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Examining Qatari-Saudi Relations 28, February 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar, Saudi Arabia.
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German newspaper Die Welt recently reported that Saudi Arabia held a meeting with fellow Gulf States to discuss what should be done to counter increasing Hezbollah activity – but it did not include Qatar in the discussions. The clear implication was that Saudi Arabia’s elite do not appear to trust their Qatari counterparts in respect to sectarian issues. This should not necessarily come as a surprise; Qatar and Saudi Arabia, despite a recent rapprochement, have long-standing issues which may potentially be exacerbated by those very sectarian concerns. Another strand of tension emerging in a region already shot through with concerns and affecting one of the more active and stable countries – Qatar – would not be a welcome development for anyone.

Historically, those ruling in Qatar have always been significantly weaker than their surrounding competitors. As such their key tactic, from the late eighteenth century onwards (from when Qatar’s modern history is typically dated), was to ally with one power against the depredations of another. Qataris sought to ally with whomsoever would give them the most autonomy, often leading them to them change their alliances with frequency and alacrity. The Wahhabi powers, descendants of whom continue to form a key part of the ruling Saudi Arabian political bargain to this day, though their powers have waxed and waned, were perennially caught up in this Qatari bandwagoning game.

As the third and current Saudi state was consolidated under Ibn Saud at the beginning of the twentieth century, it was clear to both the Qataris and the British – then nominal protectors of Qatar – that should Ibn Saud so choose, he could, as one political resident put it, “eat up Qatar in a week.” Unsurprisingly, simple geostrategic calculations of state power dictated that Qatari leaders needed to keep Ibn Saud as an ally, for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as it was soon known, was infinitely more powerful in every measurable metric. The close relationship changed to a more overt, but still implicit, Saudi suzerainty over Qatar after the 1971 British withdrawal from the East of Suez. From 1971 to the early 1990s, Saudi Arabia was the de facto protector of Qatar and while Qatar was technically an autonomous, sovereign nation, in reality its leadership repeatedly looked towards Saudi Arabia for policy direction.

It was in the 1990’s that this relationship began to show a marked deterioration. Firstly, Qatar’s then-Crown Prince, Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, appeared to chafe under Saudi suzerainty and wanted to take his country on to a firmly independent trajectory, eschewing Saudi Arabia’s overarching leadership.
Secondly, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia and its eastern oil fields, Saudi Arabia’s scramble to invite in Western coalition forces to defend its Kingdom made it abundantly clear their own armed forces were not sufficient even to protect themselves. The chance that Saudi forces could protect Qatar as well – as had been implicitly understood in the 1971-1990 Saudi-Qatari relationship – was therefore rendered a moot point and a major pillar of their relationship crumbled. In preparation for the coming American action in the Gulf, Qatar signed military agreements with the US in 1991-2 allowing American forces to base themselves in Qatar. The need for any kind of Saudi protection promptly vanished.

With Qatar now so openly intimating its desire for greater autonomy, Saudi Arabia reacted. Rhetoric from both sides increased and led to a border skirmish on 30 September 1992, leaving three soldiers dead. Egyptian mediation temporarily resolved the situation only for tensions to flare up again in 1994.
Thirdly, in the early 1990’s, Saudi Arabia sought to block any Qatari attempts to export its gas by pipeline to the UAE, Oman, and Kuwait, claiming that it would have to transverse Saudi territory in some way. Saudi had also found more gas reserves and was unwilling to facilitate further potential competition in the region.

Finally, after Crown Prince Hamad seized power from his father in 1995 in a peaceful coup, Saudi Arabia, aside from maintaining support for the ousted Emir, is widely believed to have financially supported at least one coup against Hamad. While this pointed, personal action has scarcely been forgotten seventeen years later, some also argue it acted as the final coup de grace, plunging Saudi-Qatari relations into deep freeze.

Qatar reacted in a variety of ways. The broadcaster Al Jazeera was set up in 1996 and soon began to focus relentlessly on Saudi Arabia and Egypt. While the palace is suspected of having encouraged this ploy, there is no evidence of any direct interference, nor would any be needed; Doha is a small place and Al Jazeera knows perfectly well what it can and cannot discuss.

Riyadh – along with all other Arab countries at one point or another – reacted furiously. This was, it must not be forgotten, the first time in the history of the Arab world that there was prolonged media coverage over which the rulers had little control. Ambassadors were routinely recalled, the Qatari Emir was frequently beseeched to try and temper Al Jazeera, and Al Jazeera’s offices were peripatetic in their presence in countries across the Arab World.

Also to Riyadh’s displeasure, Qatar also continued with policies it had begun in the early 1990s, seeking better relations with Iran. Also, the new Emir sought a relationship with Israel, which included the opening of an Israeli Trade Office in Doha in 1996 and attempts to sell Qatari gas to the Jewish State. Both of these policies hit raw nerves in Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia’s elite was furious with Qatar’s hosting of top-level Israeli diplomats and their burgeoning relations, it was arguably the improvements in relations with Iran that they found even more inflammatory.

It is difficult to overstate just how antithetical Saudi Arabia and Iran are. They stand on different sides of the key Islamic divide; Iran has a 5000 year pedigree, Saudi Arabia has no such history as a cohesive territorial unit; Saudi Arabia is a conservative Monarchy, Iran is an explicitly revolutionary republic; Iran relies most heavily on asymmetric defence in the form of the Revolutionary Guard and groups like Hezbollah, whereas Saudi Arabia relies on American-backed traditional military might; all the while with both countries vying for the mantle of ‘leader of the Arab World’, a prize of central importance to their basic ruling bargains.

Lastly it is important to note that each profoundly fears the other. From the Saudi Arabian perspective in particular, there are enormous fears that Iran’s Shia will somehow deliberately infect their eastern province, where the majority of Saudi’s Shia are sit atop the majority of the oil reserves and processing facilities, and on this topic particularly Saudi Arabia will brook little compromise.
It took Saudi Arabia thirteen years to come to terms with Qatar’s independence of thought and action. In 2008 the Saudi Arabian Ambassador returned to Doha after a five year absence that had stemmed from the aforementioned disputes. On his return, Saudi Arabia solicited and achieved guarantees from the Qataris that Al Jazeera’s outspoken and vociferous coverage of the Kingdom would be toned down, which it duly was. Since this rapprochement, relations have improved slowly but surely, despite the odd lapse.
The greatest test came in March 2011 when Saudi Arabia led the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Peninsula Shield troops and tanks into Bahrain to show support for the beleaguered Sunni ruling elite. Qatar, like Oman, did not send any troops or police aside from unconfirmed rumours that one or two Qatari policemen were sent in a token gesture of support.

The crux of the issue is that Qatar deals with Iran in a fundamentally different way to Saudi Arabia. Sharing the world’s largest gas field with Iran and as a small country with no strategic depth, Qatar sensibly chooses not to goad the Iranians. Instead, when sporadic and pointed comments emanate from Riyadh or Abu Dhabi, Qatar will invariably seek to calm tensions. Over the years, Qatar has even tried to normalise relations with Iran and the GCC, inviting Iran to the annual GCC summit in 2007 – much the fury of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Additionally, Qatar has long established relations with Iranian proxies Hezbollah, which it has even donated money to in the past.

Qatar does not pursue these policies because it fundamentally enjoys good relations with Iran and its proxies as compared to its Arab neighbours, but because it wants to maintain the façade of ‘good, fraternal, cordial relations’ (as they are always termed in the press releases) to act as a safety valve for Iran in particular and to remind Tehran that should the worst come to fruition (some kind of serious military conflict) that Qatar has, all along, been seeking peace and reconciliation with the behemoth Shia state.

Specifically, Qatar are concerned that Iran, if it so chose, could perhaps seriously impinge upon its ability to obtain, process, and ship gas from the shared field. 2004 saw examples of Iranian Revolutionary Guard members apparently destroying and looting unmanned Qatari rigs. It is this kind of low-level, sub-war but still serious incident that Qatar is seeking to avoid in its efforts to improve its relations with Iran. For its part Iran likes the idea of ‘cordial’ relations with Qatar being widely known to show that it does have ‘an Arab friend’ and that the US and Saudi containment of Iran has not worked.

‘They lie to us, and we lie to them’ was how the Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani, was quoted in Wikileaks, characterising the Qatari-Iranian relationship; an apt summation, which highlights the capricious but mutually conducive state of Qatar’s Iranian relations.
The level of Saudi Arabia’s bellicosity in retaliation against perceived Iranian interference in Bahrain puts this Qatari policy in jeopardy. For Saudi Arabia in this war-like frame of mind a Qatar that fraternises with Iran, potentially undermining GCC unity against this nominally shared enemy, is a liability.

Yet Qatar finds itself between a rock and a hard place. In reality a severely angered Saudi Arabia could be highly damaging for Qatar. Not only could it block Qatar’s diplomatic initiatives but they could well interfere with, for example, the through-put of supplies (concrete etc.) that Qatar needs from Saudi Arabia in order to build its infrastructure up for the 2022 World Cup. Any easily-applied Saudi pressure over these sensitive issues could have serious ramifications but equally Qatar is fundamentally unwilling to antagonise Iran to any serious degree for the fears already outlined above.
Saudi Arabia’s apparent exclusion of Qatar from its discussion with fellow Gulf states on Hezbollah, if it is true (which is by no means certain) provides a clue as to the level of paranoia in Riyadh. That Qatar should be excluded as if it constituted a security threat is an absurd notion. Moreover it highlights that Qatar’s actions in seeking accommodation with Iran or by maintaining links and supporting organisations such as Hezbollah has serious consequences; while this one suspected incident may appear, in isolation, to seem relatively benign, Doha finds itself having to dextrously play its game of balancing competing and incongruent sides.

If Riyadh continues to view Doha’s elite as a liability and begins to isolate Qatar where possible, aside from the potentially practical implications for Qatar, there are potentially serious ramifications for Qatar’s international role. Thus far in the Arab Spring with Qatar to the fore but with Saudi Arabia often supporting its moves from the rear, these two states have operated successfully. A Qatari policy without the Saudi Arabian clout and backing is liable to be significantly weaker. In this revolutionary age, if Qatar’s role is hampered without Saudi’s support, then this leaves the region without a state willing to push the boundaries of regional politics, which could herald a return to greater Arab passivity and studied ignorance of the violence taking place in their midst.

On Kuwait’s elections 14, February 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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For the fourth time in six years, on 2 February Kuwaitis went to the polls to vote in Parliamentary elections. Amid a carnival atmosphere, widespread social mobilisation, and a country abuzz with political discussion, Kuwait’s four female MPs who gained their seats in the previous election were summarily dumped out of office and a loose consortium of what may be termed tribal Islamists resoundingly returned to power to share office with a smattering of Shia, Liberal and elite-supporting politicians.

Overall, this opposition has now technically amassed enough MPs to potentially vote decisively on votes of confidence in Parliament; a sobering and likely sigh-inducing sight for the Emir. The emboldened tribal Islamists are sure to attack and press the Government with fervour when the Emir appoints his new Prime Minister who will in turn appoint the majority of the Cabinet in the coming days. This new block, if they can remain mostly united will present the Government with stiff opposition in their desire for reform of the system and for greater financial rewards for their electoral clientele. The political paralysis and consequent economic blockages that have largely gripped Kuwait since liberation from Iraq in 1991 seem likely to continue.

From ancient dividing lines to modern mobilisation

In Kuwait as in much of the Gulf, domestically there is something of a two tier society. Those ‘Hadar’ that settled first typically by the shore became the merchant class and evolved in separation, both literal and figurative, from those that traditionally roamed around: the Bedouin. This latter group began to settle in ever greater numbers as the 19th and 20th centuries progressed. Each traditionally viewed the other with suspicion and crude, culturally-specific stereotypes: the Hadar view the Bedouin as rough and uncivilised, having suffered from many a marauding attack over the years, while the Bedouin resent the subsequent wealth of the supercilious Hadar and their control of the politico-economic nexus.
The Hadar in Kuwait, as personified in the Al Sabah ruling family, used the tribes of the Bedouin over the years when they needed to shore up support against other factions. In return for gradual political emancipation and greater economic benefits, tribes were initially content to ally themselves to the Al Sabah, grateful for their inclusion. Today the Kuwaiti government is reaping the consequences of these decisions.

In the early days, tribal families made up only around one in five Kuwaitis, while today those typically described as tribal voters comprise more than one in two. The 2012 election saw 20 seats of the 50-seat national assembly go to tribal-affiliated candidates, including the largest ever vote tally for any candidate; 30,000 votes for tribal candidate Mussallam Al Barrack.

In conjunction with MPs who campaign on an Islamist agenda, who obtained 14 seats, these two conservatively minded groups now possess one seat more than an absolute majority (taking into account the Emiri/Prime Minister appointed cabined members with voting rights) meaning that they can, if they were to vote together – which is by no means certain – hold up laws and act to push through a vote of no confidence in a minister.

A profound lack of unity

Political parties are not allowed in Kuwait hence some explanation for why tribes can be so successful. They often hold pre-election primaries, which are illegal, to pre-select the candidate with the best chance of winning in the real election.
The lack of parties also means that there is a profound lack of responsibility. While people are aware of these supra-individual groupings, people are nevertheless voting for a single person. This has two primary effects.

Firstly, this means that individual MPs can more easily escape censure as and when things go wrong. If the economy stagnates badly under, say, the Conservative Party, then, typically, a range of Conservative MPs would bear the brunt of the public’s displeasure at the next available opportunity. While there is some ‘macro’ responsibility in Kuwait, it just does not translate to the same degree; an MP may be as intransigent as he wishes, causing blockages and holding up bills, and still have a strong belief that he will not face the consequences of his actions. Instead, it is the Government as an easily recognisable grouping that typically is blamed. This is not to say that it does not deserve censure or make it worse by appointing most of the Cabinet unilaterally, but that there is a dearth of responsibility on the average MP.

Secondly, in lieu of a widely understood background on which to draw votes (e.g. without the ability to say ‘vote for me; the Conservative candidate’) each individual candidate must differentiate him or herself to attract votes. This can mean that prospective MPs campaign on fringe issues or this leads to candidates hawking themselves as ‘service MPs’ whereby their sole goal in Parliament will be to, for example, push for as much debt relief as possible. Such a tactic is particularly present in the tribal MPs. Not only was this how they came into politics in the first place (above), but feeding from long-held socio-economically based jealousy versus the Hadar, many feel a duty to take as much money from the Hadar Al Sabah as possible while they can. Adding into this in recent years has been a raft of corruption scandals that fed the notion of the Hadar, or at least ‘someone else’, taking far more than their fare share and a commensurate impulse to seize what one can when one can, lest it all be corrupted away.

The core issue

It is as if some of the key segments in Kuwaiti society are pulling in vastly different directions. The traditional elite, Hadar in origins; the traders and the political operatives, feel that they are being attacked on several sides. They feel that their previous monopolies on politics, power and economics are being critically challenged – which they are – and they are seeking to do all they can to prevent any further losses of power.

The traditional Bedouins in the shape of the tribal candidates, now at least on parity in terms of numbers, feel that their time is approaching; the years of economic disenfranchisement are waning and it is time to press their advantage for their benefit.

There are other relatively widespread movements: the Liberals who chafe as Islamists seek to extend their control over society; the Shia who seek to protect their large minority’s rights in Kuwait; the youth who have been swelled by the succour of the Arab Spring and demand a change to the corrupt politics-as-usual attitude and the bickering that has stagnated their country.

Until these disparate groups can begin to come together and to work together for something approaching a united cause, bitter arguments, recriminations and a frozen politico-economic sector will once again typify Kuwait. Such a mature resolution is needed as Kuwait will not have the ready-cash swilling around as it currently does to inefficiently buy-off sectors of disquiet. When Kuwait’s rentier bargain starts faltering and when the sedative of distributing easy money wares off, if these cleavages are not settled, the battles for whatever is left will become all the more acrimonious and destructive.

Arguments Against Military Intervention in Syria 9, February 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Syria.
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Published on RUSI.org, here are some thoughts militating against military intervention in Syria. For the other side of the coin from @the_steevo_uk see RUSI.

Thirty years ago this February Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad, the father of current President Bashar Al Assad, launched a brutal, targeted and effective crack-down on mounting opposition in the town of Hama. Estimates of the death toll typically range from 15000 to 40000 in the Army-led offensive.

Like father, like son: Bashar Al Assad seems to be similarly minded with attacks from the Syrian Army increasing in severity in recent months. Unsurprisingly, this escalation has led people to ever more vociferously decry that something must be done, particularly after Russian and Chinese vetoes of the United Nations Security Council motion to condemn Assad.

While such sentiments are noble if not just and necessary, working out exactly what must be done is a fiendishly difficult thing to do and anyone who says that they have a solution is likely grossly underestimating the domestic and international complexities involved in Syria.

Intervention by analogy will not work

Some may look to Libya and the international intervention there as an example of what to do, for there are generic similarities: both are Arab countries with popular rebellions and have bloodthirsty despots for leaders. But the fact is that these situations are startlingly different and must be treated as such.

Libya is one of the least populated countries on earth, with three times as few inhabitants as Syria, but in a country nine times larger. Practically, this meant that there were vast swathes of land into which Libyans could retreat, organise themselves and in which foreign countries could drop weapons and deploy military trainers to help the ‘rebels’. This is just not the case in Syria where there are, thus far, no large areas of the country remotely under ‘rebel’ control.

Also, the Syrian Army appears to be far from buckling as completely and as quickly as their Libyan counterparts. And key cities including Aleppo on the northern border from where a foreign intervention would be easiest to organise, are still resolutely in Assad hands.

Sending weapons?

After the Russian and Chinese veto, the worsening bloodshed and the ineffectualness of the Arab League, it seems likely that now money and arms will be sent to the Free Syrian Army. Indeed, trainers may find their way into Syria too. Yet, given the issues noted above, the effectiveness of these measures will be questionable. Not only are there concerns that the weapons may be intercepted by the regular army, thus augmenting their supplies, but if there is the appearance that the ‘rebel’ side is being armed externally then Russia is likely – having made their reprehensible position perfectly clear – to supply Assad’s army even more.

Russia would not be Syria’s only benefactor. Iran has a crucial stake in Assad’s continuing rule as this affords them and their proxies (i.e., Hezbollah) room for operation, which may be denied them in any future Syrian configuration. Iran will not limit its support to merely weapons given that reports indicate that Kassam Salimani the commander of the Quds Force – the Iranian Revolutionary Guard special forces unit – is now in Syria aiding Assad’s army.[1] Whether this indicates that Syria is preparing for an asymmetric, guerrilla response or civil war is impossible to say, but Iran’s dedication to Assad’s continued survival cannot be questioned.

In short, history and common sense indicates that internationalising a civil war, with Russia and Iran supplying one side and Western states and Gulf States supplying the other, is a recipe for nothing other than a deep protraction of the conflict and increased regional instability.

Lack of planning

No plans yet conceived have any understanding of what post-Assad Syria might resemble. What would happen to the currently empowered Alawite minority of around one in ten Syrians or other Shia minorities? Undoubtedly the attacks need to be stopped but arresting the massacre of one tranche of the population to be replaced by attacks on another is not a solution. And is anyone in any doubt as to the vicious retribution that would be meted out?

It would need a savant to work out the geopolitical implications of a post-Assad Syria. What about a resurgent Sunni nationalism (likely to be used as a force to corral people together) and the Golan Heights or Lebanon? What would happen to Hezbollah and what would Iran do to safeguard this group which Tehran sees as intrinsically important to its asymmetric defence? In terms of wider significance, how would an even more enraged Russia, potentially embarrassed, beaten and shorn of its key Mediterranean Sea port, react? Surely not well.

Certainly no one can ever have all the answers to these frankly impossible questions, but equally some kind of idea is required for a post-Assad Syria before states scatter the Syrian countryside with weapons hoping – for that is all it is a lot of the time – that they fall into the right hands.


Removing Russian, Chinese and Syrian Ambassadors from Arab states would be a superbly symbolic move, showing that amoral policies have real consequences, but would likely to have little impact. Instead, if Arab States truly feel as anguished as they claim, then they can, as they have before, club together and use energy supplies as a weapon.

First, it could be used as a punishment for states that continue to support or trade with Syria. While Middle Eastern states will be loath to interrupt China’s imports given its status as a key long-term customer and rising power, this weapon could be used more effectively closer to home to ratchet up pressure on Syria’s regional trading partners.

Second, at the same time, discounted energy could be used to coax compliance with emerging international initiatives. Turkey imports 90 per cent of its oil and similar amounts of gas mostly from Russia and Iran. Similarly Jordan imports 96 per cent of its energy demands with an eye to importing yet more in the near future. While it will not persuade states to act against their long term interest, undercutting existing prices for a set amount of time could encourage these countries to bandwagon and add to Syria’s isolation where possible, while also tangentially impacting upon Russia and Iran.

Such ploys, while weakening the Syrian regime perhaps significantly, would also show the world that Arab States are serious about what they say and would allow the regional community to come together to plan for a putative post-Assad Syria.

On the darker side of diplomacy, there may be room to make a grand bargain involving the protagonists. Syria, Russia and Iran want to maintain the status quo, ideally (though clearly not exclusively) with less killing of civilians. Western states want to stop the killing, which is just too egregious to ignore; any more Machiavellian goals to remove Assad are likely to be trumped by profound fears of the post-Assad unknown. Arab States like Saudi Arabia and Qatar feel personally betrayed by Bashar and feel that he must go to stop the killing. It is debatable whether Saudi Arabia, for example, wishes to get rid of Assad in order to break the Shia Crescent, empowering regional Sunnis and deal a blow to Iran. But Saudi Arabia, typically a state that doggedly follows a conservative, cautious agenda, is also likely to be highly concerned about the post-Assad fallout.

Russia’s involvement may increase in the near future as it seeks to guarantee a stake in the key future decisions in Syria. If not remotely for humanitarian reasons, Russia may push the Syrian regime to reel in its brutality. Continued violence, from the Russian perspective, could worsen their strategic outlook in Syria by drawing on such vociferous criticism and subsequent support for the Free Syrian Army.

It is possible, therefore, that Iran (for similar reasons) and Russia could be persuaded to significantly pressure the Assad regime in return for some understandings among international actors that the broad status quo in Syria be maintained.

Certainly, there are numerous concerns and problems to overcome in such a plan, not least of which is whether the Syrian authorities could practically find a way to deal with the burgeoning revolt more peacefully. Whether a suitable accommodation could be reached between Arab States and the Syrian-Russian-Iranian axis, balancing the apparent need to see the end of Assad the ability to mollify such demands sufficiently, is also questionable. But it must not be forgotten that it is the status quo, not Assad himself, that is the key for many of these actors.

This difficult and wholly unedifying policy may be the least worst option: it may prompt a hiatus in the killing and prevent a range of states littering Syria with weapons and money, adding arms and ammunition to an escalating, combustible situation.

The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.


[1] 6 February 2012 ‘Report: Top Iran military official aiding Assad’s crackdown on Syria opposition’ Haaretz  http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/report-top-iran-military-official-aiding-assad-s-crackdown-on-syria-opposition-1.411402

Public policy by whim? Qatar University to teach in Arabic 6, February 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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Qatar’s Supreme Education Council has announced that Arabic should be the official teaching language of Qatar University. This means that most courses in the Faculty of Law, International Studies, Mass Communication and the Faculty of Management, will need to be taught in Arabic from Fall 2012.

Whatever you think about this decision, it is border-line ridiculous to impose this and give the Departments only nine months to change their curriculum, their staffing levels not to mention the mundane but critical issues such as the books. Indeed, of course, this is impossible and there is little chance that a coherent Arabic only first year can be taught in these Faculties by September.

My instant reaction is that this another example of rule by whim in Qatar. The last great example of this was when it was summarily announced that most foreigners would need to obtain their visa before arriving in Qatar: a patently stupid decision that was never going to work and of course it was soon dropped. This Arabic decision, while there are certainly reasoned arguments for QU teaching in the country’s native language, nevertheless, does not make much sense to me.

Nothing about Qatar’s overall positioning on the international stage or its outlook suggests that this is a good idea. Qatar, if it has been about anything in recent years, has been about expanding its horizons, establishing relations across the world and fostering a name for itself as something of a global citizen; seeking to use its position, its abilities and its qualities to be a world hub or intermediary be it for sports tourism, diplomacy or business. All of this suggests (to me at least) that degrees taught in English might be of more relevance.

Some basic realities:

– This will be devastating for Qatari students who want to go and study abroad. IELTS aside, what self-respecting  university will accept a Qatari with a degree taught in Arabic onto, for example, an MA social studies-type course now?

– Particularly, this will hit Qatari girls the hardest. They, after all, make up the vast majority of the students at QU. Their horizons have just been diminished.

– The quality of teaching will plummet. While a sensitive topic, it is true enough to say that the teaching pedagogy in the West is light-years ahead of that in the Arab world. While this is clearly a generalization, I fully stand by it at all levels; primary, secondary and higher education. At a time when Qatar is overtly seeking to enhance its population’s education credentials to foster a knowledge economy, this is an ill-conceived move.

Had there been a reasoned debate about this issue, I think it could have been a positive move. Clearly, Qatar does not want to lose its Arabic heritage and to move to ‘shore this up’, so to speak, is a sensible idea. Yet, as ever, these knee-jerk, rule by whim policy decisions are just so profoundly ill-thought out it boggles the mind.

Incorporating ever greater portions of Arabic teaching requirements into degrees over a number of years would, for example, have been a sensible path to pursue. Then, instead of entirely changing the requirements and expectations for students looking to leave school soon (and it now being far too late to do much meaningful to prepare oneself) and allowing the University time to acquire some decent staff (as opposed to its current situation where some Departments will likely need to panic-buy any and all lecturers who can speak Arabic regardless of quality) such changes could have been made, perhaps, successfully.

And has anyone thought of the impact of this policy on the Qatari job market? Sure, this will be a great move for Qataris wanting to move directly to the public sector. Yet while such skills will obviously be of use in the private sector too – you know, that place that all Gulf countries are “trying” to encourage its workers to move into  – overall, this will further entrench the public sector-for-life mentality and make the transition to Qatar’s theoretical ‘new’ economy with a viable working population for a viable private sector all the more difficult to achieve.