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Qatar set to open ‘slavery museum’

The new museum in Doha will examin the country's past, when the economy’s mainstays were dates and pearls

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Qatar is set to open a new museum showing the small Gulf state’s involvement in the slave trade practiced in the 19th century, the U.S.-based Atlantic Council think tank reported.

The new museum, one of four built as part of a downtown project in the capital Doha, will examine the country’s past - long before the discovery of oil - when the economy’s mainstays were dates and pearls.

Some of the exhibits trace the rise in global trade with the Gulf after the opening of the Suez Canal in the late 1860’s.

Due to the sparse local population, and the labor required for pearl diving and date farming, traders would bring in slaves, many from East African countries. By 1905, people of African descent made up an estimated 17 percent of the population of coastal eastern Arabia.

In 1952, Qatar abolished slavery, and the newly-freed slaves were integrated into society.

Although the museum highlights the history behind the trade, one exhibit’s placard draws a parallel between the past and present.

“Many construction workers in rapidly industrializing parts of the world, especially the Gulf region, are considered to be contractually enslaved,” the inscription reads, according to the Atlantic Council.

The opening of the museum comes as a positive step. In recent years, the small Gulf state has come under fire for its treatment of low-income foreign laborers, and the controversial “kafala” system that binds workers to their employer.
Media reports regularly highlight the treatment of the thousands of foreign-sourced laborers building Qatar’s glitzy stadiums ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.