Nov
16

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.

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81 Hits
Nov
12

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.

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59 Hits
Nov
09

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

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42 Hits
Oct
28

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. 

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