Qatar: Politics and the Challenges of Development

In the same year that Kamrava published his book on Qatar, Matthew Gray published Qatar: Politics and the Challenges of Development (2013). Kamrava's book has about three times as many citations and seems to have become the go-to book on political issues in Qatar for the time period. Kamrava took a position at Georgetown University in Qatar in 2007, and has been there since, giving him a depth of experience and insight that many others do not have. When I picked up Gray's book, and read that it was based upon three short visits to Qatar in 2011 and 2012, I was skeptical. Maybe it is a disciplinary or training difference, but I struggle to see how I could write a book with such limited contextual experience. Nonetheless, Gray's book is a really good resource, contains lots of data (which is often challenging to find in one place), it is well organized and structured. Some parts could have done with more references, allowing us readers to know where the information was obtained - for example the historical chapter gives many details that must have been sourced somewhere, but we are not told where (and a heavy reliance upon one source, in that chapter Crystal's work). As with many other works written by 'outsider' academics, no Arabic sources are used. While the author speaks of interviews and cites interviewees, we know little to nothing about who they are, how representative that data is, how many interviews are used, how the data was analyzed in order to draw conclusions, et cetera. This presents a significant methodological weakness. Nonetheless, this is a good resource for students, albeit slightly dated now, but for the period before 2012, this is worth reading.


FIFA 2022: Qatar, The Legacy

FIFA 2022: Qatar, The Legacy edited by Qoronfleh and Essa (2021) contains 24 chapters on a wide range of topics related to FIFA 2022 in Qatar. While chapters of this book look at FIFA in Qatar, there is much beyond the title. There are unique chapters on the role of sport on society in Qatar, gender and sport, sports infrastructure, crowd management, comparative impact assessments based on past large sporting events (Russia, Brazil, South Africa), reflections on the impacts of COVID19, and Qatar's ambitions for being the most sustainable FIFA (buildings, carbon, plastics). Unfortunately the book is prohibitively expensive, at US$230 and unlikely to be accessible to many readers.


Jassim the Leader

In their books on the history of Qatar, Fromherz and Harkness do not include Arabic, Turkish, or Farsi sources, interestingly they also do not include English books that have been translated, such as Al-Ejli's book, or original English books, as in Jassim the Leader, Founder of Qatar (2012) by Mohamed A. J. alThani (the author being a former Minister of Economy of Trade in Qatar and fellow at Oxford). This is one of several books that alter the vantage point from which history is told - particularly when the colonial record is dominant in the historical telling, listening to alternative voices is important. 

alThani's book focuses on the lives and livelihoods of the period of Jassim (1825-1913), with a particular focus on the political sphere. Although is it not an academic work (sources are not cited), Ottomon and Arabic sources were used. Contrary to Harkness, alThani recognizes other sources for history, such as: "The earliest Arab geographer to mention the peninsula is Ibn Khuradadhbeh in the nineth century, recording it as one the stops en route from Basra to Oman. Al-Hamdani also mentions Qatar in the tenth century, but only among a list of places in a general description of the Arabian peninsula" (p. xvi). In contrast, in a book published in 2020, Harkness argues that Qatar first appears in a book in the 1600s (only a European source, apparently, can bring the country into being). Had these authors taken the time to read other perspectives, even if limited to those in English, the omissions might have been minimized. The author also draws on other methodological and theoretical traditions, as in ibn Khaldun. Some of this enables a form of an alternative telling of events. The book is also interesting in that the author makes note of silences and omissions in the British colonial history, thereby providing some insight into the limitations of basing history on the colonial record


Founder of Qatar

In searching for alternative voices telling the history of Qatar, I found a copy of "Sheikh Jassim al-Thani: Founder of Qatar - A Historical Study of a Nineteenth Century Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula" (2015). The book was written in Arabic by Dr Omar al-Ejli, then translated into English by Abdul Salam Idrisi. The book uniquely draws on Arabic and Turkish sources (the author made three trips to seek data from the Ottoman archives, and attests to the vast amounts of material there, which most historians do not consider). Unfortunately most of these sources are not listed in the text, making it unclear where the author obtain what information (references are listed at the end, as are footnotes, the latter are largely additional explanation not source notes as might be typical for an academic historical work). Also useful is the provision of multiple perspectives on issues from Arabic sources, which are also lacking in most histories of Qatar. Unfortunately the English translation does not include the poetry of Jassim al-Thani and some of the photos (referred to in the text) are not included.

This book begins with a focus on Jassim al-Thani, his personal character, but spends the bulk of its content on the events surrounding his time. Different from the books penned by western authors on the history of Qatar, al-Ejli highlights the role of Islam - on a personal level of Jassim al-Thani, as well as a unifier of people. Religion is also employed to explain events, providing an alternative viewpoint / worldview of history in comparison to secular accounts. The author also refers to Arabic historians and social scientists, such as ibn Khaldun, to explain historical events - this too providing a unique theoretical foundation for approaching history. In many regards, this provides an alternative reading of history (compared to the dominant narratives that draw, almost exclusively, on the British colonial archive and therefore convey the colonial gaze to what is important, how issues are analyzed, and what gets erased or untold).

Despite some limitations, this is an interesting read to include for those interested in the history of Qatar. If nothing else, this book is a great starting point for new sources and an answer for anyone who suggests the British colonial archive is all that there is to work with when studying the history of Qatar. 


Humanitarian Work in Ethiopia's Somali Region

Lauren Carruth provides a useful introduction to Ethiopia's Somali region, to the practices of global health, to 'humanitarianism', and to anthropology / ethnography with her 2021 publication: Love and Liberation: Humanitarian Work in Ethiopia's Somali Region (Cornell University Press). The book helpfully deconstructs international / Euro-Western conceptualizations of humanitarianism and re-orients that within the Somali context (linguistic, socio-cultural, political, historical, religious). The book is accessible and likely will find a home in undergraduate many courses. Additionally helpful for readers is the extensive use of narratives and personal stories, which makes the book very readable. Far too little research focuses on Ethiopia's Somali region, and this is a welcome addition.


Wax & Gold

Levine's Wax & Gold (1965) is one the 'classics' of Ethiopian studies in the socio-anthropological realm. Much ink has been spilled about his work (including the author himself added a Preface to the 1972 to explain his change of views), much work has also been inspired that draws on the wax and gold concept that Levine describes and employs. 

In many ways, this was a book of its time - similar to other ethnographic type works that emerged in the early decades within the discipline of anthropology. Levine has sections on history, coming of age, adulthood, roles, marriage, individualism, social organizations, psycho-social analysis; all of which focusing on the Amhara. This post won't delve into the content, but instead share his points on the idea of wax and gold:

  • "The apparent, figurative meaning of the words is called "wax"; their more or less hidden actual significance is the "gold"." (p. 5)
  • "This terminology is derived from the work of the goldsmith, who constructs a clay mold around a form created in wax and then, draining the wax, pours the molten gold into that form." (p. 5)
  • The chief delight of Ethiopic poetry is to attain a maximum of thought within a minimum of words. This effect is reached, as we have seen, through subtle allusions and plays on words." (p. 7)
  • "... wax and gold is so important in Amharic that some Amhara maintain that one does not properly speak the language unless he is well versed in the art of exploiting its numerous ambiguities." (p. 8)
  • "Just as the Amhara tends to be tight-lipped and evasive when confronted with questions he does not feel like answering, so he finds pleasure in stubbornly withholding his meaning from his audience through employing figures and allusions which no one can understand. This may be understood as a passive form of oral aggression." (p. 230)
  • "Unless there is some overwhelming personal advantage to be obtained from providing information, the Amhara tend to give answers - when they do not pretend not to understand the question - in terms so ambiguous as to be worthless" (p. 251). 

The 'wax and gold' tradition is one wherein ambiguity is praised as it conveys one's linguistic and intellectual abilities to speak with brevity and offer multiple meanings at once. Literal, straight forward viewed as simplistic and lacking of intellect, whereas the use of 'wax and gold' in communication conveys complexity and intellect.


Whose Voice Matters in IPE?

New open access publication: Whose voice matters in the teaching and learning of IPE? Implications for policy and policy making

Abstract: Critical decolonial assessments of International Political Economy (IPE) curricula have found a continued dominance of Euro-Western perspectives. However, these critical assessments have often been of specific programs or courses. In this article, we open the canvas wider in our quantitative assessment of privilege and marginalization, by conducting an analysis of IPE curricula from universities from around the world as well as of one of the most widely used introductory textbooks in the field. We find that scholars based outside of the Euro-West are marginal, while those based in the Euro-West continue to be dominant – in all the assessed course offerings. We also find that female voices are marginal, in all locations. Knowledge production systems privilege Euro-Western male voices and perspectives, furthering a process of systemic cognitive and epistemic injustices. Building upon our analysis of teaching and learning content, this article critically reflects on the implications of when IPE meets policy, and offers avenues for the policy engagement to avoid the same processes of privileging and marginalizing, and thereby better situating policy making to avoid repeating failures resulting from the identified entrenched biases.




Contemporary Qatar

Edited books are challenging to summarize, this post surveys some of the chapters and key points that stood out to me in this new collection, Contemporary Qatar (2021), edited by Zweiri and Al Qawasmi.

Ch 1 outlines the challenges experienced by the new state, often driven by external actors but which slowed the process of state building, which included the oil embargo (1973/4), oil crisis (1979), Iranian revolution (1979), Egypt-Israel peace treaty (1979), Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), GCC (1981), invasion of Kuwait, Gulf War (1990/1), Soviet collapse (1991), Jordan-Israel peace treaty (1994), failed coup (1996). The resources that Qatar holds today, largely LNG, were not a certain investment in the 1990s, when prices were low, but paid off in the long run. LNG development began in 1991, with the first export in 1997, the economic benefits of this enabled economic diversification in the 2000s, and beyond. The authors also note the niche areas of diplomacy that develop: (1) peace diplomacy / conflict resolution in Yemen, Sudan, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Eritrea; (2) higher education, with Education City, (3) Media  with Al Jazeera Media Network from 1996, and (4) Sport via 2008 Asian Games, 2011 Pan Arab Games, to FIFA and beyond.

Ch 2 is historical, and there are several book length efforts on this. I'll leave the summary as I have done that for the other books. Ch 3 on governance highlights unique directions of Qatar for the region, and what consequences this had - namely supporting a generation of young leaders and expanding freedoms, which created some tensions in the region with other nations whose leaders did not share this vision. Ch 4 covers political participation - there is much said about the 2021 elections, but municipal elections have been on-going since 1999; the author shows a relatively low voter registration, variable voter turn out, and declining candidates. This chapter is quite quantitative. There appears to be a need to delve into the qualitative aspects of why.

Ch 5 covers foreign policy (also covered by Kamrava, I'll avoid repetition here). Ch 6 explores the peace diplomacy, drawing on first hand experiences, and outlines the cases of Yemen, Lebanon, Sudan, Djibouti, Palestine, and Afghanistan. Some unique contributions in this chapter for those interested. Ch 7 offers a detailed case study on foreign relations with Palestine while Ch 8 outlines the expansion of military capacity and capability following the 2017 blockade of Qatar. Ch 9 broadens the conversation on sport in Qatar, moving beyond its international and tourism purposes, but also its cultural and bottom-up social drivers. Ch 10 re-orients the rentier framing of Qatar to one in the political realm, as a developmental state; this seems a useful re-conceptualization, as far too often broad generalizations are made of groups of states, which may not hold. Ch 11 covers the geopolitical of gas, specifically in relation to the US shale gas market and Qatar's LNG. 

Ch 12 is one of the few in this collection that address domestic social issues, it focusing on national identity. The drivers resonate with many other chapters (economic, education, big projects, blockade), what is unique about this chapter is that the author presents recommendations on how the emerging national identity issues could be address, which include: (1) cultural criteria for immigrants (in a country where the majority are not citizens); (2) a labour market shift that focuses upon the longer term / multi-generational migrants who are 'local' as opposed to revolving shifts of foreign workers; (3) strengthen public schools via state investment and training with an aim to increase their appeal and phase out coupon system currently in place for private schools; (4) ensure the urban housing policy facilitates residential structures that are intentionally mixed, slowly addressing the legacy of some families living in particular areas to enable greater interaction and solidarity across society. Ch 13 addresses the memory of the blockade, and makes an interesting case about the rise of nationalist sentiment before the blockade that enabled the government to take a bold stance, which thereafter increased nationalist sentiments. Ch 14 covers women in the workforce, with Qatar being positioned as having a low female work force participation and lacking a 'female friendly' work environment. However, the chapter would have been enhanced with regional and international comparisons - Qatar has relatively high female labour force participation (similar to Germany and the UK) and has a rate nearly triple that of other regional countries (e.g. Saudi, Egypt, Iran). The interesting question seems to be the converse - what enabled Qatar to be so different (while acknowledging that further progress could yet be made on enable greater labour participation). 

This is an excellent collection of works for those interested in Qatar. A limitation is that a lot focuses on the political and economic realms (domestic and international) and less on the social issues (other than national identity and female labour participation). Nonetheless, for those interested in the subject areas covered, this is an important contribution. 


Ethiopia & Food Security


  • "As every farmer will emphasize, there is no average household, average yield, average rainfall or average food security situation. Averages are imposed; they provide illumination but are not lived realities. Instead of focusing on averages, greater attention should be placed on the diversity of ways in which households encounter food insecurity" (p. 25-26)
  • "One of the greatest strengths emerging from the Stages of Food Security methodology is the depth of qualitative insight. The process resulted in a reformulation of questions and metrics, and their co-analysis facilitated the emergence of highly contextualized information about the socio-cultural, economic, political, historical and gendered vulnerabilities to food insecurity." (p. 130)
  • "Fertilizer and pesticide use similarly vary by crop, indicating how typical household questionnaires make invisible the intricate and informed choices that smallholder farmers make within their agricultural practices." (p. 162-163)
  • "Ethiopia is making progress in creating new programs and expanding the coverage of services, yet significant challenges remain. With almost half of all children under the age of five experiencing stunted growth due to malnutrition, the need for action is urgent lest another generation be denied the opportunity to fulfill its potential because it has been limited by food insecurity." (p. 205)


  • "Ethiopia and Food Security could not have come at a better time. The author, who has lived, worked and conducted extensive research in the country over many years, brings a wealth of knowledge to the subject, a greater empathy for the rural people who are the chief actors in the book, and a fresh perspective, making the work richer as well as more insightful." —Dessalegn Rahmato, Forum for Social Studies, Addis Ababa
  • "While applauding Ethiopia's remarkable success in drought mitigation and famine prevention, Dr. Cochrane provides a unique perspective on the complex drivers of food insecurity and options for alleviating them. Ethiopia and Food Security is highly recommended for anyone interested not just in understanding and measuring these problems but also in addressing them by designing effective programs, policies and services." —Teferi Abate Adem, Research Anthropologist, HRAF at Yale University

How to Rig an Election

"The greatest political paradox of our time is this: there are more elections than ever before, and yet the world is becoming less democratic" (p. 1). This paradox is explained in How to Rig an Election (2018) by Cheeseman and Klaas (published by Yale). In sum: "How is it possible that the flourishing of elections has coincided with a decade of democratic decline? The answer is that dictators, despots and counterfeit democrats have figured out how to rig elections and get away with it." (p. 3) The book is an excellent read for undergraduate students, it is clear and accessible. The chapters cover gerrymandering (Ch 1), vote buying (Ch 2), repression (Ch 3), hacking the election (Ch 4), stuffing the ballot box (Ch 5), playing the international community (Ch 6). Each chapter provides a range of examples of each issue, from a set of countries the authors have more experience with (which are global in nature). The focus of the book is on contexts where democracy does not have deep roots (they say the emphasis of cases is more on how to "strengthen or build democracy, rather than rescue or defend it").

The chapter on hacking the election is fascinating in that it sheds light on new directions of rigging, particularly the use of technology. The authors state that there is "a clear risk that we are heading towards a future, previously imagined only in science fiction movies, in which our actions and beliefs are recorded and manipulated at a level of detail that was hitherto unthinkable. And whether we like it or not, such methods are being increasingly deployed in an ever-larger number of elections, with important consequences. When elections are decided by small margins, big data can be decisive." (p. 148)

Conclusion? "In the twenty-first century, elections will be rigged with strategies both old and new, because autocrats have learnt a simple but sad truth: it is easier to stay in power by rigging elections than by not holding them at all. For that reason, we must learn an even more uncomfortable truth: right now, those who rig elections are outfoxing not only their own people but also the international community. Unless we learn how to identify these strategies and address them, then election quality will continue to decline. Over time, this is likely to call the basic legitimacy of democracy into question, as people grow frustrated with elections that fail to usher in change." (p. 239) 

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to

Subscribe to receive new blog posts via email