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Qatar's Hidden History: Power, Image & Lineage in the Gulf

 

Qatar is a hakam, an Arabic word meaning both “mediator” and “leader”, in the Arab world. Indeed, the country promotes itself as a forum for divergent views and positions on the future of the Islamic world. It has hosts the leader of Hamas, even as it has reached out to Israel. It maintains strong ties to both Iran and the USA. It calls for the ouster of regimes in Syria, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East on its popular Al-Jazeera Satellite TV station, even as the authority of the Emir remains unquestioned. Through this confident practice in high-stakes, strategic juggling, tiny Qatar has positioned itself as the de-facto voice of authority and reform in the Arab League, even as major countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia struggle.

Qatar has attained status despite being small, rich and vulnerable. But external efforts are not simply altruistic, they are also part of a geopolitical strategy to project a particular image to the outside world, an image that often obscures internal complexities. Qatar's ruling elite wants the country to be seen as one that has reconciled the Arab world’s most persistent contradictions: heritage and hyper-modernization, tolerance and tradition, Islam and materialism, authoritarianism and democracy.

This lecture shows that the situation is far more complicated. Qatar’s internal issues, problems rooted in history, especially the relationship between the ruler and Qatari nationals, remain just beneath the surface of prosperity.

The lecture was delivered by Prof. Allen Fromherz at the University of California, Berkeley, on Sept. 20, 2012.