The too big politics of Qatar?
- JustHere Qatar
- On November 5, 2013
Qatar-based Dutch journalist Joris van Duijne reviews Mehran Kamrava’s book Qatar: Small State, Big Politics, which he says is a must-read for keen observers of Gulf politics, though the economy is only briefly touched upon amidst a largely jubilant acclaim of the current Qatari boom.
How can the tiny state of Qatar be a major player in regional, even global, politics? This question has been addressed extensively in the international press. By contrast, however, it has to date been hugely understudied scientifically. Mehran Kamrava singlehandedly changes that with his new book Qatar: Small State, Big Politics. A must-read for keen observers of Gulf politics and newbie-Qatar-residents alike.
The book offers far more than international politics. The reader will learn a great deal on Qatari history, development and (especially interesting) state-society relations too. Kamrava also convincingly explains what sets Qatar apart from other GCC states in terms of homogeneity and regime stability, continuing where Christopher Davidson’s After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies left of.
The author is clearly ‘in aw’ of Qatar’s progress, though critical where need be, like the deliberate creation of a national history (‘civic myth’) or practical matters like labour rights and the claimed autonomy of Al Jazeera. Unfortunately, the economy, and in particular the long-term perspective, is only briefly touched upon amidst a largely jubilant acclaim of the current Qatari boom. This seems somewhat at odds with some of Kamrava’s other work on the subject, where he is justly critical of “the massive infusion of petrodollars” which has “only partially masked […] the structural weaknesses” of Gulf economies.
But the book’s main argument revolves around power. With a population of roughly two million and no substantial military capacity of its own, Qatar simply cannot be said to have any. It also by and large lacks ‘soft power’, the ability, resulting from an appealing culture and history, to have others share your view. Instead, the author makes the case for ‘subtle power’, a careful mix of state branding (Qatar Airways, Al Jazeera, sports and conflict mediation), hedging (combining seemingly irreconcilable policies, like cordial ties with the US and Hamas simultaneously) and what Kamrava calls ‘hyperactive diplomacy’.
[T]he economy, and in particular the long-term perspective, is only briefly touched upon amidst a largely jubilant acclaim of the current Qatari boom. This seems somewhat at odds with some of Kamrava’s other work on the subject.
Aided by a US-guaranteed security, seemingly unlimited financial resources, a tremendous degree of foreign policy autonomy vis-à-vis society and the vision and drive of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, Qatar has embarked on assuming a role far beyond what its size would warrant. Kamrava shows us there is a clear logic and sustainability to all this and argues it will last. This in marked contrast to observers who have called it an ‘overstretch’.
Interestingly, we are in the middle of the game. The book was written before the accession of Sheikh Tamim (but published after). It also does not yet feature the defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the consequences of that for Qatar. Kamrava might have explained that in terms of hedging (you win some, you lose some), but he couldn’t have denied a current ‘toning down’ of Qatar’s ‘hyper-activism’.
In the exact opposite direction, a possible US-Iranian detente might offer it new opportunities. While Iran is the enemy par-excellence for most of its Gulf neighbours, Qatar’s more nuanced policies could serve it well in a changing regional order. Time will be the referee. I for one, will follow regional developments with this book in mind.
A rule in academic writing is to ‘say what you are going to say, say it and say what you have said’. Kamrava has taken this all too literal, which makes the book quite repetitive at times. But getting past that, the reader is treated to an abundance of both theories and facts that also brilliantly interact: theory helps explain Qatari foreign policies, which in turn help sharpen concepts of power, state formation and international relations.
Theories of power, for instance, largely favour democracy. This book quite on the contrary shows us that Qatar’s ability to swiftly move in the international arena are greatly aided by its autocratic system and small policy making circle. And that’s just one example of all the food for thought offered by this important work.
Joris van Duijne is a freelance journalist who has been in Doha for some two years now. He’s from Holland and lived in Cairo and Riyadh too. Educated in International Relations and Political Economy, he had an interest in the Gulf region long before coming here. Having worked for press freedom NGOs for several years, he developed an additional passion for media development & free expression. Joris loves Death Metal and horror movies, but it’s mostly twinkle twinkle little star and Sesame Street for now. Follow him on Twitter: @jorisvand.
- Kafala will be abolished… ultimately; But Qatar’s big announcement on labour laws is still pending cabinet approval
- Qatar Cost of Living: The JustHere Survival Matrix
- [UPDATED PHOTOS] Happy National Day Qatar!
- Damien Hirst is coming to town, and here are 10 things you should know about him
- First 7000 newborn babies in Qatar during Ramadan will receive baby car seats
- Cleansing of Doha: The Old Downtown Disappears
- Weekend Radar (July 4-6)
- ‘Whoa’ moment as Qatar’s overall population grows by 11.26%; 13.34% rise in that of females
- Weekend Radar (June 20 – 22)
- Souq Haraj awaits its inevitable fate in light of 2022
- Weekend Radar (June 6-8)
- Tickets for the June 13 Disney On Ice show up for grabs
- State mandates employers to medically insure employees under new law
- Runaways and Absconders; Slavery and Kafala: A dig into history
- Weekend Radar (May 30 – June 1)
- Atop the Everest: A mental feat more than a physical one
- Where do We Learn Arabic?
- All in a Day’s Work
- Weekend Radar (May 23-25)
- Not enough PHCs in Qatar to meet growing population
- Tipping point… who deserves gratuity?
- Blood donation in Qatar continues to be a challenge
- The coronavirus scare in GCC: What you need to know
- Ooredoo and Messi launch initiative for children’s health
- Been in Qatar long enough to remember these?
- Let’s Meet: Jeet Bahadur Mogar
- Onaiza Park: A splash of colours
- Ta2heel: By the youth for the youth… a uniquely Qatar initiative
- What you need to know about Emir Cup 2013
- Weekend Radar (May 16-18)
- QAWS receives a one month reprieve
- Hike or no hike in school fees?
- No lessons learned after Villaggio. The smoke continues well after the fire.
- Al Dhakhira gets first model commercial complex
- What every pedestrian in Qatar must know.
- Fatima Al-Nesf: Living her life in cartoons
- Inaccessible Qatar… where do we begin?
- Ready for some punchlines?
- A year more for neighbourhood stores
- UAE, Oman, Qatar and Saudi lead the race for regional tourism revenue growth
- Weekend Radar (May 9 – 11)
- Al Salihiya Juice Stall: Honk, and ye shall be served!
- How free is the free visa?
- Disney on Ice tickets now on sale
- In Qatar, traffic is a bigger killer than cancer
- 6˚ of Separation: The child in us
- Why QAWS’s success will be the community’s as well
- Payment woes for freelancers in Qatar
- DCMF event receives thumbs down
- Weekend Radar (May 02-04)
- DFI and Tribeca’s partnership comes to a close
- Second phase of Kulluna campaign promotes cardiac health
- Student filmmakers left in the lurch at Al Jazeera Docu Fest
- Traffic surveillance cameras to keep check on violators
- An Artistic Hypocrisy?
- More female nationals in the workforce than in other GCC states
- There’s smoke, there’s fire, and no one knows how
- Weekend Radar (April 25-27)
- QF attempts to change workers’ plight in Qatar
- Where to find a good book in Qatar
- The Greatest Gift
- It’s Earth Day today. Are you doing your bit?
- QMA launches free Mathaf Shuttle Bus service. Hop on.
- Where you from?
- Winners announced for the DCMF cartoon competition
- The mad gold rush
- The Park that’s more than just that
- Shisha Vs Cigarette: Which kills more?
- Qatar 2022 in the firing line again
- The Katara Dilemma: What do we do about misbehaviour?
- How to stay safe during an earthquake
- Weekend Radar (April 18-20)
- Qatar rocks, literally, as earthquake hits Iran-Pakistan border
- Qatar’s not a cheap place to live in
- Qatar should ensure a reliable legal framework for contractors: Merkel
- How much do your schooling expenses come to?
- Ezdan Mall partially opens in Doha
- More sports tournaments for migrant workers
- Qatar’s fuming: Cigs, shisha & the havoc that it wrecks
- Yet another case of intellectual property rights violation in Qatar
- 10 Quick Escapes for the Parent
- Qatarisation is imperative, but nationals shy away
- Enjoy the best deals in Qatar
- DFI to hold 48 hour documentary challenge
- Let’s Meet: Moidunny Karupp Theruvath
- Weekend Radar (April 11-13)
- 10 ways to make learning fun
- The divisiveness of your toxicity
- Parking, parking everywhere, who wants to use it?
- A Qatar Obsession: Adventurous & Deadly… Here’s to a safer ATV ride
- Qatar Biobank reaches 200th participant
- You won’t get lost finding this one!
- Sailing through luxury
- Count the paper you use
- Weekend Radar (April 4-6)
- Magical mystery tour of Qatar
- Jobs, and more jobs
- Rachel Gadsden: A vision beyond sight
- Don’t be shocked
- Indecent behaviour outside EC. Stay alert!
- Here’s a reader’s verdict on Qatari newspapers
- Weekend Radar (March 28-30)
- Why does journalism in Qatar look more like PR?
- Tuitions step in where schools fail
- Uniquely Qatar… See Queue, Will Jump
- 60 minutes of darkness
- Who’s up for the Workers Cup?
- Let our Children Be
- Qatar is the region’s second best travel and tourism hub, after UAE
- 10 Best Souvenirs From Qatar
- Are we saying goodbye to our local grocery stores?
- Exhibition Review: Hey’ya – Arab Women in Sport
- Hunger Games in Doha
- Privilege Vs Creativity
- Working from home… and home is a Doha café with free wi-fi
- School admissions in Qatar: Tough Lessons To Learn
- Exotic. Illegal. Blatant.
- What She Wears: The Dress Code Debate
- Aesthetics Trumps Conservation?
- Dubai Parks and Resorts to open region’s largest entertainment destination, including first-ever Bollywood theme park, this October