Lamborghinis, Burkas, Sex Party Invites And ‘Chop Chop Square’: A New York Lawyer’s 15 Years In The Middle East

Lamborghinis, Burkas, Sex Party Invites And ‘Chop Chop Square’: A New York Lawyer’s 15 Years In The Middle East. By Luke Rozak.

New York lawyer Sonya Shaykhoun thought she’d see the world by taking a job in the Middle East.

Then she found herself trapped in the tiny, oil-rich nation of Qatar — one of numerous westerners barred from leaving the country because they have a debt, are involved in a lawsuit, had a falling out with an employer or simply crossed a powerful native. …

“There’s an Arabic phrase, ‘marble on the outside, shit on the inside.’ That is the best description of Qatar itself,” Shaykhoun, 47, said. It’s a country where image is everything, and usually misleading, she said. …

First, she took a job in Bahrain, a neighboring country in the Persian Gulf region. The TV network Al Jazeera, which the royal family of Qatar controls, offered her a job in Doha in 2010. She accepted the offer and quit her job as instructed, but there was an unexpected delay in Qatar processing her visa. Al Jazeera declined to let her work remotely, and Shaykhoun was stranded for six months in Bahrain, racking up debt.

People who owe money in Gulf countries can be jailed and are banned from leaving the country. So when the visa finally cleared, she took a loan from a Qatari bank and paid off the Bahrain debt. She shipped her belongings to Qatar, but the county’s customs authority took her personal diaries without explanation and snapped the head off of a Buddhist sculpture, she said. …

Another American who has spent time in Qatar, who asked not to be named for fear that his travel will be blocked, told the DCNF that many in the middle class are headed for bankruptcy because of unnecessary purchases.

“It’s like if you were making $70,000 and you decided to buy a Lamborghini to show that you were just as cool as your neighbors, but all your neighbors were in the same position.” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s insane, and it is widespread. It’s a bubble that’s going to burst, and it’s not going to end well.”

Reuters reported in 2016 that 75% of Qatari families were in debt due to the attitude some call a “social curse.”

“You cannot have a bad watch on your wrist, a second-hand car … you need to have the latest models so as not to appear ‘poor,’” former police officer Mohammed al-Mari told the outlet. …

Qatar is governed by Sharia law, and extramarital sex, homosexuality, abortion and alcohol consumption are crimes. Women have far fewer rights than men. …

“I have heard loads of stories about sex parties. They had a sex party at the St. Regis — homosexuals, married people, ministers,” Shaykhoun said. She said she turned down an invitation to swing from “this crazy Australian lady — she said, ‘I’m learning how to live fearlessly. My husband and I started swinging!’”

A colleague who worked in “compliance” at one of her jobs was an ex-pat who was sexually harassing a subordinate while also having an extramarital affair, Shaykhoun said. “Affairs are punishable by death in Qatar, but he believed the laws don’t apply to him.” …

Though the circumstances of Nepalese laborers and white-collar ex-pats are very different, many laws tightly controlling foreigners in Qatar do not draw a distinction, and numerous westerners who came to Qatar for business are currently barred from leaving by its government.

“Travel bans” are imposed due to debt, being in a lawsuit or employment disputes, but can even be imposed for traffic fines and “gestures or behavior reported by Qataris that are viewed as ‘offensive,’” the State Department says. …

Joseph Sarlak came to Doha to conduct business, and a sheikh from the ruling Al Thani family served as his company’s “sponsor.” (Qatar doesn’t permit foreigners to control businesses, so a native must own 51%.) Sarlak’s family says the sheikh used his status as nominal majority owner to write himself checks from the company, then threw Sarlak in jail because of the consequential debts, forcing him to sign a confession in Arabic. Now, the criminal charge has been resolved, but he is not being allowed to leave because he doesn’t have a valid visa, 9News reported. …

Qatar is a tenuous house of cards, Shaykhoun said: It is well aware that its wide-scale abuse of a third-world workforce that wildly exceeds the native population has the potential to end in mutiny.

“When you have a small indigenous population, it becomes a very delicate balance — especially because it’s a gun culture there,” she said. …

Shaykhoun was riding a horse one day when an employee of an equestrian facility named Olga told her that her husband drove a van that took scofflaws to “Chop Chop Square,” where they were killed, she said. She wanted out.

Imagine if the whole world was Muslim, following an immutable script from 7th century Arabia. Could it happen?