Jan
18

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. 

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Jan
13

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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28 Hits
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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27 Hits
Dec
29

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. 

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