Jan
08

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 However, according to the Routledge re-publication of the book in 2010, the author had a career with the Historical Documents and Research Division of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage, a part of the Government of Qatar.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. 

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