Jul
17

Kinship, State Formation and Governance in the Arab Gulf States

Compared to other regions, there are few books about the GCC, and specifically Qatar. I try to track new publications and I came across "Kinship, State Formation and Governance in the Arab Gulf States" by Scott J. Weiner (2022), which was published by Edinburgh University Press. The book is covers Kuwait, Oman and Qatar (the latter less so compared the others) and is the author's doctoral work. The conclusion (somewhat disjointedly) adds Somaliland and Iran. The basis of the book is fifty interviews. At several points the book is repetitive. The audience is not for experts of those moderately familiar with the region, much of the context is basic socio-cultural introduction for each country (as a PhD thesis, expected, as an academic press book, less so). The book does pose an interesting question about comparative state building in the GCC, but it largely presents descriptions rather than an answer. One quote:

"This book theorises a path-dependent process of state building that occurs in three stages. In stage one, the rule builds or expands physical and bureaucratic infrastructure. In stage two, it uses this infrastructure to extend the bureaucratic authority from the urban center to non-urban areas. In stage three, the state creates a nationalist idiom which underpins a narrative of the state's heritage and political origins." (p. 46-47) 

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Jul
12

The Fourth Turning is Here

Neil Howe's "The Fourth Turning is Here: What the Seasons of History Tell Us About How and When This Crisis Will End" offers a generational approach to understanding history, and predicting the future. He argues that generations move through cycles, more-or-less in 100 year periods, often marked by key events or experiences that leave imprints on each generation within it. This is not an academic book (for example, not well referenced). However, the historical analysis presents an interesting way to think about cycles of history. What is not clear from the book is its methodology - for example, why some events are catalyzing and not others? Without this defined methodology, crafting is easier to impose on history than draw from it per se. Nonetheless, the book is fascinating book (the earlier book The Fourth Turning" was also a best seller) and worth a read. A few notes:

"At the start of each turning, people change how they feel about themselves, the culture, the nation, and the future. Turnings come in cycles of four. Each cycle spans the length of a long human life, roughly eighty to one hundred years, a unit of time the ancients called the saeculum. Together, the four turnings of the saeculum comprise history's periodic rhythm, in which the seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter correspond to eras of rebirth, growth, entropy, and (finally) creative destruction: The First Turning is a High, an upbeat era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism, when a new civic order implants and the old values regime decays. The Second Turning is an Awakening, a passionate era of spiritual upheaval, when the civic order comes under attack from a new values regime. The Third Turning is an Unraveling, a downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions, when the old civic order decays and the new values regime implants. The Fourth Turning is a Crisis, a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one." (p. 12)

"What typically occurs early in a Fourth Turning - the initial catalyzing event, the deepening loss of civic trust, the galvanizing of partisanship, the rise of creedal passions, and the scramble to reconstruct national priorities and policies - all this has already happened. The later and more eventful stages of a Fourth Turning still lie ahead. Every Fourth Turning unleashes social forces that push the nation, before the era is over, into a great national challenge: a single urgent test or threat that will draw all other problems into it and require the extraordinary mobilization of most Americans. Historically, it has nearly always been connected to the outcome of a major war either between American and foreign powers, or between different groups within America, or both." (p. 23)

"To be sure, this global saeculum is not yet, literally, global. We can still identify regions where it is not yet fully active, either because the inhabitants are not yet fully modern or because they have fallen into a somewhat different generational rhythm. The latter possibility may describe the Muslim majority societies of Africa and the greater Middle East. Most of these did not experience their most recent regime founding Fourth Turning in the 1930s and '40s but rather (with full national independence) in the 1950s and early '60s. As we might expect, their second turning also came later. Their "Muslim Awakening" suddenly exploded in 1979 (in Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia) and raged until well passed the year 2000. The awakening triggered violence and crackdowns throughout the region - and ghastly Jihadist terror episodes throughout the world. The youthful prophet archetype that spearheaded this awakening was certainly younger than its counterpart in the West. Most of its members were born in the 1960s and '70s (Osama Bin Laden, born in 1957, counts as one of its very oldest members). Yet even these Muslim awakeners have by now moved well into midlife - which, they are finding, presents its own surprises. In their youth, they angrily rebelled against their own civic minded parents, who had once joined secular socialist parties like the Baathists (Arab nationalists). Today they often skirmish with their own children, whom they find more materialistic and libertarian than they were at the same age. This emerging Prophet-Nomad friction is likely to shape the politics of the Arab, Turkic, and Persian Middle East well into the 2030s." (p. 180-181)

"Rising political passions, aligned as they now are with behaviors and lifestyles, are pushing like-minded tribal members to seek out geographic cohesion. Life is just easier that way. Surveys show that political differences now outrank all other differences, including those of income or religion or race, in day-to-day encounters that people wish to avoid. One way to avoid such counters is to choose a new church, club, or employer whose views match your own. An even better way is to choose a new neighborhood. Geographic sorting, in turn, itself tends to intensify political polarization: Partisan intensity grows strongest, and voting rates and political donation rates rise fastest, in neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of people who think the same way." (p. 237) 

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Jul
07

From Black Gold to Frozen Gas

In 2023, Tusiani and Johnson wrote "From Black Gold to Frozen Gas: How Qatar Became an Energy Superpower", published by Columbia University Press, in the Center on Global Energy Policy Series. The book provides a unique and detailed look into the deal, actors, contracts of the development of the energy sector in Qatar, often interwoven with geopolitics. The first 13 chapters covers historical content, which has been presented elsewhere, while the final chapters are the main contribution of the work. The first author was personally involved from 1977 onward, which is why these chapters are particularly insightful. The role of Japan is often noted in passing, whereas this book details how important Japan was for the development of LNG in the 1990s (as an example). As a reference book, it is rather frustrating as many points are not referenced making it impossible to know the source or follow-up on the data or history being presented (for a university press, this is somewhat unexpected). A few notes:

"In a major blow to Qatargas, founding partner BP announced in early 1992 that it was withdrawing from the joint venture company formed with QGPC and Total in 1984 after so many years of effort. Citing inadequate economics returns from the LNG project, where the estimated price tag was trending upward, the British major said Qatargas just did not stack up against other projects in BP's worldwide portfolio that offered better returns." (p. 268)

"When the Qataris had trouble paying for port development work at Ras Laffan, including the berths for the LNG vessels and other related infrastructure crucial to Qatargas, the Export-Import Bank of Japan stepped in with an unsecured $200 million loan to the government." (p. 298)

"The following year Hamad acquired the British Broadcasting Corporation's Arabic-language news channel lock, stock, and barrel. This came after BBC Arabic Television's Saudi backers, who had established the service with the BBC in 1994, pulled the plug following a Panorama documentary on Islamic law in Saudi Arabia that showed the beheading of a convicted criminal. The core news team— about 150 Arab reporters, editors, presenters, producers, and technicians—moved to Doha and the channel was relaunched as Al Jazeera with a loan of QR 500 million ($137 million) from the amir underwriting its first five years." (p. 320)

"If Qatar is assiduously reducing the role of foreign companies in its domestic oil and gas sector, the same cannot be said for its expanding footprint abroad. QP has been on a buying spree, acquiring exploration and production assets with oil company partners in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Congo, Cyprus, Egypt, Guyana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Oman, and South Africa." (p. 379) 

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Jun
03

Nationalisation in Saudi Arabia

Some books are available in book shops globally and others only in local or regional markets. The Doha International Book Fair is a great place where regional publishers come together, and where the local and regional books are available. One example was "Nationalisation and Labour Market Policies in Saudi Arabia" (2023) by Abdullah Al Fozan, published by Obekan (Saudi publisher). Under 200 pages, the book is a brief summary of the nationalization efforts undertaken over the last decade. A few notes on the challenges and unique approaches:

"The failure of the Saudistation programme to reduce unemployment among Saudi nationals led the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD) to introduce the Nitaqat programme as a re-implementation policy in 2011. Nitaqat programme imposes penalties on non-compliant companies and provides incentives for those who comply to advance the Saudistation goals." (p. 21)

"One of the negative consequences of Nitaqat is "fake Saudistation" in addition to other demerits brought about by the way Nitaqat was implemented or the way it was designed along with its policy. In the same vein. The number of Nitaqat female employees exploded from 77,000 to 202,000, bringing about manipulation and phantom employment of Saudi Nationals who do not show up at the workplace where they are supposed to be. The number of student workers also skyrocketed from about 26,000 to 97,000, which also reflects its inefficiency. Furthermore, some would receive a small salary in return for keeping their names listed on the company's small payroll" (p. 82)

"The MODON Oasis located in Al Ahsa in the east of Saudi Arabia, is the first industrial city in Saudi Arabia to be entirely run by a female labour force. The Oasis operates on an area of about 500,000 square metres. Equally important, it has 80 factories operating in the service and trade sectors. Of note, the Royal Decree issued on 16 September 2017 allows women to drive cars. This means that women will be more involved in the labor force than before. Now, the Saudi women's political participation is gaining momentum, so to speak, and the female representation is a case in point." (p. 118)

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