“It is a barren, featureless peninsula, without even a wadi to break its desolate monotony. Until the coming of oil a generation ago its inhabitants led the meanest and harshest existence of any of the Gulf, surviving by fishing, pearling and raising of goats and camels.” JB Kelly, Arabia, the Gulf and the West. Kelly goes on to write, “It is not the fault of the Qataris that they have no history, nor can it be held against them that they would like to invent one- though It is doubtful whether most of them care one way or another about the past.” According to JB Kelly, the most eminent scholar of Gulf history, the ruling family of Qatar the Al Thanis have traditionally been held in low esteem by their fellow ruling sheikhs of the Gulf States. The ruling Al Thanis, being of the Wahhabi Islamist persuasion, were also the most draconian of the Gulf rulers, despite taking a somewhat more moderate view of the Wahhabi strictures.
I have only been in Qatar for a few weeks, in 2003 and 2004, waiting for aircraft going in or out of Iraq. My observations were not positive, especially the shopping malls with all the artificial “Christmas” trees and moving black objects ( soldier phrase for the Arab women in full Islamic regalia.) It gave me the premonition of a plastic unreal civilization on the verge of vaporization. But I have tried to tell it like it is.
The al Thanis have had a rather tangled history of in-family bloodless fratricide..a number of rulers deposed by sons, or other close members of the Al Thanis. In more recent history Khalifa bin Hamas al Thani seized control of Qatar while his father , Ahmad bin Ali was on a hunting trip in Iran, and in turn was deposed by his son, Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani in 1995. Under the latter the modernization and some liberalization began, and a total welfare state was inaugurated for its citizens, from womb to tomb, along with a massive construction of a modern , if garish, city. This program was embellished and became one of the wonders of the wonders of the gulf in 2013 when Hamas relinquished control to his son, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. In preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. a massive infrastructure program was initiated and more welfare for the coveted title of citizen.
The basic issue is that only about 12% not the population are citizens, the rest, about 2.8 million being the expatriates who do all the work. As in the UAE, most of the manual work is done by south Asians, including some 1.5 million Sri Lankans, with the Levantine Arabs and Westerners filling most of the managerial positions. Ninety percent of the Qataris, who are in actual employment, work for the government. As a Qatari general told Zoltan Barany, Armies of Arabia,” the young men sleep till noon and then spend the rest of their day driving around in their fancy cars.” Meanwhile the laboring class lives in a ramshackle ghetto on the outskirts of Doha, out of sight of the admiring visitors to the sheikdom. The habitations in the labor camps are described as” unfinished to decrepit” in an area “dotted with piles of garbage , construction detritus, and abandoned cars.” Despite the privations of their life, few if any harbor any ill will toward the ruling class as their jobs enable them to at least have paying jobs enabling them to send money home to their families…obviously something they lacked in their country of origin.
This has all come about due to the massive oil and gas fields within the Qatari territory. Qatar exports of natural gas o are the third largest in the world. Most likely It was for this reason that al Qatar’s friendship is sought after by the West, the most recent example being Emir Tamim’s welcome reception at the White House. Should Russia shut down or limit the export of oil and gas to Western Europe, there is hope that Qatar can make up the deficit. Alas, according to the oil experts it cannot. But hope seems to drive most of the foreign policies of the West, particularly the U.S., these days.
Qatar in foreign relations pretty well substantiates the claim that there is no problem that money cannot solve. They promote the Muslim Brotherhood, have very good relations with the mullahs of Iran, Erdogan’s Islamized Turkey, and yet are happy to have the U.S. maintain the largest USAF airbase in the region, have excellent relations with Western Europeans and has a number of British advisors with their military. The ruling class hobnobs with the gentry of the West and in fact the Queen mother, the attractive Moza bint Nasser, the mother of eight princes and princesses, is president of the Qatar Foundation, which funnels money to those deemed worthy to receive it, and frequently addresses world organizations. She is one of the female power figures of the Arab world.
Qatar’s ruling family does not get along well with the other sheikhs of the Arab Gulf, and has a long standing animosity toward al Sisi’s Egypt particularly when General Al Sisi overturned the Muslim Brotherhood regime of al Morsi. A number of the other Gulf Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council ( GCC) and Egypt severed diplomatic relations with Qatar in 2017, and banned their airspace and sea routes to punish Qatar. An agreement with the Qatar brokered by Kuwait ended the boycott but not the bad feeling. Particularly Saudi Arabia’s rulers detest Qatar’s foreign policies as the Muslim Brotherhood is an ideological enemy of the Wahhabi philosophy of the Saudis.
The Qatari military with the exception of the Emiri special palace guard are probably the least capable of any of the Gulf states, none of which are capable of defending themselves against regional enemies. The ruler did impose mandatory military training for all Qatari males for a three month period. It is more intended to instill some sort of discipline and nationalism into a largely self-indulgent youth. The Qataris did serve in an number of areas, including Libya, Yemen, and Afghanistan but without any distinction. Their part in the 1991 Gulf war was actually a unit of mostly Jordanian personnel. Throughout the Gulf many of the soldiers are Baluchi, or Dhofaris, with Jordanian NCO’s.
Other than their wealth, the infamous Al Jazeera television network has put Qatar on the map. Its emergence in 1996 ushered in a new concept in Arab television news—-or so it seemed—- telling some unpleasant truths about the Arab world. Totally funded by the Qatari ruler using unlimited money it pulled experienced and seasoned television newscasters from other networks paying them handsomely. For example, a friend of mine applied to work at Al Hurra, the American unanswer to al Jazeera, and was shocked at the low level of pay. As might be surmised while Al Jazeera was drawing 70 million viewers ,Al Hurra was getting 1.5 million viewers. Hate America is a difficult theme to counter in. the Middle East.
|I was involved in a minor way in the Egyptian – Qatar dispute over a filmed interview I had with Al Jazeera. Called “The Soldiers,” it was basically a hit piece on the Egyptian government and army—- which I had not intended it to be. Within hours over a half million people viewed it on YouTube watching the skilled Al Jazeera propaganda piece. The Egyptian government and military hierarchy was deeply offended- as they had a right to be.The dustup can be read about below. . I had intended my part to be an analysis of the cultural issues that ALLArab militaries are afflicted by…a sort of a visual presentation of my article “Why Arabs Lose Wars” https://www.meforum.org/441/why-arabs-lose-wars) but Al Jazeera cut and clipped it in such a way to make it appear it was just the Egyptian Army I was talking about. But to be sure the issues presented are present in the Egyptian Army as they are in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and to some extent now in Jordan, and in an aggravated form in the Gulf states. The essence of the issue below.|
American gurus on all things Arab such as Marc Lynch, and Hugh Miles were highly laudatory of the Al Jazeera, seeing it as ushering in a new era of Arab media. According to these folks, Al Jazeera was not anti semitic, or anti American. However, American soldiers on the ground fighting house to house in Fallujah had a far different view. As Bing West (No True Glory: A front-line Account of the Battle of Al Fallujah) related it, it was the shrill denunciations, exhortations to the terrorists, and bloody images emanating from Al Jazeera that convinced the world that Americans were bent on genocide, and made George Bush call off the assault. It had to be reinitiated later in 2004, when the terrorists had created a fortified city which was retaken at great cost.
At this time even the aficionados of Al Jazeera should be convinced that Al Jazeera is simply a very well funded and expertly produced network that serves as the mouthpiece of the Qatar ruling family, an authoritarian government that rules over a mostly apathetic citizenry happy with government largess, and indentured servants content with their lot in life.
Since my short visits there in 2003-4 Qatar has gone from strength to strength, but my opinion has not changed. Its existence in history will be short-lived and unlike the older great civilizations of the Middle East, will leave few artifacts to reveal the once wondrous metropolis.