponsors and officials in order to stay.

'If you ask me, the oil is a curse. It has made the Qataris lazy.'