The New York Times- updated April 4 2011
|Somewhere in the Sky…
pic by Abdul Rahman Alieh
pic by Abdul Rahman Alieh
Qatar, an Arab emirate in the Middle East, occupies a small peninsula on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Qatar’s oil and gas reserves, as well as its GDP, consistently rank among the highest in the world.
Although the land mass that makes up Qatar has sustained humans for thousands of years, for the bulk of its history the arid climate fostered only short-term settlements by nomadic tribes. It became an independent sovereign state in 1971, and served as one of the main launching sites of the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Citizens of Qatar appear to have it made, driving big cars, living in big houses and getting big loans to pay for big watches and an outsize lifestyle. They have an army of laborers from the developing world to build a sparkling skyline and to work whatever jobs they feel are beneath them. And their nation has enough oil and gas to keep the good times rolling for decades.
The problem, many Qataris say, is that they resent being treated as a minority in their own country, which is what they are. Citizens make up about 15 percent of the nation’s 1.6 million people, a demographic
oddity that fuels a sense of privilege and victimization
Friendly to Iran even as it serves as a base for the American military, the country has long had one of the most creative foreign policies in this unstable region. But now, by sending its tiny air force to fly missions over Libya and granting other critical aid to the Libyan rebels in their fight for freedom and democracy, this very rich Persian Gulf emirate is playing a more ambitious and potentially more risky role
In many ways, Qataris appear to be right about how they are perceived. Non-Qatari Arabs often contend that Qataris lack the skills, education and qualifications to be competitive in many other economies.
Qatar has leveraged its oil wealth and unbridled ambition to garner a world-class reputation on many fronts: international relations, art, higher education. But at home, there is tension, anger and frustration between Qataris and foreigners.
Qataris do not see themselves as coddled. Sure, they do not have to pay for electricity, water, education or health care, and they are given land and low-cost loans to build houses when they marry. They are eligible for public assistance if they do not have a job, often receive generous pensions and acknowledge they will not take any jobs they do not consider suitable for them.
But they also complain that they do not get paid as much as foreigners, and that foreigners get most of the top jobs in critical industries, like finance, higher education and the media. There is also pervasive frustration that English has become the language of employment, not Arabic, and that local hospitals, restaurants, markets and streets are always crowded with foreigners.
The tension in Qatar is similar to what has surfaced in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where local people are also vastly outnumbered by foreigners and are sometimes likened to colonial rulers in their own land.
Qataris and foreigners alike describe a social contract that offers material comfort and financial reward in exchange for not challenging the government’s choices. Qatar is a constitutional monarchy led by Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and his council of ministers. For many, the bargain is worth taking.
No-Fly Zone Over Libya
In the unrest that has roiled the Middle East in 2011, toppling long-serving dictators and challenging the status quo, Libya has sought to crackdown on rebellion and crush dissent among its civilian population. In late March, the West and some Arab countries formed an alliance to establish a no-fly zone that would protect Libyan citizens from retaliation from Col. Muammar El-Qaddafi
In March, Qatar became the first Arab country to grant political recognition to the Libyan rebels, and its six Mirage fighter jets flying with Western coalition partners are giving the United States and European allies political cover in a region long suspicious of outside intervention. For an absolute monarchy that was part of an alliance that supported Saudi Arabia’s move into Bahrain to crush democracy protests there, it was also somewhat incongruous.
Qatari officials said they were discussing ways to market Libyan oil
from any ports they might hold in the future, to give the rebels crucial financial support, and they were looking for ways to support them with food and medical supplies. Qatar — the home base for the Al Jazeera
satellite news channel, which was supported by the Qatari government — was also helping the Libyan opposition create a television station using a French satellite, to offset the state-controlled media.
Experts who follow Qatar said the current policies were consistent with two long-held objectives: to emerge as a world player despite its tiny size, and to play off its stronger neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia and Iran, to protect its sovereignty and natural gas
State of Qatar Capital:
Doha (Current local time
) Government Type:
4,427 square miles; about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island Languages:
Arabic (official), English commonly used as a second language GDP Per Capita:
$29,800 Year of Independence:
1971 Web site: Diwan.gov.qa