Qatar: Political, Economic and Social Issues

Haitham M. Alkhateeb published "Qatar: Political, Economic and Social Issues" (I published a similar book with the same publisher, in the same year, on Ethiopia). Unfortunately this publisher charges an unacceptably high rate for books (both this book and the one I edited sell for US$230), which makes them largely inaccessible to most readers. I was fortunate to come across this book recently, via one of the contributing authors. I am glad I did, as there are some gems in this book. Notably, almost all authors are based in Qatar (or nearby, in UAE or Oman), only the editor is based outside of the region (in the US).

With 20 chapters, I won't go into the details, other than primarily share what is in the book and some of its highlights / unique contributions. The chapters are not grouped under sections; as far as I read this collection there are two main groups of chapters (the blockade of Qatar and education) and a range of additional chapters. On the blockade, Chapters 2 through 6 (all written by Paula Marie Young from the College of Law at Qatar University) cover different aspects of the blockade of Qatar (a strength of these chapters is the legal basis they reside in, and their extensive referencing). These could be read alongside the book that Ulrichsen wrote on the topic (published in 2020).

The contributions relating to education are a unique addition for a generally under-researched area in Qatar (not all are formal education, but I am grouping them under a broad umbrella). Ramzi Nasser et al cover the attestation of online education programs (and the need for a policy, or a revision of policy, continues making this still relevant despite all the changes the pandemic brought about). Chapter 13 raises the question if Qatar needs a language policy, written by the editor of the book. Chapter 14, written by Aaron LaDuke, covers developments in Qatari literature. Ramzi Nasser also wrote Chapter 15, on the educational reforms that have taken place in Qatar, which goes alongside Chapter 16, on the same subject, by Weber and Kronfol (which are good reads alongside the excellent chapter written by Lolwah alKhater on the same topic, published in 2016). The editor contributes Chapter 17 on attitudes toward Arabic as a language of instruction (specifically for math and science) as well as Chapter 20 on university student study skills in Qatar. Chapter 18 covers the education role of museums, broadly and in Qatar, by Mariam Ibrahim al-Hammadi.

The third grouping of chapters are less connected. Chapter 1, by Nawaf al-Tamimi and Azzam Amin, covers nation branding (economic, media, humanitarian, education, cultural, sport, tourism) as a key aspect of strengthening soft power. Tarek Ben Hasen covers the transition to a knowledge-based economy in Chapter 7. Chapter 8 covers the water-energy nexus, by Ammar Abulibdeh, which is an excellent summative chapter on the issues (particularly useful for teaching or getting a summary of the nexus in the context of Qatar). Chapter 9 by Esmat Zaidan and Ammar Abulibdeh covers the role of place and culture / identity in urban development / planning. Chapter 10 by Susan Dun covers the divides of citizen and non-citizen in the context of FIFA and domestic interest to attend; given the demand for tickets that was recently registered, I think this chapter would be written in a different way today (assuming limited interest and half empty stadiums). Chapter 11 shares coins held by the Qatar Museums Authority, found at al Zubarah. Chapter 19, by Ziad Kronfol et al, takes a mental health perspective on the challenges youth face in Qatar 


The Creation of Qatar

The classic history of Qatar was written by Rosemarie Said Zahlan in 1979, titled The Creation of Qatar. The author is the sister of Edward Said (yes, the Edward Said), and she also wrote a history of the UAE (in 1978) and the region (in 1998). Zahlan's book is a reference / source book for almost all other histories of the country. Given its date of publication, its strength is offering more detailed perspectives of a different era, as history was viewed in the post-independence period and providing details of that time period itself. Somewhat surprisingly, given its centrality, the book is lightly cited in many chapters, leaving authors having to guess where all the detailed historical recounting is sourced from. As an example, for Chapter 2 on the period of 1766-1820 there are only 11 footnotes, several of which are explanatory notes and do not contain references to sources. What footnotes we have suggest that the sources are primarily from the British colonial record, and some other English sources, such as from Aramco, along with a few Arabic sources.

The focus of this history is from 1766 onward, with chapters respectively covering the eras of 1766-1820, 1820-1913, 1872-1916, post-1916, 1935 and oil, there is also a chapter on territorial disputes and chapters on socio-cultural topics. All of the chapters are quite brief (the entire book is 160 pages). For historical books on Qatar that followed it, Zahlan's work is focal, and continues to be a key reference point (however the book written by Crystal in 1990 is the most cited). This history, like that of Al-Shelek et al, places more emphasis on Qatar's internal history, than an (over)emphasis on the external as well as colonial actions and roles. The social chapters are probably the most valuable contributions, such as Zahlan's demographic data showing that the foreign population of Qatar was 39% in 1939 and 59% in 1971 as well as the 1970 Qatari population at 45,000 (well cited tables list all the available sources on population; this a unique source on an issue about which there is limited data). There is a detailed table on education (students, teachers, school), which is another great source for documents that are currently difficult to find.

Zahlan has a concluding chapter on the future of Qatar. While it is not predictive, the author suggests that hydrocarbons will remain focal to the economy up to 2000 and beyond, giving the nation and its people the potential for prosperity. Zahlan notes investment in education as well as giving girls and women opportunities (in education and work) as key pathways for economic and social development. The author also highlights that the necessity of positive regional partnership will continue given that she predicts that the country will not not be able to be self sufficient in many regards. One of the challenges Zahlan raised in 1979 was being able to fuse innovation and technology with national heritage, which remains an on-going one. 


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.


The Emergence of Qatar

Of all the potential topics covered in books about Qatar, history takes a prominent role. One of these books is Habibur Rahman's "The Emergence of Qatar: The Turbulent Years 1627-1916", which was first published in 2005. At the time of its first publication, this book was one of the few histories of Qatar (after Zahlan's 1979 book and Crystal's 1990 book). The book is framed around the European engagement with Qatar, starting with the Portuguese in 1627 (there is only 1 page to the history pre-dating European engagements; notably, this is not a history of external actors of the era, as the Ottomans arrived in the region in 1541 but are not taking as a starting point). This gives the book, as many have done, a colonial framing that gives the greatest agency to external actors, and thereby emphasizes the colonial entities, which is reinforced by primarily referring to colonial historical sources. The result has the potential to be a history written with a strong colonial gaze (as many histories of the countries have done). However, according to the Routledge re-publication of the book in 2010, the author had a career with the Historical Documents and Research Division of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage, a part of the Government of Qatar. This gives the book some unique perspectives, as well as access to some unique perspectives and more first hand experiences. This has the potential to shift whose perspective is represented. For example, other histories do not note that when the Portuguese arrived along the coast of Qatar they set fire to Qatari villages during the years of 1627 and 1628 (page 16). However, more could have been made of alternative sources of history, such as oral history and the book reads as though the author relied largely on the English historical record, and because of that largely the British (and less of the Arabic and Turkish).

This book is relatively well cited and for anyone interested in the history of Qatar this is certainly a book to consult. Rahman's work is well organized; in addition to chronology the chapters that take a thematic focus, such as on Bahrain, the Ottomans, several on the British. Much of the source material (largely the colonial record) is cited in full, which is useful for seeing source texts, as opposed to having this summarized and interpreted (and there is an extensive set of appendices). Connecting this history to works that focus on the modern era, such as that of Kamrava (2013), one could see a much deeper history of hedging as a political approach as well as regional leadership via mediation, although I leave this to the historians to explore. 


Classifications of Nations

In 1068 Said al Andalusi wrote Kitaab Tabaqaat al 'Umam, which was translated as "Book of the Categories of Nations", which the translators of the 1991 version should be better translated as "Classifications of Nations" but kept with the norms of titling for this work. The book is a sort of reference for scholars, publications, and scientific advancements amongst nations, as they were in the 11th century. Its usefulness today, other than being a central work of the time period, is historical reference.

One contextual notes made by the editors and translators (Sema'an Salem and Alok Kumar) is that at the time of Said al Andalusi one of the signs of prestige and power for kings and rulers was the number of quality of scholars attracted to their courts. About scholarship itself, like other great scholars (who often held multiple positions in society, such as judges) Said al Andalusi sponsored students to study and develop advanced knowledge of the sciences. Two traditions that would be worthy of revival. 


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.

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