What is Qatar hiding?
Sometimes, it feels as if Qatar is the Arab North Korea; all mysterious and closed-in on itself. The Qatari model is yet to be studied closely as a new ‘successful’ experiment in governance and public policy. This country that came to the front suddenly in the past few years raises many questions.
Hamad took over his father’s seat and created a transformation in the system. As someone from the Gulf, Qatar never made enough fuss to get attention and trigger us to look more closely at what is exactly happening there. Lately, after a poet was sentenced to life in prison for calling those in power ‘traitors’ loyal to the US, the question of Qatar came to attention again.
When Qatar gained visibility before the Arab Spring through al-Jazeera and its heavy investments in sports and any projects that bolstered its international reputation, many of us did not bother to ask why and how. Instead, critics were divided between those complimenting Qatar’s ‘achievements,’ and others deriding them as shallow and meaningless for the development of a nation.
However, what Qatar did through al-Jazeera is something worth studying: how to create a network so critical of Arab regimes that criticism of Qatar itself can be avoided. If we look at Qatari media, we would find nothing different from the regular state media that exists under the rest of Arab authoritarian regimes. Yet, with al-Jazeera, there is no need for plain propaganda, but a careful game of mind and politics.
I see North Korea in Qatar because we have no idea what is going on there; we do not even have a vague idea of how the system is constructed. There is hardly anything of critical political value in research and academic studies.
When Mohammed Bin Thieb the poet was sentenced to life in prison, the news sounded unbelievable until confirmed by different NGOs. All we know about his trial is that it was managed by a Sudanese judge! This information has been used to indicate how the Qatar judiciary, as expected, has no independence and is nothing but a body of employees reflecting state decisions and policies.
As someone focused on statelessness, working with the stateless in Qatar was an impossible mission. I found a few online talking anonymously and freaking out about any kind of personal details they might give. One cannot find an NGO, activist group, or any kind of political formation in that country; not until it is set by the emir to claim a fake project of democracy.
We can also recall the attempts to topple the regime as reported through media in the past two years. They might not be true, as many confirmed, but in those Facebook pages with 50 users talking, they seem concerned about the US army bases and relationship to Israel. We cannot know if this is just reflective of what the public thinks, but the mystery over all of this is in itself questionable. What do we really know about Qatar other than al-Jazeera, the free market, army bases, and its money for the Ikhwan movement all over the Arab World? Not much!
It is important to ask this question and it is important to know what Qatar is, who is speaking there, and how we can deconstruct its methods in media, economy, and political investment. If Qatar is trying to overcome the regional powers of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and if it is abusing revolutions and imposing funding, then we need to know how to understand and how to deal with this rising figure before it is too late for any of those post-revolution countries to feel ‘independence’ again!