The Peninsula, Qatar’s Daily Newspaper of 21 May 2020 reports that ILO lauds Qatar’s efforts to protect health, rights of domestic workers. Qatar has about2.6 million inhabitants as of early 2017, the majority of whom (about 92%) live in Doha, the capital. Foreign workers amount to around 88% of the population, with Indians being the largest community numbering around 1,230,000. It will host the Football World Cup of 2022.
Doha: The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has lauded the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA) for launching SMS campaign to protect health and rights of domestic workers during COVID-19 crisis.
The series of messages in 12 languages was developed by the MADLSA with the support of the ILO Project Office for the State of Qatar, Migrant-Rights.org and the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), said ILO in a report on its official website.
The messages provide helpful tips not only on how to prevent COVID-19 transmission but also how to protect the health and rights of domestic workers at home during this challenging period.
“Domestic workers play an essential role in ensuring the health and safety of the families for which they work, from cleaning and cooking, to supporting teleworking parents, caring for children, the ill and the elderly,” said ILO Technical Specialist Alix Nasri.
“It is vital that they have access to up-to-date information on COVID-19 precautionary measures in languages they understand. At the same time this campaign reaches out to employers so they support the health and welfare of domestic workers in their homes during the COVID-19 lockdown, when their services are being so heavily relied upon.” Messages for domestic workers include basic information on the symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do if they have symptoms, advice on hygiene and sanitation, sending money home via online services as well as keeping in touch with family back home.
There is also information reminding domestic workers of their rights and responsibilities – at all times – according to Qatar’s Law No. 15 of 2017 on domestic work. Messages for employers highlight the need to support the mental and emotional health as well as physical well-being of domestic workers. There are reminders about domestic workers’ rights relating to working hours, rest periods, days off, and the importance of being paid on time. Employers are also encouraged to help domestic workers open bank accounts and transfer their salary online, as well as provide access to the internet and other forms of communication.
Director of MADLSA Recruitment Department, Fawaz Al Rayis stressed the importance of reaching out to domestic workers and their employers. “Raising awareness about precautionary measures, providing useful advice, and recalling rights and obligations is key to ensuring both domestic workers and employers are protected during this pandemic. This campaign is an effective way to quickly and widely share important information with domestic workers and their employers, similarly to what has been done in other sectors,” said Al Rayis.
Once considered a farfetched possibility by skeptics, global warming and climate change are now surfacing as palpable realities of the day. From wildfires in Australia to melting glaciers in Iceland, the year 2020 bid farewell to the hottest ever decade recorded on the planet. Fortunately, though, measures are being taken across all industries to curb our modern world’s carbon footprint, and the case of building and construction sector is no different.
According to a recent UNEP-supported report titled 2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, construction sector in 2019 continued its notorious position as the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in 39% of the energy and process-related carbon emissions recorded during the year. The report further states that whilst as many as 136 countries have expressed intentions to work towards sustainable buildings, only a few have elaborated on tangible actions strategized to achieve such plans.
The global building stock is forecasted to grow twofold by 2050 as a direct consequence of increasing urbanization. If left unchecked, GHG emissions resulting from the building industry can rise to 50% of the global carbon emissions in the next three decades. While technological innovations have given way to reduced energy consumption, increasing cooling demand emerging from hot regions have overshadowed a significant positive trajectory. That said, countries across the world are increasingly targeting the urban built environment as a part of their national strategy towards a low-carbon future.
Within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Qatar houses one of the highest collections of sustainable buildings. Concluding 2019, the country saw completion of more than 50 projects certified under the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) – MENA’s first performance-based assessment system for green buildings. Based on their overall sustainability credentials, projects registered under GSAS can achieve up to 5 Stars, representing the highest levels of sustainable features in terms of design and build. The award of final rating and certificates follows a comprehensive process whereby auditors from the Gulf Organisation for Research & Development (GORD) analyze several aspects of projects at multiple stages throughout the construction phase.
For the year 2019, here are some green projects successfully completed under GSAS.
During 2019, many recipients of outstanding sustainability ratings were linked with Qatar Rail’s Doha Metro project. With Mesheireb Station achieving the highest rating of 5 Stars, another 17 metro stations and 2 stabling yards at different locations within Doha received 4 Stars for their environmentally friendly design and build aspects. Doha Metro is by far the world’s first metro project with accredited sustainable certification specific to rating railway stations. This has been achieved through GSAS’ unique Railways Scheme that is used for rating the sustainability and ecological impacts of new main station buildings, including spaces that serve various functions of a metro station. According to Consolidated Contractors Company, sustainability of the project has been achieved through responsible site development, water saving, energy efficiency, materials selection, cultural and economic value support and innovation in design. Stations awarded GSAS accreditation during 2019 included those located in Msheireb Downtown, Ras Bu Abboud, Al Sadd, Al Sudan, Bin Mahmoud, Qatar University, Hamad International Airport Terminal 1, Al Doha Al Jadeda, Umm Ghuwailina, Ras Bu Fontas, Economic Zone, Al Wakrah, Al Bidda, Corniche, Hamad Hospital, Al Riffa, The White Palace and Education City.
Lusail City Projects:
A number of projects receiving green certifications during 2019 represented Lusail City – Qatar’s first smart city covering 38 square kilometers, that has mandated GSAS to ensure sustainability of all of its buildings. A flagship project of Qatari Diar, Lusail City has been dubbed as the “largest single sustainable development” ever undertaken in the State of Qatar. Use of native flora and water efficient landscaping mechanisms are some ways the city conserves water. Its integrated transport system reduces GHG emissions resulting from private vehicles. The city’s urban connectivity has been achieved through light rail, ample pedestrian walkways, bicycle tracks and park-and-ride facilities at the public transport stations. With a capacity to reduce up to 65 million tons of CO2 per annum, Lusail’s district cooling plant boasts of being one of the largest in the world. Other green credentials benefiting the entire city include a pneumatic waste collection system, sewage treatment plant and an interconnected natural gas network designed to cut down energy consumption.
Within Lusail, Marina Yacht Club Al Khaliji Tower received the highest sustainability rating of 4 Stars during 2019 followed by another 8 commercial, residential and mixed-use developments receiving 4, 3 and 2 stars. Once complete, the city will have the capacity to accommodate 200,000 residents, 170,000 employees and 80,000 visitors without significant impact on the environment.
Sustainable development is one of the four key pillars of Qatar National Vision 2030, a fact that has provided a natural impetus for public projects to be designed and constructed sustainably. Now, all government projects within Qatar are now mandated to pursue and achieve sustainability under GSAS certification system. To this end, health centers in Al Waab, Al Wajbah, Muaither and Qatar University were successfully completed with 3 Stars sustainability rating during 2019 under the supervision of Public Works Authority ‘Ashghal’. Interestingly, all projects undertaken by Ashghal have been designed and built following sustainability principles – a fact that has been reiterated by Ashghal’s President, Dr. Eng. Saad bin Ahmad Al Muhannadi, who recently emphasized that “Ashghal is implementing GSAS standards in all its public buildings in Qatar, specifically in educational and health buildings.” In the light of these comments, one can safely assume that the upcoming stock of health centers in Qatar will continue to have sustainability at the core of their design and construction.
Hamad Port Project Facilities:
Increasing Doha’s total port capacity, Hamad Port Project started operations in 2016. However, construction has been underway to develop new facilities aimed at enhancing the port’s functional efficiency. The year 2019 witnessed completion of multiple facilities inside the new port with sustainability certification. From accommodation and mosques to civil defense and business center buildings, 19 projects under the umbrella of Hamad Port received sustainability rating between 3 and 2 Stars. Development of the new port has followed comprehensive mechanisms aimed at preserving the environment. For instance, 39,117 mangroves, 14,252 sqm of sea grass and 11,595 hard corals were relocated prior to the construction phase. The relocated flora and fauna are being continuously monitored and have so far proven to be surviving.
Taking green sports infrastructure to another level, Al Janoub Stadium received GSAS 4 Stars during 2019, and rightly so. Soon to be a venue for FIFA 2022 World Cup games, the stadium consumes 30 percent less water in terms of international plumbing codes. More than 15% of its permanent building materials are made from recycled content and more than 85% of the waste generated during construction was processed to be reused or recycled, making it one of the most sustainable stadiums worldwide. Apart from Al Janoub, Qatar University’s Sports and Events Complex was another distinguishing project that received 4 Stars under GSAS Design & Build scheme.
Qatar has about2.6 million inhabitants as of early 2017, the majority of whom (about 92%) live in Doha, the capital. Foreign workers amount to around 88% of the population, with Indians being the largest community numbering around 1,230,000. It will host the Football World Cup of 2022.
Migrant workers in Qatar who are in quarantine or undergoing treatment will receive full salaries, the government has announced.
Qatar has announced 781 confirmed coronavirus cases – the highest in the Arab Gulf region – and two deaths.
In a news conference on Tuesday, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA) also said it was mandatory for employers and companies to follow the policy.
He added that a hotline service (92727) was launched to receive workers’ grievances.
“The companies are responding fully because they know that the workers were put in quarantine as a precautionary measure to protect all of us,” Muhammed Hassan al-Obaidly, assistant under-secretary for labour affairs at MADLSA, said.
He also said three billion riyals ($824m) were set aside to support companies in paying their employees.
“We are working 24 hours through department concerned for wage protection system to monitor the companies on a daily basis, checking the transactions, sending messages directly to the companies who are found delaying the payments,” said al-Obaidly.
“We will communicate with the workers in their language and will take the statement to address the issue. They do not need to come to the services centre of the ministry.”READ MORE
Those outside Qatar will be able to renew their Qatar identity cards (QID) without any penalties, he added.
Those who are unable to return home after having their jobs terminated will “remain in Qatar with proper lodging and food”.
“Some countries have closed their airports and, in such cases, an appropriate mechanism will be set on how to repatriate these workers to ensure they do not remain stranded.”
Reiterating Qatar’s policy of providing free treatment to all individuals infected with coronavirus, al-Obaidly, said those who do not have valid working visas and are illegal in the country would also be treated free of charge.
Amid growing fears over the spread of the virus, Qatar has banned the entry of foreigners after suspending all incoming flights for the next two weeks.
Last week, Qatar announced the closure of all shops, except for food stores and pharmacies, and bank branches. Eighty percent of government employees were also ordered to work from home.
A weaponized hashtag and fake Twitter accounts seek to blame the small Gulf nation for the spread of COVID-19
The ongoing blockade of Qatar by its neighbors is being further intensified by a new round of disinformation blaming the Gulf country for the spread of COVID-19.
Last week, Noura Almoteari — a Saudi Arabia-based journalist — posted on Twitter, saying that Qatar has known about the existence of COVID-19 since 2015. Earlier this month, she accused Doha of paying billions to China “to grow the virus.” She also coined the Twitter hashtag “Qatar is corona,” which has now been used hundreds of times on the platform. Almoteari stated that the country was spreading the virus in order to damage both the UAE’s upcoming Expo 2020 and Saudi Arabia’s future plans to diversify into a post-oil economy.
In addition to this, Qatar has come under attack from Twitter bot accounts that blame the country for the coronavirus outbreak. In January and February, numerous fake Twitter profiles advanced the theory that Qatar was responsible for spreading the virus to Argentina. The accounts have since been suspended.
In today's disinformation weirdness: New accounts created in Feb 2020 and Jan 2020 featuring pictures of attractive women are saying Qatar has been negligent in spreading #coronavirus to Argentina. What's also weird is their overlap with BTS fandom. Seeing a lot of this. pic.twitter.com/XEsj7CdCyn
The land, sea and air blockade of Qatar began in June 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain severed diplomatic links with the gas-rich country, after years of rancor over Doha’s foreign policy.
The blockading quartet issued a list of demands, which seemed designed to turn Qatar into a client state. The orders included that Doha cut all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements, and that it shutterits media operations, including the broadcaster Al Jazeera.
In the years since the blockade was launched, Qatar has faced repeated accusations from Saudi Arabia and the UAE of supporting terrorism. Armies of Twitter accounts and carefully orchestrated disinformation campaigns have become a prominent and ongoing feature of this diplomatic quarrel.
“The coronavirus campaign against Qatar began online as early as January, long before the current corona outbreak,” said Marc Owen Jones, assistant professor of Middle East Studies and Digital Humanities at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Doha, in a phone interview with Coda Story.
“There were definitely some early disinformation campaigns on Twitter, which were basically saying that Qatar was responsible for the coronavirus, and that it had played a role in spreading it. People are trying to preempt the crisis and exploit it politically.” Subscribe to Coda’s Coronavirus Crisis newsletter
The disinformation campaign has also targeted Qatar’s labor camps — institutions common in Gulf nations, which house thousands of low-paid migrant workers. One Saudi newspaper has published a number of stories about the outbreak of COVID-19 affecting “hundreds” of people in the industrial areas outside Doha, where many of Qatar’s 1.9 million migrant workers live.
Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health says the total number of reported coronavirus cases in the country currently stands at 481.
“I would say this is a continuation of the verbal barrage of misinformation and disinformation that is part of the Qatar blockade,” said Dr Sanam Vakil, a senior research fellow with the Middle East & North Africa Programme at Chatham House in London. “In this current iteration, it accuses the Qataris of spreading the virus. This will continue for quite a degree of time, and these sorts of campaigns are a reflection of how deep seated the tensions are.”
Vakil said the disinformation about Qatar echoed how other countries are trying to internationalize the cause of COVID-19. In recent days, China has sought to blame the U.S.; earlier this month, Bahrain accused Iran of “biological aggression” by covering up the spread of the coronavirus.
“While it is interesting these bots are blaming Qataris, I think it is part of a nationalist impulse that is not just unique to the Gulf in using an external crisis to whip up support,” Vakil added.
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, author of “Qatar and the Gulf Crisis,” believes that the outpouring of digital disinformation about Qatar on Twitter must at least have the tacit approval of authorities in countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where social media is closely monitored.
“The fact that such comments have been made by high-profile individuals in Saudi Arabia and the UAE without facing any official censure suggests that their messaging carries the implicit approval of authorities, who are in other circumstances extremely quick to police and respond harshly to commentaries that they do not agree with,” he said.
Burhan Wazir is the Managing Editor of Coda Story’s Authoritarian Tech and Disinformation channels. He’s an award-winning journalist and editor, based in London, who previously worked at The Observer, The Times and Al Jazeera. He lived in the Middle East from 2008-2016.
DOHA (AFP) – Migrant workers in Qatar are facing discrimination because of their nationality, racial identity, stereotyping and the “prevalence” of profiling, an independent UN expert warned on Sunday (Dec 1).
The Gulf monarchy has seen an influx of migrant workers, mainly from poor developing countries, in advance of the 2022 World Cup meaning that the population is 90 per cent non-Qatari.
“For many people living in Qatar, their capacity to enjoy human rights fully is mediated by their nationality or national origin,” the UN’s special rapporteur on racism and discrimination Tendayi Achiume told AFP.
Migrants from specific countries are often recruited for certain roles such as women from south-east Asia for domestic work and men from south Asia for unskilled construction jobs, she said.
“Far from being mostly short-term guest workers, many low-income workers spend the better part of their working lives in Qatar and do so facing serious barriers to full enjoyment of their fundamental human rights,” she said.
Very few migrant workers ever qualify for permanent residency and almost none achieve citizenship and the welfare benefits enjoyed by Qataris.
UN experts are independent and do not speak for the world body, but their findings can be used to inform the work of UN organisations including the rights council.
Ms Achiume will present her final report on the visit to the UN Human Rights Council in July 2020.
She warned that stereotypes persist in public and private that “Sub-Saharan African men are presumed to be unsanitary, sub-Saharan African women are presumed to be sexually available, and South Asian nationalities are presumed unintelligent”.
“North Americans, Europeans and Australians, on the other hand, are presumed superior, and whites in general are presumed to be inherently competent,” she said.
But Ms Achiume stressed that while racism and discrimination remained an issue in Qatar, authorities had accepted the issue and made efforts to improve the situation – unlike some other countries.
“The existence of racial, ethnic and national stereotypes and discriminatory structures… are, in part, the product of the history of slavery in Qatar,” she said.
Slavery in the country was abolished in 1952.
Ms Achiume, a law professor at UCLA in the United States, said she had also received reports that “highlighted the prevalence of racial and ethnic profiling by police and traffic authorities”.
Security guards in parks and shopping centres also engaged in such practices, she said, favouring white and Arab residents while treating others differently.
Ms Achiume praised Qatar for the “significant reforms the government has embarked on that stand to make important contributions to combatting structural racial discrimination”. “Much work remains to be done, however,” she said.
Two and a half years after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain launched a boycott against rival Qatar, the quartet are headed to Doha for a soccer tournament on November 24 – a game-changer in the Gulf dispute.
In the absence of significant Qatari capitulations or face-saving gestures, it appears concerns over Iran’s ability to threaten oil production and shipping have compelled Riyadh and its allies to bring Doha back into the fold.
The most important thing to watch is whether Qatar’s border with Saudi Arabia, the peninsula state’s only land border to the rest of the Gulf, will open for the match.
“If the border opens up for the soccer game it will open up for regular visitors,” said Sigurd Neubauer, an analyst at the DC-based Gulf International Forum.
“This will be the game-changer,” he told Asia Times, as it could lead to a permanent lifting of the land and air blockade on Qatar and its lucrative national carrier, Qatar Airways.
Egyptian gas connection
While Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain may be subtle in their rapprochement with Qatar, Egypt has been willing to go to the next level to secure key energy supplies for its 90 million population.
In the past week, Qatar’s state gas company announced that a US$4.4 billion investment in Egypt – one of the countries supposedly boycotting it – had begun to bear fruit.
“Qatar Petroleum is pleased to announce the successful start-up of the Egyptian Refining Company (ERC) Refinery project located in Mostorod, north of the Egyptian capital Cairo,” a company statement said.
“All of the ERC Refinery units are now successfully operating, and are expected to ramp up to full production before the end of the first quarter of 2020, which will reduce Egypt’s dependence on imported petroleum products,” it added.
Qatar has quietly supplied the neighboring UAE with gas during the blockade, but the massive investment in Egypt – its largest in the Arab world and Africa – means Doha is going a step further to exhibit its strategic relevance.
With Saudi Arabia, a key patron of Egypt, focused on cooling Gulf tensions, deals like this may be increasingly granted a green light, if they even require a blessing at all.
“Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world and even if [President] Sisi is aligned with Saudi, Egypt did not expel any Qatari citizens during the blockade and allowed Egyptians to keep working and sending remittances,” said analyst Neubauer.
In turn, Doha showed a willingness to distance itself from its key ally through the blockade: Turkey.
“The Qatari decision to invest in Egypt is a strategic decision and it angered [President] Erdogan. So this is another sign things are moving in the right direction,” Neubauer added.
For Egypt, a key qualm against Qatar was its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and support for the anti-government 2011 uprising. But for Saudi Arabia, the key issue was ties with its arch-foe Iran.
But with the US maximum pressure campaign on Tehran now understood to be limited to sanctions, and with Tehran exhibiting its willingness to hit the Arab monarchies where it hurts – the petroleum sector – Qatar may increasingly be seen as a potential mediator for its vulnerable neighbors, rather than as a spoiler.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, just a few years ago set on taking on every rival from the Houthis of Yemen to Iran, has massively changed his positioning since the summer.
The damage to Saudi Aramco facilities last month drove home the risk of escalation with Tehran, and by extension, the importance of Gulf unity and multilateralism. For the UAE, attacks on oil tankers off its coast earlier this summer had a similar effect.
The lightning attacks on Aramco facilities wiped out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production in a span of hours, wreaking not only physical damage but financial – compelling international investors to consider fresh security risks amidst an IPO valuation.
With no US military response to the Aramco attacks, the Saudis were shown how they would bear the brunt of further aggravation of their powerful neighbor.
“The combination of those attacks in September and doubts about US reliability … has persuaded the UAE and the Saudis that they needed to start dialing down tensions,” said James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
“And that relates to Qatar and Iran.”
In the case of Qatar, the Gulf states will be looking to come to an understanding that allows all parties to save face.
But Doha, which over the course of the blockade has embraced dairy farms and shifted to greater trade with Iran, is unlikely to ever go back to reliance on food imports through its land border with Saudi Arabia.
“Whatever compromise you find, it is not going to be a return to the status quo. It’s going to take a while to heal the wounds,” said Dorsey.
The Qataris, he said, will not be suddenly putting their eggs into one basket.
The Planning and Statistics Authority’s recently released data shows 51% general increase in July 2019 in the number of building permits issued when compared to June this year.
The Planning and Statistics Authority (PSA) published the fifty-fifth issue of the monthly statistics of Building Permits and Building Completion certificates issued by all municipalities of the State.
According to PSA data on building permits issued during July 2019, Al Rayyan comes at the top of the municipalities where the number of building permits issued were 188, i.e. 27% of the total issued permits, while Doha municipality comes in second place with 151 permits, i.e. 22%, followed by Al Wakrah with 131 permits (19%), then Al Da’ayen with 85 permits, i.e.12%.
The rest of the municipalities are as follows: Umm Slal 58 permits (8%), Al Khor 39 permits (6%), Al Sheehaniya 31 permits (4%), and Al Shammal 15 permits (2%).
In terms of type of permits issued, data indicates that the new building permits (residential and non-residential) constitute 50% (352 permits) of the total building permits issued during the month of July 2019, while the percentage of additions permits constituted 48% (334 permits), and finally fencing permits with 2% (12 permits).
New residential buildings permits data indicates that villas top the list, accounting for 68% (198 permits) of all new residential buildings permits, followed by dwellings of housing loans permits by 24% (71 permits) and apartments buildings by 7% (20 permits).
On the other hand, governmental buildings were found to be in the forefront of non-residential buildings permits with 29% (17 permits), followed by industrial buildings e.g. workshops and factories with 27% (16 permits), then commercial buildings with 25% (15 permits).
Comparing the number of permits issued in July 2019 with those issued in the previous month a general increase of 51% was noted. The increase was noted in all municipalities as follows: Al Shammal (150%), Al Wakrah (68%), Al Sheehaniya and Al Khor (63%) each, Umm Slal (61%), Al Rayyan (50%), Al Doha (41%), Al Da’ayen (25%).
The press release added that a quick review of the data on building completion certificates issued during the month of July 2019, according to their geographical distribution, showed that Rayyan municipality comes at the top of the municipalities where the number of building completion certificates issued were 125 certificates, i.e. (33%) of the total issued certificates while municipality of Al Wakrah came in second place with 81 certificates, i.e. (21%), followed by municipality of Al Doha with 74 certificates (19%), then Al Da’ayen municipality with 53 certificates, i.e.(14%). The rest of the municipalities were as follows: Umm Slal 23 certificates (6%), Al Khor 11 certificates (3%), Al Sheehaniya 9 certificates (2%), and finally Al Shammal 7 certificates (2%).
In terms of the type of certificates issued, data indicates that the new building completion certificates (residential and non-residential) constitutes 76% (291 certificates) of the total building certificates issued during the month of July 2019, while the percentage of additions certificates constituted 24% (92 certificates).
Comparing the number of certificates issued in July 2019 with those issued in the previous month we noted an increase of 38%. This increase was clearly noted in most municipalities: Al Shammal (250%),Al Wakrah (103%), Al Doha (76%), Al Rayyan (25%), Al Da’ayen (18%), Umm Slal (5%), On the other hand, there was a clear decrease in the municipality of Al Khor (35%), while Al Sheehaniya municipality maintained the same number of issued certificates.
Ivy Heffernan is a student of Economics at Buckingham University. Junior Analyst at HeffX and experienced marketing director.
Posted on July 29, 2019, and written by Whitney, an American traveller, is the following article titled Doha, Qatar… Epitome of Opulence. Having personally stayed in the country in the 90’s through to early 2000, I can confirm every single detail of the author’s story. The difference would perhaps be that I was leading a quasi-normal resident life whilst making a living through practising my skills of Architect. Indeed, today there is a bit of a situation vis a vis its surrounding neighbours, Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East but it was not exactly as enthralling as you might imagine in my early years but at least I had the privilege to see before my very eyes, the making of this city. I must say, I did contribute however modestly into the shaping of its skyline. But enough of me, here is Whitney’s.
A tidbit of information – Qatar is the most open country in the Middle East, allowing Transit Visas upon arrival for free, given you have a valid passport and return ticket. These Visas are valid for stays from 5 hours and up to 96. Additionally, Discover Qatar offers one-night free hotel stay in a variety of 5-star accommodations, or two to three nights for a fee of $100 in the same hotels. Given that the layover in Doha is a whopping nine hours, this was absolutely worth the extra money for a good nights sleep in luxury lodging.
Unfortunately, I did not know that Qatar Airlines offered a stopover through Discover Qatar in Doha when Hubs and I initially booked our Maldives flights through Qatar Airlines (ranked the #1 airline in the world). We made this delightful discovery after we had already departed the States. However, the airline (for a fee, of course) altered our flights, and we made a two day pit stop in the incredibly wealthy, insanely hot, and bustling country.
The money flowing through Qatar is obvious before you even land at the airport. From the sky, you can see the intricate, man-made island. The skyscrapers litter the cityscape. Upon landing at the airport, a sparkling air-conditioned building greets you. We were met by a smiling gentleman driving a black luxury sedan. He ferried us the 25 minutes through Doha to our accommodations for the next couple of nights. He deposited us at our five-star hotel in the ‘City Center’, the Marriott Marquis.
Unlike US hotels, security has a much larger presence. We had to go through a metal detector upon returning to the hotel each time we left. They scanned our bags before allowing us access to the enormous lobby. The friendly, multi-lingual front desk checked us in, and we took the elevator up to our room.
Downside to vacationing in a conservative Muslim country… twin beds in hotel rooms.
We are actually married (at least in Slovenia), does that entitle us to at least a queen-sized bed?
However, we were at least provided a decent view through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the city center on the 11th floor.
Tiny little admission… I may have slept brilliantly while buried beneath the blankets in my personal feathery, comfy haven in the starkly cold room thanks to the wonderfully chilly air conditioning.
We began our Doha exploration with a City Tour provided by Discover Qatar for a minimal cost of $24 a person. We were ferried around the city by a local gentleman, who regaled us with Doha facts throughout the jaunt. Doha is the capital of Qatar and boasts a population of about 2.4 million. It is located along the Persian Gulf. He informed us, water is more expensive than fuel in the wealthy country. And if we happened upon any green spaces (grass is a novelty there), it was likely watered every 30 minutes in order to survive in the extreme heat of the desert.
We cruised through the city in air-conditioned comfort in a van, just the two of us and our insightful guide. A few highlights and/or stops:
The Pearl-Qatar, an artificial island jutting into the Gulf, is a $15 billion (so far) project. It will be a stunning residential estate made up of luxury villas and commercial amenities. The project was originally to cost $2.5 Million, but clearly, that budget was a tad off.
A colossal to-scale model of the not yet finished island takes up the first floor of a building, displaying a life-like representation of the what the man-made archipelago will look like upon completion.
The imitation even has people, boats, greenery, and lighting!
And it was so enormous that I could not even get a photo of the entire model in a single photo.
Moral of the story: Sorry for the disjointed photographs that do not portray the full enormity of this undertaking.
Yet another displaying of probably the most financially stable country I have ever travelled to. They successfully made the desert desirable.
MOSQUE (Unfortunately, I don’t recall the name)
We also crept into a mosque. Thankfully, I had smartly packed a shawl and light sweaters to cover my provocative shoulders. I was also clad in baggy, white linen pants (thanks, Athleta for selling breathable and comfortable pants perfect for the occasion).
Anywho… the lower floor, only suitable for men, was basically an open floor for praying. The upper balcony was where the women were relegated to. I was escorted outside to the separate entrance they were banished to. The much smaller space overlooked the men’s sanctuary below. After collecting our footwear, we returned to our Discover Qatar chariot.
MUSEUM OF ISLAMIC ART
Our guide dumped us at the entrance to the Museum of Islamic Art. This free museum sports an unusual exterior facade. It is geometric and quite unique, looking vaguely similar to a stack of building blocks. Our chaperone challenged us to guess the significance. Stumped, he enlightened us that it is meant to resemble a woman in a hijab with only her eyes visible. If you decide to visit the museum, abide by the conservative dress code, otherwise, you may be refused entrance. Little update: My recent perusal of the museum’s website showed there is now a fee in order to gain entry to the museum. You now… because Qatar is a poor country…
The collection was fascinating, with pieces ranging from the 7th to 19th centuries, and included scrolls, textiles, ceramics, and metalwork, along with items of early mathematical importance. There is also a cafe, a gift shop, and an exterior park. Don’t forget both male and female private pray rooms. The glass windows at the rear of the building provide an uninterrupted view of the water beyond.
We were given 45 minutes to peruse the sprawling Souq Waqif by our chauffeur. The Souq is a maze of vendors selling everything from spices to jewelry to daily goods to birds to furniture. We could have spent hours wandering the alleys, and made a mental note to return later with more time to spare.
Fast forward several hours, and we returned by cab to the Souq. Unlike when we were roving the passageways earlier, most of the merchants were open for business at the later afternoon hour. The bazaar is organized into areas by means of the goods the shopkeep was bartering. Spice hucksters were in one section, while rug peddlers were off in another. I must admit, the souqs have become one of my favorite places to visit common in many Middle Eastern countries. We walked out of there is color footwear, mugs, spices, tea (cinnamon was my poison, but should one have consumed a few too many beans that day, flatulence tea was also an option), kitchen wares, and a chess set. Bartering is welcomed!
We opted to walk the 5.5 km from the Souq back to our hotel. We strolled along the pathway ringing the water front. Due to the requirements of my gender covering up, it was quite the toasty saunter. Regardless of my clamminess, the walk provided quite the view of the very colorful skyline.
And a handstand of course. I made sure to wait until there were no other onlookers, so that I did not offend anyone when my shirt dropped to my shoulders, revealing my stomach. GASP! I’m such a heathen.
During our exploration of the hotel, and the attached mall, we discovered several restaurants that were housed in the same building as the hotel. After perusing the options, Hubs decided we were going to splurge on our meal that evening. He settled upon Ipanema, a Brazilian-style steak house. Because… when in Rome??? I suppose we spent the previous couple weeks dining on Indian food, for the most part, we can branch out on our final night overseas.
The food did not disappoint. I could not tell you everything I ate that night since I felt like a whale upon departing. After getting a smallish sampling from the buffet (I had to save room for the immense amounts of meat to come), we purchased a bottle of wine, and awaited the first round of meats to be whisked by our table. For anyone unfamiliar with Brazilian steakhouses, you are given what amounts to a coaster – one side RED and the other GREEN. When you’re ready to gorge on whatever tasty hunk of meat the waiters are strolling by with, you flip your coaster over to the green side, prompting the servers to cut you a fresh slice off the slab they are toting.
I swore I was not going to give into every delicious smell that wafted passed me, but alas, I was defenseless against the succulent fare, acquiescing to my cravings. I felt like I gained 30 pounds when we waddled out of there. Totally worth it, and I slept like a baby. Another note… I discovered grilled pineapple. The delectable fruit was blanketed in cinnamon. I was incapable of dismissing the servers when they came by with it.
Random side note… Arby’s in Arabic present in the busy food court in one of the many malls. Along with the longest, flattest escalator, I have ever ridden.
Alas, it is time to depart the warmth of Qatar and return to the cold, snowy climate of Virginia in November.
وداعا … Apparently, that is “goodbye” in Arabic. Back to reality (and winter).
Dr. Sohair Wastawy, Executive Director of Qatar National Library, has more than 40 years of international library and university management experience in the Middle East and the US, and has practiced and taught librarianship in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the US.
Prior to her new role, Dr. Wastawy worked as Dean of Libraries at Florida Institute of Technology. She held the position of Dean of University Libraries at Illinois State University, and was the first Chief Librarian for the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. Dr. Wastawy also served as Dean at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
As well as her work in library management, Dr. Wastawy has worked as a consultant to many not-for-profit organizations, corporations, and accreditation commissions, and has been the recipient of international awards, including a Peace Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship.
Dr. Wastawy began her library career at Cairo University Library, Egypt, and taught librarianship in the first women’s library program in Saudi Arabia. She holds a Doctor of Arts in Library and Information Management from Simmons College, Boston, MA; and a Masters in Library and Information Science from The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.
Having an extensive international library experience in the US and the Middle East, we would like to know more about you, since the beginning of your distinguished career till now?And how did you come to leave Egypt and become an American citizen?
I hadn’t originally planned to study library science, and I later discovered that many who joined the profession had stumbled on it from different backgrounds.
Earlier, I majored in comparative linguistics, and I began with a BA degree in Semitic languages (Hebrew and Aramaic) from Cairo University then pursued an MA degree in African languages followed by a PhD in comparative linguistics at Cairo University. Before I could complete my PhD, however, my advisor Dr. Mourad Kamel, unfortunately, passed away. Because I was dealing with 6 languages as part of my thesis, it was difficult to work with any other advisor. At that time, I was working at the university library as a temporary job until I finished my PhD. Once I knew I wasn’t going to finish, I decided to stay on as a librarian and take up librarianship as a profession. However, I didn’t want to go into a profession without formally studying it.
After the Camp David Accords in 1978, the US was offering peace fellowships to a few Israeli and Egyptian students to pursue postgraduate studies in the US. I learned about this by walking past the AMIDEAST building in Cairo where I spot a big sign that read “Scholarships in the US”, so, I applied. Then, I didn’t know that in the US, unlike in Egypt, you could pursue a post graduate degree in a field other than your major. Knowing that I could choose any field of study, I shifted my career to library and information sciences.
After I completed my master degree, I was accepted in the second top program in the US: a private women school called Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, where I completed my PhD studies in 1987. After my PhD, I came back to Egypt and stayed for eight months, during which I met my then-husband. I eventually moved back to the US with him I started my career in the US as a part-time research librarian at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and I have been practicing librarianship since then.
As a woman pursing her career and a working mother, what are/were the major obstacles and challenges that you had to face in your life and career?
Since 1988, my job has always been about building and managing libraries. I managed the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) main library with its 5 branches for 14 years, before I was appointed as chief librarian at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, which also required building the library sector services and collections. After my tenure in Alexandria, I held the position of dean of university libraries at Illinois State University followed by similar position at Florida Institute of Technology.
Being a working mother is a difficult task; juggling between family and work is often relentless. It is also a delicate balancing act, especially when you are away from family and friends. I didn’t have the kind of support system that comes with living in your home country. You have to be extremely organized and very judicious with your time. In general, the responsibility of being a manager is challenging as you often don’t operate with fixed hours. It is all about getting the job done. If the job takes 10 hours or 15 hours, you owe that much time. Creating a balance between family and work requires super organizational skills. You have to organize activities for the kids and you have to share tasks with your partner.
Did you find any cultural gaps between women’s role in society in the Middle East and the US?
Gender discrimination exists in most societies. The US has given me opportunities and leadership skills, and I was for the most part, treated equally and was selected on the basis of merit. When I got my first position as a dean, I was 37 years old. I was also the first female dean IIT since it was established in 1890. I was a woman with an accent; different in completion and background which made some people regard me with suspicion. When I attended a meeting with a number of male deans, my proposed ideas fell on deaf ears. When the other male deans reiterated what I said, their ideas were met with “Oh, wow! That is quite wonderful”. I took issue with this and long before equal pay became a big thing in the US, I told my president that I was no less intelligent than these men, and I demanded to be paid as much as the other deans.
I must say that in Egypt, women have assumed leadership positions in governmental and national institutions, but we still have not seen many women judges or some other high-ranking professions. We still have quite a journey ahead of us.
Being an effective manager who has a broad repertoire of management styles, can you tell us more about the styles you used throughout your career with your employees all over the world? And how did you develop them?
There is no single management style that fits all. It is situational. You maintain certain values for equality, fairness, objectivity, and professionalism. You honor these core values, but remain flexible in how you execute them. In general, management techniques are not magic mantras but simply tools to be reached for at the right times.Some situations require the leader to hover closely; others require long, loose lines.
To be a manager does not merely entail giving orders. Being a leader is about understanding that strategy equals execution and that all the great ideas and visions in the world are worthless if they can’t be implemented in an efficient manner at the right time. As a leader, you delegate and empower others, but you also pay attention to details, every day, never above operational details. In a service profession like librarianship, loyalty to the ethos of the profession of equality and democracy are crucial. On the personal level, you must have a high-energy drive, a balanced ego, and the drive to get things done.
5- As a working mother, how did you raise your son? Has he understood the role you played in the cultural arena? How has that affected his perspective on life?
The year my son was born, I was made dean for the first time. Meaning that my son has always seen me throughout his life in leadership roles. He has always been very proud of what I have achieved. He used to brag about me when he was little, telling his friends that I was the president of the university.
Because Kariem has always seen me in leadership positions, this has had both a positive and some unhelpful effect on him. As proud as he was, my son often thought that he has to do everything perfectly in order to get my approval.
Being an immigrant in the US, you are always judged. I didn’t want my son to acquire this trait: judging people or situations prematurely. I tried to instill in him empathy toward people, and I taught him to treat people equally and with respect. Kariem grew up in a post-9/11 America, which was a very hard time for all Arabs. He was bullied by kids at school who told him that all Arabs were terrorists. This was alienating to a child who cannot defend himself, had neither the vocabulary nor the understanding to be able to say that this wasn’t our fault or that these terrorists were different people.
The atmosphere was very difficult and Arab children, like my son, had to struggle through all that because of the name-calling. Some kids told him to go back home, and Kariem used to tell them that this was his home. I tried to help him understand that these children knew little, and to teach him empathy during this time of ignorance. I also taught him not to be defensive and help educate others. Those were some of the values I tried to instill in my son. I am proud to say that he has an amazing sense of empathy, kind, open and have friends of all backgrounds and religions.
Reflecting on how your parents raised you, what ideologies do you wish to instill in girls in Egypt to become future leaders in society?
Though my father was born in 1917, he was such a liberal man in his way of thinking. He supported me all the way, and I was the first girl in the family to study abroad. That was not very common then. For a man from a different era, I think it was all a matter of trust, which he tried to foster between him and his 5 children. He always wanted us to believe in what we did. He had such work ethics and was a real patriot. He wanted us to succeed not only for our own sake but also because we owed it to our country.
We were 4 girls and 1 boy, and he urged us to choose whatever we wanted to do with our lives. Two of my sisters are doctors, one is a pharmacist, and my brother is an engineer. His advice was to always be the best at whatever you choose.
Both my parents were teachers who believed in girls’ education and independence. They were like any good parents who give their children wings to fly. That’s why each and every one of us led the life they wanted without being hindered by any limitations. Those are values that I wish all parents instill in girls in Egypt. If they do not acquire them at a young age, they will become more difficult to acquire as adults.
Having contributed to promoting an excellent image of inspiring remarkable Egyptian women and change makers, what advices do you wish to pass on to women of Egypt all over the world?
To believe in what they do, have a purpose in life, and to try to make a difference. It doesn’t matter if it is going to be gardening, teaching, a factory worker, a doctor, or engineer. Just try to make a difference. Being a stay home mom, in my opinion, is a tough job. Raising future leaders and good citizens is not for the faint of hearts. Women, who have the ability to give, can volunteer at any institution and receive a sense of accomplishment for being able to give something back to their community—either their time or energy.
Your self-worth and self-esteem rise when you contribute to the welfare of others. It is not about making money or attaining a high position; it is about what you want to be remembered with. No matter what profession you belong to, what is really important is to ask yourself these questions: how can I make any difference in my brief time on earth? If you find answer to such a question, then you will be able to find your path.
What are your future plans on both the professional and personal levels?
On the personal level, I am very much looking forward to retirement. I want to pursue hobbies that didn’t have time for when younger. I like to write, and I have been writing a collection of short stories for over 25 years now that I would like to finish. I would also like to take digital photography, gardening, creative writing and ballroom dancing classes. I also plan to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian organizations that help in the relief of human suffering.
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As the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar continues, each country seeks influence in Iraq in order to expand its economic and political power in the region. Mustafa Saadoun elaborates in an article for Al Monitor of November 27, 2018 on yet another story of David vs Goliath of the GCC, that of Saudi Arabia vs. Qatar continuing in the region as unabated as ever.
As the Gulf crisis continues with the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with no sign of a resolution, each country deems it necessary to seek a rapprochement with Iraq and win the country over to its own economic and political camps.
Each is trying to have Baghdad align with its axis, while Baghdad affirms its need for help from both countries to get rid of the destruction left by the Islamic State (IS) in the Sunni areas.
A Qatari delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani visited the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Nov. 7, where he met with the Iraqi president, prime minister and parliament speaker to “discuss the ties between the two countries.”
Three days after the Qatari delegation’s visit, Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources of Saudi Arabia Khalid Al-Falih visited Baghdad and met with as many figures as did the Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs. This happened in light of the tense relationship that has governed Saudi-Qatari ties since June 2017.
While in Baghdad, Falih met with Iran-backed leaders of the Popular Mobilization Units that Saudi Arabia categorizes as “lawless militias,” and he invited them to visit Doha. These meetings confirm that Doha is trying to compete with Riyadh and even sabotage its ties with Iraq by building a relationship with Saudi enemies in Iraq.
Given the polarization between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the region, each of them is trying to attain a rapprochement with Iraq. Meanwhile, as Iraq is trying to cut off energy imports from Iran due to US pressure after the reimposition of sanctions against Iran, both Riyadh and Doha could replace Tehran in this issue. This is also a chance to win over Baghdad’s new government.
Moreover, some Iraqi Sunni blocks that are funded and backed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia are competing for the minister of defense position in new Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government. It is therefore likely that the two countries of the Gulf are also competing at this level.
While Qatar supports former parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri to head the Ministry of Defense in Abdul Mahdi’s government, Saudi Arabia supports the candidate of Al-Wataniya Alliance, led by Ayad Allawi, or any side that is not linked to Qatar or Turkey.
Research Fellow at Chatham House in London Renad Mansour told Al-Monitor, “[Saudi Arabia] has faced many challenges in creating allies in Iraq. For this reason, it is searching for Shiite leaders who are critical of Iran, while Qatar has strong ties with both Shiite and Sunnis including leaders of the Popular Mobilization [Units], with the national Sunni front and with figures close to Iran.”
Mansour added, “Iraq must balance ties with both countries, as it cannot take sides in the Saudi-Qatari crisis — especially since there is no common foreign policy. So two different actors will work more closely with either side.”
The simultaneous visit of Qatari and Saudi delegations to Iraq could point out both the unlikelihood of the normalization of the Qatari-Saudi relationship in the short term and the importance of Iraq as a neutral actor in the region and a market open to energy and gas.
The Qatari-Saudi race did not stop at the diplomatic level. Media outlets in both countries started implying the “failure” of the other to influence and align with Iraq. The Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya channel talked about “Iraq refusing” Qatar’s suggestion to form an alliance of five countries including Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.
The Qatari-funded Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper discussed “[Saudi Arabia’s] failure” to politically influence Iraq and its resorting to economic questions to “compensate for its loss.” This shows that the rivalry between Qatar and Saudi Arabia to win over Iraq is at its peak.
Ihsan al-Shammari, adviser to former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, said, “There is indeed a Qatari-Saudi competition for Iraq. Riyadh and Doha are looking for a greater space to develop ties with Baghdad. The reason for this is that Iraq has stayed impartial regarding the issues of the region. As a result, Iraq can improve the position of both countries in the crisis happening between them.”
He added, “Both Riyadh and Doha are offering Iraq opportunities to improve ties. Iraq has no choice other than balancing ties because siding with the new axes rising in the region would cost it a lot.”
Over the past few days, the official statements published after Iraqi and Qatari figures met focused on “reconstruction” in the Sunni areas freed from IS. Saudi Arabia has previously mentioned that it would take part in this process, but Qatar is also trying to display its power in the Iraqi case.
Abdul Mahdi’s new government knows that the Saudi-Qatari political and economic competition for Iraq is at its peak. At this time, Iraq needs the support of both rich states to reconstruct the freed Sunni areas that both Riyadh and Doha have warned against “marginalizing.” Yet the question is whether the new government will be capable of balancing ties between both sides.
Senior researcher at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington Rahman al-Jobori told Al-Monitor, “Iraq must ignore the Saudi-Qatari rivalry and decide on its vision for the region and itself. It is therefore important that Iraq bases its ties on what interests it as opposed to foreign interests.”
Mustafa Saadoun is an Iraqi journalist covering human rights and also the founder and director of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights. He formerly worked as a reporter for the Iraqi Council of Representatives. On Twitter: @SaadoonMustafa
Per one of the Gulf’s local media recent publications, Qatar’s competitive economy OK’d by world institutions gets this global endorsement whilst since June last year, the country is still under Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic, financial and trade links blockade with land, air and sea borders closed.
This situation is in no way a unique situation in the MENA region.
Qatar’s competitive economy and its solid macroeconomic environment have again come in for praise from the World Bank Group and World Economic Forum, which ranked the country among the best in the entire MENA region.
In a recent assessment, the World Bank Group and World Economic Forum chose Qatar’s macroeconomic environment as the best in the MENA region. Globally, Qatar’s macroeconomic environment has 20th position.
Qatar is also the second-most competitive economy in the Arab world, and 25th globally in the World Bank Group – World Economic Forum rankings.
The two global institutions assessed Qatar economy based on its performance in 2015 and 2016, when the energy prices were lower, and therefore had an impact on the country’s fiscal position.
Consequently, Qatar’s fiscal situation moved from a fiscal surplus of 10.3% (in 2015) to a deficit of 4.1% of GDP (2016), while public debt had increased from 35.8% to 47.6% of GDP in the same years.
Seen against this backdrop, Qatar’s top ranking in the region and globally speaks volumes about its economic competence and solid macroeconomic environment.
Both the World Bank Group and World Economic Forum have highlighted Qatar’s strengths, which they said “lie in the country’s solid infrastructure, efficient goods markets and world class health and education facilities.”
Since 2007, the report noted Qatar has improved its performance across all the pillars of the Index, with the exception of financial market development, which is now one of the factors of “relative weakness” of Qatar’s competitiveness, together with the average level of innovation and the size of its market.
Earlier, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) lauded Qatar’s strategic plans to diversify its economy away from oil and gas.
Qatar, the IMF said, has adopted “ambitious strategic plans” to diversify its economy away from oil and gas by increasing the non-oil sector’s contribution to the macro economy and reducing reliance on hydrocarbon revenues.
In its latest report on Qatar, IMF said the economic, financial impact from the illegal blockade on the country by a quartet of Arab nations is fading.
Qatar’s banking system has recovered from initial outflows and the economy is expected to grow 2.6% this year, the IMF said.
Qatar’s gross domestic product (GDP) is set to grow 2.6% this year and then average 2.7% during 2019-23, bolstered by Doha’s moves to increase liquefied natural gas production capacity by about 30%, IMF noted.
Qatar’s fiscal deficit is estimated to have narrowed to about 6% of gross domestic product in 2017 from 9.2% in 2016, the Bretton Woods Institution said.
According to QNB, the region’s largest and most reputable financial institution, Qatar’s foreign exchange reserves with the Qatar Central Bank rose 0.9% month-on-month to reach $45.2bn in June, equating to seven months of import cover.
Qatar’s bank assets grew 6.6% year-on-year in June, QNB said. Bank deposits grew 6.2% year-on-year in June, while credit growth stood at 6% year-on-year that month.
Deposits from the non-resident and public sector grew 7.1% and 8.9% month-on-month respectively in June, while the private sector declined 0.7% month-on-month.
The crisis that erupted between a Saudi-led bloc of Arab states and Qatar led to the tiny Emirate facing an attack on them that was unprecedented. A full year later, the crisis is still unresolved. Read against the wider exigencies of US interests in the Gulf, the crisis has also highlighted profound weaknesses in Donald Trump’s approach to global politics.
Qatar out of the picture: Donald Trump meets with Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia at the White House. Kevin Dietsch/EPA
From the onset of the crisis, the Saudi-led bloc cut diplomatic ties and hit Qatar with embargoes, including air land and maritime restrictions. They also deployed bot-fuelled hashtags and social media attacks. It was clear that the Saudis and their allies were not only targeting Qatar’s leadership, but also its institutions, citizens and residents.
The Saudi-led bloc confronted Qatar with 13 demands, mostly focused on curtailing the Qatari approach to foreign policy, counter-terrorism and media freedom. When leaders in Doha refused to succumb, they were instead given six broad principles to abide by. The overall objective was clear: to achieve Qatar’s capitulation without making any concessions.
The Arab Gulf can ill afford such a crisis. Already coping with the demands of fragile states such as Yemen and Iraq as well as ongoing challenges posed by radical jihadist insurgents, there had been evident rapprochement and unity among the GCC states, Qatar included. And in the wake of the Arab Spring, the Gulf’s rattled monarchies had attempted to align themselves more closely, especially against Iran, even if this meant accepting Saudi Arabia’s aspirations to regional supremacy.
In this climate of apparent pragmatism, the move against Qatar blindsided observers. It also forced governments and security analysts to reassess the motivations of the Gulf’s leaders – especially the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman – and the implications of the Trump presidency. Indeed, in the early months of the crisis, more and more observers became convinced that Donald Trump had personally played a part in encouraging the move against Qatar.
America drops the ball
Trump may have thought that by siding against Qatar he was building influence and promoting US national security policy interests in the Middle East. He was wrong; instead, his approach to the crisis has only left the US more open to exploitation by foreign interests including the very Gulf actors he considers his friends.
Trump attempted to set the policy on the move against Qatar and all but declare it a terrorist state. This signalled a view radically at odds with his own Department of Defence and the State Department, both of which consider Qatar an essential ally Qatar, for example, is the leading regional security host for the US air forces.
An awkward moment at the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting – rulers of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE did not attend. EPA/Noufal Ibrahim
The upshot is that for a full year now, it’s been impossible to have full confidence in the US’s ability to effectively mediate and help resolve the crisis. From the start, the White House has failed to fully understand its own interests in the region and has been vulnerable to the machinations of others. The knock on effects on the wider region have cost the US dearly, in particular the actions of an emboldened Iran, which has sought to exploit the crisis and drive a deeper wedge between the Gulf’s Arab states.
But there may be hope for US interests yet. Since the late spring of 2018, there have been signs that the Trump administration is issuing something of a course correction. This is probably a matter of pure strategic self-interest; it seems to have been impressed upon Trump that he badly needs a united GCC to back him up in his anti-Iranian policies – not least his withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal and the ensuing sanctions he will enforce against Tehran.
The president might just be listening to his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who has unequivocally stated that it’s time for the Saudis to resolve the crisis and help preserve American interests in the Gulf. But Pompeo faces a huge test: to pull the US out of full-blown incoherence and return it to strategic competence, all under the leadership of a dramatically unpredictable president – and to do so while a resurgent Iran pushes its luck in a region roiled by conflict and divided by deep enmity.
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