Qatar's Modern and Contemporary Development

One of the benefits of being in Qatar, when reading books written on the country, is the ability to walk the shelves of the Qatar National Library and stumble upon gems that almost certainly would not be available outside of Qatar. One example of this is "Qatar's Modern and Contemporary Development: Chapters of Political, Social and Economic Development", published in 2015, in Doha, Qatar. This book was written by Prof Ahmed Zakariya Al-Shelek, Prof Mustafa Oqail Mahmoud, and Dr. Yusuf Ibrahim Al- Abdulla (I believe it was originally written in Arabic but I do not have the date of that publication).

While other histories offer details of events in relation to external and colonial actions, the strength of this book is the extensive reference to local developments (e.g. related to the changes in the governance system, the consideration of a regional union when approaching independence, relations with other intergovernmental organizations like the Arab League and the UN, etc). In many ways this is much more of a history of Qatar, as opposed to other histories which situate Qatar as subject to the actions of others and their history. Entire chapters take this local focus. For example, Chapter 5 covers the Beginnings of the Modern State and is a valuable reference as it lists the emergence of various government offices, laws (e.g. nationality laws), Islamic courts, and so forth. Chapter 7 covers the political history of oil, putting it in local and international context, and Chapter 8 analyzes some of the socio-cultural impacts of oil. These histories are not included in most texts, and makes this a particularly valuable contribution.

Although not a strong focus, relatively more attention is paid in this book to the history before the colonial period as well as the role of Islam (the latter is made invisible in many works on the country). When the colonial era is covered, readers learn more of the Ottoman role in the 1800s, in comparison to other histories that emphasize that of the British. Also unlike almost all books on the country (including those published by academic presses) this book uniquely has a chapter on methods and sources, which is appreciated. This methods chapter outlines the inclusion of Arabic sources, Turkish sources, colonial sources, amongst others (including Russian sources). For this interested in the history of Qatar, this is worthwhile read.

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Policy-Making in a Transformative State

Edited collections are challenging to write about and review, with the chapters covering diverse areas / topics and each offering unique data and perspectives. One unique edited collection on Qatar is Policy-Making in a Transformative State: The Case of Qatar, edited by M. E. Tok, L. R. M. Alkhater and L. Pal (2016). The book is over 400 pages and has 14 chapters, beyond the scope of a quick summary. However, there are some valuable contributions that I will point readers toward, which will be of interest from the perspective of understanding policy making as well as unique contributions to understand the Qatari context.

One of the gems in this book is Khalid Rashid Alkhater's Macroeconomic Stabilization Policies and Sustainable Growth in Qatar (Ch 12). While the title is generic, this is an excellent contribution on financial and monetary policy, which I will continue to use in my teaching. The chapter by Lolwah Alkhater on educational reform (Ch 4) provides much more detail than Vora's book. For anyone interested in the education system (and its transformations), this is a critical reflection of decisions made and an important resource. This is followed by a chapter on higher education (Ch 5, by Ahmed Baghdady), which is more descriptive.

In the available English literature, there are few places where one can find nuance on constitutional and legal details of Qatar (while there are political books, like Kamara, these remain quite broad on these points). For this, Hassan Al-Sayed's chapter on Qatar's Constitutional and Legal System (Ch 2) is worth reading. Now the dean of CHSS at HBKU, Amal Mohammed Al-Malki, has a chapter on identity (Ch 9) and Hend Al Muftah has a chapter on labour (migration, Qatarization; Ch 10) with explicit policy recommendations.

Many of the books available on Qatar are written by outsider voices, sometimes following short stays in the country and often by scholars who do not have access to Arabic sources or conversations. This edited volume provides a broader range of content, not only with insider perspectives but also in many instances contributing original data and interviews. Although much has changed since 2016, this is still a useful book for those interested in understanding Qatar, and particularly useful understanding policy challenges and policy making. One downside to the book is the cost - this is an expensive academic book published by Palgrave, which reduces the accessibility of this collection for those without institutional subscriptions.

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Qatar: A Modern History

Other than a short publication from 1979, there are few academic books on the history of Qatar. After spending a year in Qatar, at Qatar University, Allen Fromherz wrote 'Qatar: A Modern History'. The book was originally published in 2012, (Kamrava's book is 2013) however, the updated version (published in 2017) provides updates throughout the text (as additions, this also makes for some jumpy reading at parts). As a history, this book has the potential to remain relevant longer, however only about half of the book is history while the other half is better described as current affairs (a focus on the decade before publication). The book provides a lot of historical information, however at many points it is unclear where the historical information is coming from (not being referenced). Although at times repetitive, this is a useful text and worth reading for anyone interested in contemporary history. A serious limitation, however, is the reliance upon the colonial record and the absence of Arabic (or any other, such as Turkish) sources. This replicates the colonial gaze of history, which the author recognizes but does little to address.

A few notes:

"Qatar is not a place 'without a past' or 'without a culture' as it has been described in popular literature. Ironically, anxiety about a lack of historical roots appears to be felt more by visitors to Qatar than by Qataris themselves. Perhaps expecting exotica, adventure and orientalized Arabness, the expatriate is disappointed by the modernity, by places that look 'Western' or 'just like home'. Many Qataris, in contrast, rarely express the same level of postmodern angst." (p. 4)

"Qatar is one of the world's most unlikely political entities. Surrounded by powerful and expansionist neighbours and projecting into Gulf waters, waters rocked by centuries of conflict, Qatar has one of the more extraordinary stories of state formation in the Gulf." (p. 41)

"No longer did the most respected man in Doha need to base his power ultimately on the Islamic baya, the oath of allegiance and obligation between ruler and ruled, or the shura and majlis, the council of respected sheikhs in Arabic tribal and Islamic religious tradition, that power was now based on the full weight of the British navy. As Lisa Anderson aptly observed, before imperial interests created European-style monarchy in the Middle East, 'Political authority has been exercised and justified not as an aspect of family or property but on religious grounds.'" (p. 57)

"Both external powers were kept at bay by the resourcefulness of the Qataris under Muhammad bin Thani and his successors, especially Shiekh Jassim Al-Thani. Qatar, led by a successful line of tenacious and usually astute Al-Thani Emirs successfully resisted full external domination. They accomplished this not through technological superiority but through the deft use of diplomacy and negotiation. Only at the last resort, as at Wajbah against the Ottomans in 1892, would the Qataris use force to protect their position. The Qataris continually searched for rivals who would be partners." (p. 65)

"The fourth Article virtually hands over all of Qatar's foreign policy to the British government, even forbidding correspondence with 'any other power' without the consent of the 'High British Government'. Nor was Abdullah permitted to 'cede to any other Power or its subjects, land either on lease, sale, transfer, gift, or in any other way whatsoever'. A prohibition on selling land to non-Qataris, originally part of a British strategy to control Qatar's foreign commitments, continues to this day, with the exception of..." (p. 71) 

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Reading Qatar

Qatar National Library

The Creation of Qatar (1979) Zahlan

Histoire et Changements Sociaux au Qatar (1982) Montigny-Kozlowska

Oil and Politics in the Gulf (1990) Crystal

The Emergence of Qatar (2005) Rahman

Qatar, A Modern History (2012, 2017) Fromherz

Jassim the Leader (2012) Mohamed al-Thani

Qatar - Politics and the Challenges of Development (2013) Gray

Small State, Big Politics (2013, 2015) Kamrava

Qatar and the Arab Spring (2014) Ulrichsen

Founder of Qatar (2015) Omar al-Ejli (translated by Idrisi)

Qatar's Modern and Contemporary Development (2015) al-Shelek, Mahmoud, al-Abdulla

Policy-Making in a Transformative State (2016) Tok, Alkhater, Pal

The Global Majlis (2016) Al Kawari

Doha Experiment (2017) Wasserman

The Gulf Crisis (2018) Miller

Teach for Arabia (2019) Vora

Qatar: Political, Economic and Social Issues (2019) Alkhateeb

Warriors in a Time of Sacrifice (2019) Sandoval 

Changing Qatar (2020) Harkness

Beyond Exception (2020) Kanna, Le Renard, Vora

Masters of the Pearl (2020) Morton

Qatar and the Gulf Crisis (2020) Ulrichsen

FIFA 2022: Qatar, The Legacy (2021) Qoronfleh, Essa

A Study of Qatari-British Relations 1914-1945 (2021) Yousof Ibrahim Al-Abdulla

Contemporary Qatar (2021) Zweiri and Al Qawasmi

America's Higher Education Goes Global (2022) Schiwietz

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