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Qatar’s National Day 20, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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December 18th was Qatar’s national day. Amid much fanfare, celebration, flag waving, noise, cultural education and national pomp, only the weather appeared to put a slight dampener on what otherwise appeared to be a successful day. Curiously enough, Qatar has only been celebrating its National Day for a few years. Previously, September 3rd was the day of national celebration being the day the British left Qatar to their own devices back in 1971. Yet, this day has been – quite literally, I think – canceled in favor of promoting the 18th December as the day that Sheikh Jassim, Qatar’s most revered semi-founding leader, took charge back in 1878 and founded ‘modern’ Qatar.

It is interesting to ponder the reasons for this change. It seems to me that previously, whilst independence is obviously a ‘good’ thing and something worthy of celebration, it nevertheless does not really speak to Qatar in and of itself. It is not even as if Qatar led some kind of resistance operation to evict the British. Indeed, quite the opposite, Qatar and other former Trucial States were fairly perturbed on hearing that the UK was abandoning them owing to their own financial exigencies. There was, therefore, I would suggest, not too much to make of this day.

Instead, the Emir (for it must have been him that made such a decision) decided to revert back to the famous Jassim Al Thani. A man already familiar and perhaps even something of a hero to Qataris. He took over from his father Muhammad Al Thani, the very first Al Thani, but it is Jassim that gets the credit for the founding of Qatar and, more importantly, its development. Throw in a famous victory over technologically superior Turkish overlords and apparent streak of erudition in Jassim and there are, as has been proven, the makings of a true hero worthy of a National Day celebration.

Jassim’s story was committed to film by Oscar winning director Peter Webber, as I described it briefly in an earlier post. It was a curious film to me as a foreigner. The film appears to centre around a key scene where Jassim vanquishes a local, hated enemy. Jassim battles the leader of these enemy forces on horseback but soon flees back to his own men, looking for all the world as if he is surrendering and running away. The enemy pursues him but, as Jassim nears his men, the enemy turns and rides back to his troops, apparently claiming victory for forcing Jassim to run away. At this point, Jassim then chases him and stabs him in the back without the enemy even knowing he was there. Cue applause in the cinemas. Curious. The film also had some rather interesting takes of aspects of Jassim’s life, but this is hardly surprising: what country’s hero’s life story has not been tweaked or even wholly rewritten?

Just about all events focused – obviously enough – on Qatari culture and traditions. Yet given the change of the day and the millions of dollars that Qatar must have paid to stage the event including a huge and spectacular fireworks display, why does Qatar now feel the need to express and promote these traditional notions and to find and develop an iconic figure from its past now?

The answer presumably is that with the growth levels that Qatar has witnessed in the last decade or so has come a staggering influx of foreigners. Qataris are now a vast minority in their own land. Foreign cultural accoutrement, be they Indian shops, Western chain restaurants, alcohol, churches or Western Universities are mushrooming in Qatar and the vestiges of old Qatar – aside from the new Souq Waakif – are nonexistent. Taking this into account and not forgetting Qatar’s conservative nature, Hamad Al Thani clearly felt the need to root newer generations of Qataris in their collective past: to extend the knowledge of their history and to base their identity not on recently imported ideas or customs or on Qatar being abandoned by the UK some 40 years ago but on indigenous Qatari symbols and traditions.

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Comments»

1. Qatari anger at criticism of its National Day « The Gulf blog - 21, December 2009

[…] not need such a petty reaction against a discussion forum. Indeed, this speaks somewhat to what I wrote yesterday. Qatar is currently engaged in overtly fostering its nationalism and basing it indelibly […]


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