Writing and reading about Qatar

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, I profiled a young literature professor, writing instructor and novelist, Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, who works in Qatar and finds the emirate a great setting for fiction -- even though her own last book was banned. The article is behind our paywall but here is an excerpt:

A daughter of Indian academics who emigrated to the United States, Ms. Rajakumar, 36, arrived in Doha in 2005, to serve as assistant dean of student affairs at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar. A few years later, while working at Bloomsbury Qatar, a branch of the British publisher, she decided to try her hand at writing. "I thought: Wait a minute, I’m as good as some of these authors," she says.
While pursuing her literary goals, she also encouraged others to do the same. She started teaching writing and founded the Doha Writers’ Workshop, the first group of its kind in the country. Its meetings made her aware of the many stories Qataris were interested in telling.
With support from the U.S. State Department and from Qatar University, she established the Qatar Narrative Series, with an open call for essays by female residents of Qatar. At the time, says Ms. Rajakumar, "People said, ‘It’s such a private culture, they value anonymity, they don’t want to lose face. You’ll never get them to sign their name.’" But the series was a success. From 2008 to 2011, Ms. Rajakumar co-edited four anthologies of Qatari writing.
She uses the collections in the writing classes she teaches. It helps to show students "a book of published essays by people they can relate to," says Ms. Rajakumar, who has also taught at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Qatar campus.
Ms. Rajakumar herself has written half a dozen books, published on Amazon. In the spring of 2014, she released Love Comes Later, the novel about young Qataris trying to find the right partner.
"All of my books are built around a question," explains Ms. Rajakumar. A major one for the young Qatari would-be writers she’d spent time with was: "Who are we going to marry? Is there any chance for love?" With Love Comes Later she imagined an answer.
When her distributor’s agent let her know the book was banned in Qatar, Ms. Rajakumar was surprised. She had anticipated being asked to make some changes for the Qatari edition (a common requirement for local publication and distribution), and was prepared to do so. "As a writer," she says, "if you don’t have readers, you might as well not be writing."
Neither Virginia Commonwealth, where Ms. Rajakumar was working at the time, nor any of the other Western universities publicly questioned the ban. Responses from faculty colleagues varied, she says, with some giving her "high fives" and others asking, "How are you still here?"
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Qatar and Egypt still at odds despite GCC reconciliation

David Kirkpatrick reports in the NYT:

CAIRO — Shaking hands and kissing foreheads, the monarchs of the Persian Gulf came together this month to declare that they had resolved an 18-month feud in order to unite against their twin enemies, Iran and the Islamic State.

But the split is still festering, most visibly here in the place where it broke out over the military ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president. “Nothing has changed — nothing, nothing,” said a senior Egyptian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential diplomacy.

. . . 

But government officials on both sides of the gulf split now acknowledge privately that Qatar scarcely budged. Instead, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates suspended their anti-Brotherhood campaign against Qatar because of the more urgent threats they saw gathering around them.

A senior Qatari official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the joint communiqué supporting Mr. Sisi’s road map was merely a “press release” that carried little significance.

“We will always support the population of Egypt,” the official said. Al Jazeera was “editorially independent,” he said, adding that the other states “should not create political issues just because a channel is broadcasting what is happening.”

Although Qatar asked some Brotherhood members to leave Doha because of their political activities, only 10 or fewer have done so, according to Brotherhood leaders and Qatari officials. “We have not asked them to leave in any way, and we have not bothered them in any way,” the official said.

So what's really happened here, then, is that the the part of the al-Saud family that was very critical of Qatar because of Egypt got overruled by the part that's more concerned about Iran and Daesh, Qatar agreed to reduce the media infighting in the Gulf and perhaps participate to some extent in Saudi Arabia's calls for greater economic and military unity, and Abu Dhabi had to accept it because Riyadh said so. But I doubt they'll even be able to keep the media wars at bay for that long, so maybe it's more simply that the Saudis are finally learning to prioritize and not pick fights with everyone at the same time.

In Cairo and Doha recently

Mint condition bus passes, spawning decades, owned by one obsessive-compulsive Egyptian citizen, and now by my friend and collector Amgad Naguib. 

Mint condition bus passes, spawning decades, owned by one obsessive-compulsive Egyptian citizen, and now by my friend and collector Amgad Naguib. 

In Amgad's antiquarian's shop in Downtown Cairo

In Amgad's antiquarian's shop in Downtown Cairo

One of my interviews in Doha. The first female president of Qatar University, Dr. Sheikha El Misnad

One of my interviews in Doha. The first female president of Qatar University, Dr. Sheikha El Misnad

For National Day in Qatar: special paint job and a portrait of Sheikh Tamim on the window.

For National Day in Qatar: special paint job and a portrait of Sheikh Tamim on the window.

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

Penalty card for Qatar

Penalty card for Qatar

A "plot to buy the World Cup" comes to light, but will raking FIFA over the coals make a difference for Qatar's overheating guest workers?

During the Cold War, Taiwan and the People's of Republic of China routinely threw money at smaller countries in order to get them to switch their recognition from one China to the other at the UN. It was the most blatantly bullion-based diplomacy one could observe then, in a world of it. The World Cup bid involves some dynamics, except - since it is the World Cup - the stakes are even higher than the Two Chinas Policy. Brazil is hosting the next one; then Russia will do so in 2018, and to Qatar goes the 2022 honor. Some football officials have complained about the poor climatic prospects for players in the Gulf's summer heat on that date - yet the heat is even worse for the guest workers barred from organizing unions to protest the policies Qatar exercises over them. As the current controversy in Brazil shows, for the prestige of the World Cup, there are few prices that host countries politicians and their lobbyists won't pay to win that honor. 

So far, assertions that "football cannot tolerate a World Cup built on the back of workers’ abuse, misery and blood" have failed to derail the massive Qatari effort. Whether the latest round of scandal will make a difference is yet to be seen. And it is one whale of a scandal, even by FIFA's poor reputation. According to The Sunday Times, Qatar bought up votes from Confederation of African Football (CAF) member associations and important football executives worldwide ahead of the World Cup 2018/2022 vote with lavish junkets and "donations" cumulatively worth millions of dollars.* Potentially compromised parties in Asia, Europe, and Latin America have also been named in the Times, including the infamous (and now censured) Trinidadian ex-FIFA executive Jack Warner. Football associations in Somalia, Cameroon, Djibouti, Sudan, Burundi, the Gambia, Sao Tomé, Zambia, Liberia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Swaziland, Togo, and Nigeria were all specifically named in The Sunday Times' expose. 

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Qatar's ambitions and American universities

I just published an investigation into American universities in Qatar in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The piece is behind a subscription wall, but here is the intro: 

Sixty years ago, Doha was little more than a trading post along a barren coast. Today the capital of Qatar is a giant construction site, its building frenzy a testament to the tiny Persian Gulf emirate's outsized ambitions and resources.

Under the emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani—and now his son Tamim, who took over in June—Qatar has become a regional power broker and a deep-pocketed patron of culture, science, and education. Doha's curving seaside promenade boasts an Islamic-art museum designed by I.M. Pei. The city is building a new airport, an elevated train line, and air-conditioned stadiums to play host to the 2022 World Cup in the simmering summer heat.

As another part of its bid to make Qatar a global player, the al-Thani family has recruited an important ally: American higher education. On 2,500 acres on the edge of the desert here, the ruling family has built Education City, a collection of modern buildings, each home to a branch of a well-known university, including Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Northwestern. Those institutions are crucial to the emirate's goal of becoming "a modern society with a world-class education system at its heart," writes Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali al-Thani, who directs several of the higher-education ventures, in an email.

Yet some observers wonder if Education City, like many other attention-grabbing ventures here, is intended to do little more than bolster Qatar's international "brand." While professors say they are free to discuss sensitive topics in the classroom, outside the luxurious walls of the campus, speech is censored and political activities largely banned. Sometimes overzealous customs agents hold up shipments of books to the campus. Security authorities have even detained a foreign researcher who asked discomfiting questions.

Allen Fromherz, a historian who taught at Qatar University, which is not part of Education City, believes that the emirate's welcoming of foreign universities is intended to introduce only limited change. In his bookQatar: A Modern History, he says the emirate cultivates an image of modernity and openness but that Qatari society is still largely tribal, with power concentrated in the hands of a very few.

"How do you transform into a nation without also transforming the traditional, monarchical, patriarchal system?" he asks.

As the small but natural-gas-rich country emerges onto the world's stage, this and other questions are unavoidable: Are the American universities actors in the country's future or merely props? Can they teach students to think critically about the contradictions and changes in Qatar while under the patronage of its ruling family?

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

Head-butt in Qatar

Qatar has installed a statue of French footballer Zinedine Zidan's infamous head-butt (after Italian player Marco Matterazzi allegedly said something rude about his mother) which may have cost France the World Cup in 2006. Zidan's outburst was criticized and defended at the time. Here is an impressionistic version of the statue (called "Coup de Tete," which in French means both header and whim, impulse) by contributor Paul Mutter, who also notes: "Now if only I could photo-shop something representing the Western left walking off the playing field.."  

1379784_10103085863471749_1627403510_n 7.02.57 PM.jpg

The statue has apparently rankled quite a few Qataris.

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Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

Qatar's World Cup 'slaves'

The Guardian conducted an investigation into working conditions at construction projects -- some of them related to the 2022 World Cup -- in Qatar. And what they found is deeply disturbing but not surprising if one is familiar with the treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf. 

According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.

The investigation also reveals:

• Evidence of forced labour on a huge World Cup infrastructure project.

• Some Nepalese men have alleged that they have not been paid for months and have had their salaries retained to stop them running away.

• Some workers on other sites say employers routinely confiscate passports and refuse to issue ID cards, in effect reducing them to the status of illegal aliens.

• Some labourers say they have been denied access to free drinking water in the desert heat.

• About 30 Nepalese sought refuge at their embassy in Doha to escape the brutal conditions of their employment.

 

/Source

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

Qatar and Syria

From an FT editorial:

However, the Qataris’ intervention in Syria, while boosting the revolt against Assad, has also created confusion. The Saudis support the handful of secular rebel factions and Salafi groups fighting the Syrian regime. The Qataris, by contrast, are less discriminating over who they support, and work through the Muslim Brotherhood, which is anathema to Riyadh. As a result the Qataris and Saudis last year created separate and competing military alliances, a rivalry that has undermined the rebellion against Assad – and may have led to weapons ending up in the hands of jihadi militants.

 

The Bassem Youssef case

A lot of ink has been spilled already over the charges that have been filed (by individuals absolutey not formally affiliated with the Freedom and Justice Party) against Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef of insulting the president, and religion, and Pakistan.

I was (I think) the first English-language journalist to profile Bassem, back when he was filming his show in a room of his appartment (and I can barely ever claim to being a trend-spotter). I have been following his career with interest ever since, as he has morphed into a social and media phenomenon and, now, a test case in the ways the revolution may have broken the stale old bounds public discourse. 

Sarah Carr has written a great post about the double standards here regarding what "proper" language and behaviour is. Youssef has challenged this by speaking and joking in a way that is much closer to the way people actually express themselves -- this is the basis of his appeal and of people's discomfort with him. 

After being questioned by the Public Prosecutor, and being featured on the Daily Show, and causing a minor diplomatic spat on Twitter between the US Embassy in Cairo and the presidency, Youssef dedicated an entire show to Qatar, the "little brother" that is buying up Egypt now (and supposedly backing the Brotherhood). Please forgive me for linking to MEMRI, but here is a sub-titled video of the send-up of Arab nationalism that has become an instant classic. 

French academic Yves Gonzalez-Quljano has a great analysis on his blog Culture et politique Arabes, in which he writes: "Plunging his scalpel unceremoniously into the open sore of national amour propre, with only a strong dose of humour for anaesthesia, the former surgeon has seemingly dashed any hopes on the regime's part of silencing him. More than ever, he can count on powerful supporters, not just among the defenders of freedom of expression around the world, but even more among Egyptians, who were hit in the heart -- the expression isn't too strong -- by a parody of nationalist operetta that provoked exasperation and enthusiasm." 

Youssef's influence and reach is such that the show was enough to ignite a public debate -- and a lot more satire --  over Qatar's growing leverage and influence. In Qatar (where I travelled just last week) the public reaction was more muted but predictably negative. But after a visit from Prime Minister Hesham Qandil probably intended to smooth things over, Qatar pledged several more billion dollars in assistance. 

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Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

Qatar extends $2.5bn lifeline to Egypt - FT.com

Qatar extends $2.5bn lifeline to Egypt - FT.com

Qatar swoops in to buffer against the impact of Morsi's economic mismanagement:

Sheik Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, Qatari prime minister, said his country had given Egypt a $500m grant and another $2bn loan to help control the currency and support the dwindling foreign reserves, a day after Cairo resumed talks for a crucial $4.5bn loan from the International Monetary Fund.

“That is a decent amount of money. It will stabilise the foreign exchange market a little bit,’’ said Mohamed Abu Basha, Egypt economist at EFG-Hermes.

“It will allow the government a breathing space where they do not have to worry a lot about the currency during the IMF negotiations.’’

The Qataris — who have pledged at least $10bn to Egypt and have now delivered some $2bn before this — mostly as deposits in the Central Bank. One day they will cash in on all of this aid.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Qatar's Gaza policy and Egypt

Qatar's Gaza policy and Egypt

From Qatari state television al-Jazeera's coverage:

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, is set to arrive in the Gaza Strip to inaugurate a $254-million Qatari investment project to rebuild the impoverished and overcrowded coastal enclave.

The leader of the Gulf nation will be the first head of state to visit Gaza since the imposition of a widespread international boycott of the Palestinian territory.

"This visit has great political significance," said Hamas government spokesman Taher al-Nunu.

"He is the first Arab leader to break the political siege."

The investment project seeks to build 1,000 homes for poor families in the devastated Khan Younis area in the south of the Strip.

The 41km-long Gaza Strip, home to 1.6 million people, sustained major damage during a huge 22-day Israeli military operation in December 2008 and January 2009.

Khan Younis has been particularly hard hit during the international blockade of Gaza, imposed since 2007, and during the half-decade before that. A 2011 EWASH report revealed that 90-95 per cent of Gaza's water is safe to drink.

In a phone conversation on the eve of the visit, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the emir's intentions to help the people of Gaza, under an Israeli-led blockade since the Hamas takeover.

A late night statement from the office of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi said his country welcomed the emir's visit to Gaza, which it said were part of Egypt's effort "to break the siege on the people" of the territory.

The Qatari emir's visit to Gaza is indeed a massive boon to the Hamas regime there, and not just financially. They have wanted, and the international community has denied them, the kind of formal recognition this visits grants for years. And it will really sting Mahmoud Abbas and the PA, whatever nice words they have to say about it, because the erosion of the idea that the PA is the sole representative of the Palestinian people is the single most damaging thing for them.

The Qatari emir can't go to Gaza through Israel, and thus must make his way via the Rafah crossing and Egypt. This must be a difficult thing for Egypt to swallow: Qatar, which is lending $2bn this calendar year alone to support the Egyptian pound, is doing more politically and financially for Gaza than Muslim Brotherhood Egypt has. Egyptians have long fumed about "little Qatar's" over-active foreign policy and its meddling in Gaza, an Egyptian near-abroad. I suspect the Muslim Brotherhood, whatever its initial euphoria and dreams of reconquering historical Palestine, will have similar reservations about the Qatari visit. They have, in the past few months, been slowly adjusting to the reality that the Gaza-Egypt-Israel relationship is a complex one and no dramatic change in policy — such as opening the border to commercial traffic and effectively ending the Gaza blockade —  has yet come. More than that, officially Egypt still sticks to the protocol of considering Mahmoud Abbas as the representative of Palestinians and Gaza as under theoretical PA authority (or that the end state of Palestinian reconciliation should be a West Bank and Gaza united under PA control). Qatar's visit undermines this — at a time when Morsi is under pressure from his own over his Israel policy.

 

Qatar: Where's the trust?

QATAR National Day

Jenifer Fenton sent in this dispatch from Doha, looking at the results of a recent survey and asking wider questions about the future of migration and expat communities in the Gulf.

Qataris have little trust in Western expatriates, was the headline many in Qatar took away from newly published research.

On a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 representing no trust and 10 complete trust, Qataris gave Western expatriates a 3.6, the lowest trust rating of any group excluding migrant laborers. Qataris trust other nationals (rating of 8); and Arab expatriates to a lesser degree (6.1), according to the report From Fareej To Metropolis.

“What Qataris have expressed is not different from what other people have expressed in other countries... We tend to trust and like people who are like us regardless of who we are,” said Darwish Al Emadi, Director of the Social and Economic Survey Research Institute (SESRI) at Qatar University which published the report. “British trust British people more than they trust non-British.”

However, white-collar respondents displayed high trust in Qataris (7.4). Migrant workers did as well.

Al Emadi’s research also found that "The more you interact with people, the more you trust them."

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Dispatch from Qatar: Pigeons 36, Falcons 0

Joseph Hammond sent in this dispatch from Qatar.

This past weekend Qatari falconers and falconry fans gathered for the start of the 3rd Qatar International Falcon and Hunting Festival and event which will see some 1300 birds and their owners compete before it concludes on February 2nd. The festival will also include dog racing, target shooting demonstrations and a “Junior Falconer” competition all held under the patronage of Shiekh Joaan bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. Prizes include new luxury landcrusiers for the winners.

Journalists which made the hour drive near the Saudi border, where the event was held, had to wait on the roadside for off-road transport to the desert location of the event. A Qatari organizer arrived in his land cruiser. The driver tossed a dead pigeon from the backseat before journalists climbed in. As the press was taxied to the event, the owner’s prized falcon road “shotgun” next to him.

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Qatar’s Impromptu Alcohol Ban

The Pearl

Jenifer Fenton reports from Qatar.

There is no flambé at Les Deux Magots, a high-end French restaurant on The Pearl, a mixed development man-made island in Qatar, which hopes to “redefine an entire nation” according to its sales pitch.

The sale of alcohol (and use even for cooking) has been banned on The Pearl (where I live) since mid-December, but a month later businesses have still not received formal notification of the reason for the prohibition or when and if it would end, according to interviews with more than a dozen people affected at various establishments. Rumors about the reason for the ban after so many years of tolerance for alcohol sale and consumption in five-star hotels and facilities have spread, ranging from the Qatari leadership’s desire to project a more religious image (Qatar’s attempt to stress its Wahhabi heritage while differentiating it from Saudi Arabia has been the topic of State Dept. cables past) to concerns about upcoming elections and a financial dispute between the government and resort developers.

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Qatar funds social services in France

Earlier today, Sultan Qassemi and I had an interesting conversation based on his tweet about this Qatar-funded project in France:

PARIS — Qatar has set up a 50-million-euro ($67-million) fund for entrepreneurs from France's often-deprived suburbs to set up businesses, the Gulf nation's ambassador to Paris said Friday.

"Qatar is not just words. We must act. The emir (Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani) decided to create a 50-million-euro fund to work with you," said ambassador Mohamed Jahan al-Kuwari.

"The fund can be increased," Kuwari told a group of 10 French elected local officials, all of North African origin.

I really think this is quite remarkable, in the current European context. Qatar, a tiny immensely wealthy country that 50 years ago was mostly a fishing village is now funding social services — or social entrepreneurship if you prefer — in one of the great powers of the last century. And it's specifically helping those people across the Arab world who share language and religious affinities with Qataris, but little else.

This is happening at a time when countries like Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are probably the chief source of surplus capital in the financial markets, at a time when more established economies are reeling from excessuve sovereign debt, frozen banking markets and the rest. I wonder how much of the merger and acquisitions activity taking place in the West right now is funded by Gulf sovereign wealth funds. Or indeed what proportion of the money is the financial markets come from recycled petrodollars. Those right-wing idiots in the US and elsewhere who complain about the high price of oil simply don't realize that it goes back to a large extent into the Western financial markets. It's basically a direct transfer of money from the gas station to the big investment banks. And now, for those countries whose immigration policy are leaving some behind, there's now social welfare as well as corporate welfare. 

Incroyable mais vrai. 

Qatar, the GCC, and the Arab Uprisings

The Arab League’s deadline for Syria to stop the “bloody repression” has passed, paving the way for stronger action after the League’s surprisingly hardline stance towards the Assad regime. Jenifer Fenton looks at what is motivating the GCC states, most notably the one taking the lead in the new regional diplomacy, Qatar. 

Qatar, with its progressive foreign policy, is publicly driving the Gulf’s response to Syria and carving out a role for itself as a country that can quickly adapt to the sweeping changes resulting from the Arab spring, but the regional weight it carries and its motives are more nuanced. 

The six countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council  - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates - and the majority of Arab League member states agreed that there was a limit to the violence unleashed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad it could tolerate.  The United Nations puts the death toll since the unrest began at well over 3,500 people. Last week, the Arab League decided to suspend Syria’s participation and to impose political and economic sanctions against the Syrian government.  

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The Strange Power of Qatar

The Strange Power of Qatar, Hugh Eakin’s piece in the NYRB, is an overview of Qatar’s recent foreign policy well worth reading.

But I disagree with Eakin’s conclusion, reproduced below, that Qatar is merely using the Arab Spring to divert attention away from its domestic situation. I simply don’t see anny opposition movement making any demands in Qatar, whatsoever. The vast majority of the population is satisfied. Like the rest of the small oil-rich countries of the Gulf, there may be an avant-garde that would like to see more democratic institutions, but there does not seem to be any mass dissent by nationals (foreign workers may be another thing.)

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Egypt: worrying about the wrong foreign funding

In July, a mini-crisis of sorts erupted between Egypt and the United States over foreign funding. The spark was probably the congressional testimony of the new US ambassador to Cairo, Anne Patterson, in June, in which she said that the US was earmarking $40m for USAID democracy and governance spending.

By late July, the $40m figure was being cited in the Egyptian media, and sometimes was inflated to $60m, the figure that the US State Dept. had considered spending earlier in the year. Public records showed that most of the money went to the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the International Federation for Electoral Systems (IFES) — some of which they no doubt redistributed to local partners. The media began to raise up a storm, while the government demanded clarifications from the US.

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Podcast #10: Libya and its consequences

We delayed this week's podcast to bring you two guests with expert knowledge of the Libyan war and its regional consequences: Steve Negus, who just returned from Tripoli and Benghazi, and Middle East correspondent for The Economist Max Rodenbeck. (Ashraf Khalil is off this week dealing with a looming book deadline.) We talk about why Tripoli fell so fast and how secure it is now, what might happen in Sirte and Sebha, the last Qadhafi strongholds, and what governance might look like in Libya for the foreseable future. We also discuss whether there is a Libyan model for humanitarian intervention, what it might mean for Syria, Qatar's steroid diplomacy, and still more. Finally, we discuss Libyan novelist Hisham Matar's novels and play a song from Libya's reggae-influenced pop music.

Links for this week's show:

As always, do write in to podcast [AT] arabist.net with your comments.

The Arabist Podcast #10

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Qatar's new media law

Basically says, don't attack Saudi Arabia or Bahrain without our permission. Via POMED:

Qatar’s cabinet approved a new media law that is likely to be ratified during a meeting presided by Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Thani. The draft states that journalists will be able write freely, “except on issues concerning national security and friendly countries.” The Peninsula then adds, “There would be no censorship on the media.” The law does, however, prevent journalists from being detained without a court order, as is currently the case.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.