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By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged qatar
Is the State Dept. losing patience with KSA/UAE over Qatar?

There was a statement yesterday by the spokesperson of the State Department, Heather Nauert, whose language and tone seemed to be shifting blame/responsibility for the continuing Qatar crisis on Saudi Arabia and the UAE. See the video below at 01:00.

Transcript here:

Since the embargo was first enforced on June the fifth, the Secretary has had more than twenty phone calls and meetings with Gulf and other regional and international actors. The interactions have included three phone calls and two in-person meetings with the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, three phone calls with the Foreign Minister of Qatar, and three calls with the Qatari Emir. Numerous other calls have taken place with the leaders of UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, and others.

**Now that it has been more than two weeks since the embargo started, we are mystified that the Gulf States have not released to the public, nor to the Qataris, the details about the claims that they are making toward Qatar. The more that time goes by the more doubt is raised about the actions taken by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

At this point we are left with one simple question: were the actions really about their concerns regarding Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism or were they about the long, simmering grievances between and among the GCC countries?**

The Secretary is determined to remain engaged as we monitor the situation. He has been delivering the same message to other diplomats overseas. We are encouraging all sides to deescalate tensions and engage in constructive dialogue.

We once again call on all parties to focus on the core, regional and international goal of fighting terrorism, to meet the commitments that were made in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and to constructively resolve this dispute.

In Translation: And if Qatar folds?

There has been an avalanche of commentary on the crisis between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt (and a bunch of hangers-on) in the last couple of weeks. Some tell you one side or another is going to win, others worry it's the beginning of a new regional war. Everything is pointing to this crisis lasting longer than those who initiated it (Saudi and the UAE) intended it to. Whatever happens in the end, the crisis shows the interplay of several lines of tension among regional powers, from the Iran-Saudi divide to Islamist-anti-Islamist polarisation and revolutionary vs. counter-revolutionary narratives. The overlap is confusing, and so much of the media treatment (including in the US and UK press, a sad statement of the influence of Gulf money and ideology) absurdly biased.

The piece below is written by the noted Lebanese leftist intellectual Gilbert Achar, most recently the author of a well-reviewed book on the Arab uprisings, Morbid SymptomsAlthough it is published in the Qatar-owned London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, Achcar has the merit of being a cheerleader for neither Qatar nor its opponents. He traces the history of Qatar's tensions with its neighbors, the spectacular rise and potential fall of its aggressive foreign policy, its bet on the Muslim Brotherhood, and its opponents' successful efforts to roll back the Arab uprisings. For Achcar, the fundamental difference between the two camps is that Qatar sought to adapt to the Arab Spring by banking on the Muslim Brotherhood successfully harnessing its energies, while Saudi Arabia and the UAE sought to roll it back and restore the establishments that were shaken by the uprisings. It is a view underpinned by his assessment, in Morbid Symptoms, that another revolutionary wave looms –  one that may very well wash away those who seek to resist it and reward those that seek to ride it.

As always, this translation is made possible by Industry Arabic. Use them for your Arabic needs.


Campaign Against Qatar is Latest in Series of Attacks by the Region’s Old Establishment

Gilbert Achcar, al-Quds al-Arabi, 7 June 2017

To understand the significance of the violent campaign launched by the Saudi, Emirati, Bahraini, and Egyptian governments against Qatar, we must look beyond the vagaries of the Qatari ransom money allegedly held by Iraq and the charges leveled against Qatar of supporting terrorism. Such charges lose all credibility when they come from actors that have for decades engaged in just that, we must return to the scene before “Arab Spring” to see how it was affected by the Great Uprising.

During the reign of Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emirate of Qatar took an approach to regional affairs not unlike Kuwait’s after it declared independence from Britain in 1961. The announcement outraged the Republic of Iraq, which demanded the emirate be restored as part of its territory. But Kuwait benefited from the tension that existed between Iraq, under the leadership of Abdel Karim Qassim, and Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt, which advocated acceptance of Kuwait’s Arab independence over its status as a British protectorate. And in order to deter its Iraqi neighbor from ambitions of annexation, Kuwait pursued a policy of Arab neutrality, maintaining good relations with the two poles of the so-called “Arab Cold War,” Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The similarity is that Qatar, as is well-known, has a historically strained relationship with its neighbor, Saudi Arabia, particularly since declaring independence from Britain in 1971. After seizing power in 1995, Emir Hamad pursued a policy that sought to make up for the emirate’s small size by reinforcing ties with the two main axes of regional conflict, as evident by extensive deployments of US troops throughout the Gulf: the United States and the Republic of Iran. Qatar’s success is most obvious in its ability to simultaneously host the United States’ most important regional airbase and cultivate its relationship with Iran and Hezbollah. The policy of good relations with opposing forces also manifests itself in Qatar successfully establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, while also supporting Hamas.

Qatar’s role during the reign of Emir Hamad was not limited to cultivating good relationships with different parties in the Kuwaiti sense, which is neutral and negative, but it also used its substantial wealth to play an active role in regional politics by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. When Saudi Arabia renounced the Brotherhood, after sponsoring it since its inception in 1928, due to its opposition to American intervention in Kuwait in 1990, the weight of Qatar’s political role greatly increased with the establishment of Al-Jazeera, which resonated with Arab society by welcoming Arab voices of opposition, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood.

So when the volcano of the Great Arab Uprising erupted in 2011, Qatar was able to play a significant role through its sponsorship of both the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Jazeera. As a result, the two axes of conflict that had dominated the Arab world – the old establishment and the fundamentalist opposition led by the Muslim Brotherhood – found support in the Gulf Cooperation Council. But while Saudi Arabia supported the old establishment throughout the region – with the exception of Libya where it remained neutral and Syria where sectarianism produced an alliance (between the Assad regime and) Iran – Qatar supported the uprisings, especially where the Brotherhood was involved, with the exception of Bahrain for obvious reasons. The conflict between the Emirate and the Kingdom since the onset of the “Arab Spring” was evident by Qatar’s support for the Tunisian uprising, while Saudi Arabia granted asylum to deposed Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Moreover, the Obama administration saw Qatar as a means to ward off the danger of Arab uprisings that might take root in a way that would threaten US interests. So it played both sides, at times supporting the old establishment with Saudi Arabia (as in Bahrain), and at others, trying to contain the uprisings with Qatar through the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates (like in Tunisia and Egypt). But Qatar’s role urging Washington to adopt a policy of keeping pace with the uprisings was a cause of Saudi indignation, and outraged the United Arab Emirates, which had designated the Muslim Brotherhood public enemy number one. The pressure the two Gulf countries placed on Qatar continued to build after Qatari bets on the Muslim Brotherhood failed to pay out when the Egyptian army overthrew President Mohammed Morsi and violently suppressed the Brotherhood. That was followed by Emir Hamad’s decision to step down in place of his son, the current Emir, Tamim, only to see Gulf pressure reach its first peak in 2014, forcing the new emir to change course.1

After the peak, it seemed that the Gulf conflict had come to an end. Through the consensus of the three aforementioned gulf states to support the Syrian opposition against the Assad Regime, which strained relations between Qatar (and with it, the Muslim Brotherhood) and Iran, and, later, Qatar’s participation in the military campaign against Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis in Yemen – all against the backdrop of a new king ascending to the Saudi throne – it seemed as if peace between GCC members was possible. This trend has been supported by Saudi Arabia’s longtime pursuit of a Sunni consensus against Iran that includes the Muslim Brotherhood and coincides with tension between Riyadh and Cairo. The trend also aligned perfectly with the politics of the Obama administration.

However, Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States changed the equation. The new president is a supporter of a policy of confrontation in the face of change and revolution in the Arab world. He is also extremely hostile to Iran and has an intimate friendship with Israel. Some of his closest advisors have classified the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, concurring in this with the UAE (as evidenced by recently uncovered correspondence of its ambassador to Washington). This fundamental change in the equation led Saudi Arabia to reconcile with al-Sisi’s Egypt, who together, accompanied by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, launched the current frenzied attack on Qatar in order to impose a radical change on its policy.

Thus, the latest episode reversing the Great Arab Uprising and the counterattack launched by the ancien regime all across the region, supported in most arenas by the Gulf axis and by Iran in Syria and Yemen, is almost complete. But a new uncontainable wave of revolution is coming sooner or later (indeed, its harbingers are already visible in Morocco and Tunisia).2 If this day comes and there is no one to contain it, then Riyadh and Abu Dhabi may well regret eliminating Qatar’s role within this space.

Gilbert Achcar is a writer and academic from Lebanon



  1. Note that Emir Tamim came to power in Qatar a week or so before the overthrow of Morsi, not after. ↩︎

  2. Here Achcar refers to the protests in southern Tunisia (mostly Tataouine) and in Morocco (starting in the Rif). ↩︎

In Translation: Of Egypt, Qatar, and Libya

I am quite late in posting the translation below, which was published in May soon after the Vienna ministerial meeting on Libya in which Western powers announced that they were prepared to put in place an exemption to the arms embargo to provide weapons and training to the fledging Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister Faiez Serraj. The piece below is interesting, as an op-ed by a newspaper that while London-based is funded by Qatar. It signals the continuing exasperation in Doha with Egypt’s foreign policy, a precursor to this week’s diplomatic spat follow the sentencing of deposed President Mohammed Morsi on charges of having spied for Qatar. And, some might say, the odd kind-of-proxy war between the Egypt/UAE-backed Haftar forces and those Islamist forces in Libya closer to Qatar (who once again clashed in recent days.)

As always we bring you this translation through our partners at Industry Arabic, a professional translation service that specializes in Arabic documents of all kinds. If you or your company has an Arabic translation need, please check them out and tell them The Arabist sent you.


Cairo Uses Haftar to Prevent Libyan Reconciliation
Editorial, Al-Quds al-Arabi, 19 May 2016

The Libyan crisis has witnessed a new development: The United States and the countries of the European Union have announced that they are prepared to arm the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). Meanwhile, the option of direct Western military intervention has receded (despite the presence of American and European special forces on Libyan territory). After the GNA took over most ministry headquarters, it announced the names of its ministers. Then, forces loyal to this government began to clash with “Islamic State” forces—the main point of focus for Western powers—and to retake areas, checkpoints and border posts. The major difficulty that the GNA faces, though, is approval of its legitimacy by the recognized Tobruk-based House of Representatives. Despite a majority of representatives agreeing to this, having signed statements and announcing their explicit desire to recognize the GNA, the House of Representatives continues to refrain from doing so, for reasons that are quite clear.

The matter is related, of course, to the military control that the Commander-in-Chief of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar, enjoys over the eastern region of Libya, where the House of Representatives is located. From a regional perspective, it is also related to approval by the authorities in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates—the actual sponsors of General Haftar—of the international plan to move from civil war to reconciliation.
In a recent statement made by General Haftar to a Libyan television channel, he said, “It is unheard of for a government to be established during a time of terrorism.” He means by this, of course, the GNA. He further stated that he “has nothing to do with political dialogue” and that what he is interested in is “imposing security and stability and ridding Libya of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Furthermore, he argued that “democracy will come to pass over the generations,” but that he believes in it because he experienced it for 25 years in the West! Haftar’s statements contradict one another and undermine any credibility he has.

Collectively, his statements clearly express his enormous disdain for his supposed partners in Libya in his rejection of political dialogue and his acknowledgement of only one solution, the one that he imposes with his military forces and that eliminates the Muslim Brotherhood. After he establishes security and stability, he sees nothing wrong with promising Libyans (or those that are left) with democracy, which “he alone knows because he lived for 25 years in the West,” but in the generations to come!

In their cartoonishness, these statements made by General Haftar do not diverge from those of another general, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. This is the man in whose footsteps Haftar had hoped—and continues to hope—to follow in moving from military control on the ground and over the government and the House of Representatives to the Libyan presidency. This has eluded him, however, for the simple reason that Libya is not Egypt and because the éradicateur solution did not work. This is what pushed the United Nations and the international community, in the end, to resort to the current compromise scenario.

Support for the Haftar option for Libya has led, in practice, to significant tragedies inflicted on the Libyan state and society. This has strengthened the hardline Salafist movement, as represented by the Islamic State. Furthermore, it has contributed to destabilizing the security of countries both close by and in Europe and to enabling gangs of smugglers to traffic across the Mediterranean those seeking refuge in Europe.
The only reason for this option to remain active on the Libyan scene is that its collapse would reveal the absurdity of the Egyptian model on which it was founded – something that Cairo is trying to postpone as much as possible.

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?"

I also wrote about my visit to Doha for the LRB blog.

When I told friends in Cairo I was going to Doha, they looked shocked or worried. Until very recently, the Egyptian media and government have accused Qatar of being a state sponsor of terrorism (it supported the Muslim Brotherhood). Now the two countries are supposed to be mending ties. To mollify the Saudis (who have bankrolled Egypt’s counter-revolution), Qatar agreed to expel a few senior Muslim Brothers. They now live in Turkey, but still come to Doha to see their families. Qatar also closed an Egyptian affiliate of the al-Jazeera satellite station that was virulently anti-coup.

Rajakumar has written about her own experience confounding expectations and racial stereotypes as a woman of South-East Asian descent with a US passport and a white-collar job in Qatar (where many folk who look like her do menial work) in a memoir called From Dunes to DiorHer novel The Dohmestics is about the lives of upper-class women and their household staff in a Gulf gated compound.

This got me thinking of other good books about Qatar I've read in recent years. 

Qatar, a Modern History is by a young American historian called Allen J. Fromherz, who taught for a year at Qatar University. Fromherz argues that the "anomie" outsiders experience in Qatar is unshared by Qataris themselves, who are ensconced in a "comfortable neo-traditionalism" (Western materialism overlaid on the still strong structures of tribe, family, and majlis) leaving the anxieties and travails of "post-modernism" to the uneasy foreign PR flacks, academics and experts, and to the rootless, rightless South-East Asian construction workers and maids. 

"Qataris will someday come out of hiding," writes Fromherz, "and be seen not merely in boardrooms and the play palaces of the world but in the deep, horrid and heroic avenues of the 'now.' It is at this point that Qataris will begin to consider their own history critically, to write not according to the agenda of nation and Emir but the agenda of self-realization."

The Girl Who Fell To Earth , a lovely memoir by Qatari-American writer (and artist and film-maker) Sophia Al-Maria evokes a national history barely emerging from the shadow of personal biography. Al-Maria’s father hails from the al-Dafira tribe, which she describes as “marginalized from the moment borders, cities and politics began to solidify in the Gulf.” 

Al-Maria traces the tribe’s difficult adjustment to urban life, the way its women “began a long, slow retreat into the concrete domesticity of modern sedentary life.” Men like her father, meanwhile, “lived in zones of temporary-turned-permanent government housing and spent their lives waiting for jobs or the call to prayer or their favorite TV show to come on.” 

Moving back and forth between her American mother and Qatari father, Al-Maria experiences strange shifts in time and perspective. In the United States, she and her sister rush to the television to mark Qatar with a piece of Silly Putty on maps broadcast during the first Gulf War. Back in Qatar, on her way to her Western-style high school,  sheds and regains layers of clothes in a daily identitarian strip-tease. I found the final chapters of the book, in which Al-Maria comes of age in Cairo, particularly affecting. 

There are many exposés of Qatari influence and high-living -- enough titles to almost constitute a niche genre. France seems to specialize in them and many are sensationalistic and unreliable. The book Qatar: Les Secrets du Coffre-Fort, for example, is a breathless portrait, full of improbable, anonymously sourced gossip (it claims that the former emir and his favorite wife, Sheikha Mozha, liked to ride his motorcycle, incognito, around the south of France) and stereotypical observations about “the Bedouin character.”

Those interested in contemporary Qatari literature could check out The Corsair,  published by Bloomsbury Qatar.  It's the story of a real historical figure, the pirate Erhama Bin Jaber, who has become a proto-nationalist folk hero in the Gulf. I started reading, but wasn't particularly taken. The time -- when the British Empire basically created the various emirates, designating their ruling families as its local allies, as a way to ensure stability for its maritime activities -- is a fascinating one, but the writing (in translation) was a bit stilted and I felt the author super-imposed contemporary political narratives on his historical setting. 

Also on my Qatar reading list would be a collection of essays entitled The People Want Reform in Qatar Too, which I have never managed to get my hands on. And the work of the Qatari poet Mohammed Ibn El Dheeb, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2013. It's not clear which part of El Dheeb's oeuvre was deemed criminal (the trial proceedings were closed) but one of his poems contains the lines:  "All of us are Tunisia/in the face of these oppressors./The Arab regimes and those who rule them/are all, without exception,/without a single exception,/shameful, thieves./This question that keeps you up at night—/its answer won’t be found/on any of the official channels…/Why, why do these regimes/import everything from the West—/everything but the rule of law, that is,/and everything but freedom?"

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 Lindseyqatar, egypt
Penalty card for Qatar
Construction of a new stadium near Lusail in the desert of Qatar. December 16 2013 in Lusail, Qatar.  Philip Lange / Shutterstock.com

Construction of a new stadium near Lusail in the desert of Qatar. December 16 2013 in Lusail, Qatar. Philip Lange / Shutterstock.com

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. 

So far, concrete proof of Qatari malfeasance in the run up to the 2010 bid for 2022 been hard to come by, though at least one associate of Qatari football supremo Mohammed bin Hammam was previously suspended and fined when he was caught bragging about the "millions" of pounds he was being offered by two unnamed countries to influence the vote. It is the sort of strategy straight out of the Soviet playbook for the non-aligned countries in the second twentieth century. But if the Times' allegations - drawn from a trove of emails leaked to the paper detailing all of this horse-trading - prove true, then that proof will finally exist. And none too soon for Qatar's competitors, since it is theoretically possible to redo the executive committee's vote or 2022, stripping Doha of its victory.

Bin Hammam, formerly the Qatari head of the Asian Football Confederation and owner of the Kemco construction company, is described as the point man for this effort, disbursing payments and promises here and there ahead of the voting - from personal kickbacks to weekend getaways to promises to back certain associations' pet projects in exchange for their support. Kemco allegedly helped pass some of the coney along, but much of it is said to have delivered personally to the recipients in cash payments of several thousands dollars a head, and via "10 slush funds" he set up for the campaign. Bin Hammam denies such charges, as do all of the people the Times says he wined and dined with in Kuala Lumpur (or elsewhere) to influence the bidding process several years ago. 

Once one of the most influential members of FIFA's executive committee, bin Hammam was banned for life from football in 2011 by FIFA after being convicted of bribing the Caribbean Football Union to support his campaign against Sepp Blatter, the incumbent President of FIFA. Mr. Blatter is no fiscal angel himself - the subject of past inquiries about his finances have gone in his favor, though - and even tried to make light of Qatar's human rights record by suggesting that LGBT fans "should refrain from any sexual activities" at FIFA 2022 in Doha. Like the rest of FIFA's executive committee, he now finds himself in hot water over the allegations that a disgraced official, acting behalf on the Government of Qatar, played FIFA like a flute. And strangely, despite his earlier support for the vote (and aforementioned flippancy) even before this scandal broke, Mr. Blatter conceded to persistent criticism that awarding the Cup to Qatar was actually a "mistake."

It goes without saying, but both FIFA and bin Hammam are denying The Sunday Times report, and further follow-up reporting. Qatar's own FIFA team denies any formal relationship with the blackballed bin Hammam. FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce, though, said the body should re-vote if FIFA's top legal counsel, Michael Garcia, finds a paper trail for the alleged bribes in the coming months (Garcia was in fact the lawyer who signed off on the findings that torpedoed bin Hammam's FIFA career, so has a good reputation in this regard).

A second vote would be a PR disaster for Qatar, and if it did not win back the cup in the process, Doha will have sunk millions into the planned city of Lusail and other venues to little gain. One can imagine all of the other Gulf states laughing derisively at the sight of vacant lots and roads to nowhere should this come to pass (construction has not yet advanced very far). That, according to Australian football officials, the United States could secure the 2022 bid if Qatar loses it would be the final insult.

The charges do little to help Qatar's international image since reports began airing over a year ago that hundreds of guest workers, almost all of them from South and Southeast Asia, have died on the job since the bid was won. These have not been for FIFA-related worksites, but general totals: over the past decade, thousands of guest workers have perished in the wider Gulf region. The deaths are not so obvious as fatal falls and electrocutions from high towers, but a combination of long hours in difficult climatic conditions with inadequate housing and healthcare. And there is the matter (difficult to quantify) of a general malaise among workers resulting from their isolation and impoverishment relative to full Qatari citizens. Not to mention their anemic legal rights in-country. But given the amount of work the World Cup is set to generate for foreigner laborers, there has been no slowdown in applications (legal or not) to come and build up Lusail despite the risks.

Qatar has not been handed a red card by FIFA. At best, it's been handed a yellow card, if even that. So, for now, Doha gets to stay on the field.


†Much of the effort was apparently concentrated among CAF members, who control four of the 24 executive committee seats which vote on bids. At least 12 votes are needed to win, and there are unofficial backdoor campaigns going on throughout the process to prevent voters from switching their support (this was a bitter point of contestation between Qatar and the UK, apparently). The 2022 vote actually involved only 22 committee members: 2 had lost their voting rights due to corruption scandals and were not replaced during the process.
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?

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.

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.

 

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. 

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.

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."

Segregated Ghetto

But in Qatar there is the limited interaction between the country’s population groups, which includes nationals, white-collar workers mainly from the Arab and Western worlds, and laborers from South and Southeast Asia. The three groups live in parallel worlds divided by invisible barriers.

“Although we all live in the same community we are living in ghettos, social ghettos,” Al Emadi said. “The interaction between Qataris and all types of expats, even the Arab expats, is really just related to the work place. We hardly ever interact at the house level.”

The lack of interactions between nationals and white-collar workers seems more acute in Doha than in Dubai or Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates because the segregation of housing is perhaps more pronounced. Neighborhoods in Qatar “largely define and structure social interaction,” according to the report.

The wealthier tier of expatriates lives in employer-provided or employer-supported housing likely to be villas and apartments. “Qataris tend to live in neighborhoods with detached high-fenced housing in predominately Qatari neighborhoods where extended family members tend to live.” This is their desire. About 97 percent of Qataris preferred having other Qataris as neighbors; less than one percent indicated a preference for low-paid migrant workers in their neighborhoods. Laborers live in migrant camps mainly located outside of the city center. Late last year Qatar banned labor accommodations in residential areas.

UAE Zayed University anthropologist Jane Bristol-Rhys agreed that Qatar’s neighborhoods are more segregated than many in the Emirates, but she objected to assumptions that these invisible boundaries are put there purposefully in either country.

“These places are melting pots. There are over 200 nationalities in the Emirates in addition to Emiratis. Are people going to tend to socialize in groups where they work? Yes. But Interaction is not necessarily limited to nationality groups,” according to Bristol-Rhys, who has spent almost a decade interviewing foreign workers and Emiratis about the issue.

Limited Social Arenas

There are limited, although growing, areas for social interaction outside of work. Majlis, a social meeting usually sex-segregated, is the main leisure activity of Qataris, according to the SESRI report. Unsurprisingly expatriates do not report majlis in the list of preferred social activities. Rather they are involved in schools, charities, clubs and sports.

The segregation between the sexes restricts inter-mingling. During a meal at a Qataris home, the men and women would normally dine separately. This is “something you are not used to and probably something that you don’t want to do,” said Al Emadi. “We don’t want to do it your way either. At the end of the day both parties don’t like to give in on what they think is the right way of interaction. So they end up having their own separate things.”

Qatari women are also restricted in their relationships with men. It would “not be comfortable, not be acceptable,” to “hang-out” with men outside of a work or a school environment, said Muna Mohammed, a young professional Qatari woman. Her two friends agreed. The three said, however, that they have more foreign friends and acquaintances than their parents or older generations do.

Social interaction between low-paid migrant workers and other groups are near non-existent. On meager salaries, they cannot afford leisure coffees, movies or even taxi rides into town. Even if they could muster-up the money, most work very long hours with few days off a month. Bachelors are also banned from Qatar’s malls on certain days because of “family-only days” policies.

However Bristol-Rhys said it is not clear that a great number of these migrant workers, who often come from small villages, even want to socialize with other groups.

Qataris and migrant workers, who are from different countries but whose circumstances are relatively similar, are fairly homogenous group; while the third social group of “professional” workers contains many subgroups from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.

Often there is limited interaction between these subgroups, between Arab and Western expatriates, according to Al Emadi. "We...tend to interact with people who are like us. Who speak our language, who behave like us, have more of our values and so on."

Bristol-Rhys is not sure she agreed that we like people who are like us and said there are other contributing factors that may increase isolation. “Some people are not good cultural travelers. Even though they may have a job working here (UAE), it may not suit their personality to want to get to know another language or culture or even to interact.”

A Minority In Their Country

Because of rapid growth and development Qatar and the other Gulf countries have a large migrant population. Some 1.8 million people live in Qatar, but only a few hundred thousand are citizens. The country has the highest global ration of migrants to citizens, according to the World Bank. The UAE ranks third. All of the Gulf countries are in the [top 30] (http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPROSPECTS/Resources/334934-1199807908806/Top10.pdf).

Twenty-five percent of respondents answered yes to “Are there too many expats in the UAE?” in a recent (unscientific) poll on The National's website (screenshot).

Debates about “too many foreigners,” “price of modernizing” and “preservation of national culture” are of course nothing new. Khalid Al Ameri, an Emirati commentator, wrote:

You can only imagine how strange it must be for people who have a hard time integrating into their own society. It would be frustrating for anyone, in his or her home country, to see the presence of indigenous culture dwindle.

It is also true that Qatar and the UAE need foreign workers to develop their countries. There are simply not enough nationals to do it. “We don’t have the knowledge, we don’t have the numbers,” Qatar University's Al Emadi said. It would be difficult to operate a single sector in the country without migrant workers. “If we wanted to run the hospital by ourselves, just Qataris, we probably could not do it. We don’t have enough nurses. We don’t have enough doctors.”

Lowly-paid migrant workers are not exclusive to the developing Gulf countries. “It seems like every country in the world has a population they don’t want to talk about that does the dirty work,” Bristol-Rhys said. There were successive waves of migrant groups to the United States who did the “crap” jobs no one else wanted to do - the Irish, the Jews and of course not forgetting enslaved blacks. “This is not uniquely a Gulf problem it just seems so just because of the sheer magnitude of it - because these (migrant) populations seriously outnumber the citizens.”

There is the argument that migrants to the U.S. and Europe can eventually become citizens of the nations in which they work, and this is something unlikely to happen in the Gulf anytime soon - if ever.

Path to citizenship?

If Qatar were to open up a greater path to citizenship, which is severely restricted and almost 100 percent hereditary, Qatari nationals feel they would become a minority with minority rights in their own country, Al Emadi said. Now Qataris are clearly the minority, but they are the ones with the greatest rights.

But migration to Gulf countries is done for different reasons than to the U.S. or Europe. “Are we beginning with the premise that all expatriates want to have Qatari or Emirati passport?,” Bristol-Rhys asked. Most people move to these countries to improve their lives at home, to put their children through schools, to buy a home or to fatten their pension funds. “Everyone who comes here knows this is not a place for immigration. This is not a place you would migrate to become a citizen."