With Nationalism Comes Responsibility

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Alexander Carlin is a participant in the Qatar Fellowship sponsored by the National Council on US Arab Relations, and recently completed a study visit to Qatar in conjunction with their US Embassy, in order to meet civil society leaders and members of the Qatari government. 

From King Louis XIV of France’s bid to solidify power, to the young United States’ attempts to bring together a confederation of states, to the fascist exploitation of post-WWI frustrations, nationalism has been, for better or worse,  a critical tool to which states have turned.

Nationalism is a debated topic, with many conflicting definitions, emphasises, and nuances. The definition put forth by the American Encyclopedia, stating, “Loyalty and attachment to a national unity are more significant than any other attachment in the question of nationalism. Other characteristics of nationalism are pride in the achievements of one’s nation, a deep belief in the distinction of one’s nation and even its superiority over other nations,” is the most apt of a describer what a state hopes to develop with nationalistic policies.

In the modern era, there is a very visible example of a country making a concerted drive to form nationalism: Qatar. This systematic forging of the nationalistic construct is primarily reflected in three policy strategies enshrined and actively being undertaken by the Qatari administration. These policies can be termed the Internal, Showmanship, and External planks, and each will be expanded upon within the column over the coming weeks.

The most tangible of the planks, the internal plank, is primarily composed of the large scale building works that have, in a few short years, transformed the landscape of Qatar. This is most present in Doha, where the skyline has dramatically changed from an isolated and disjointed view from across the banks of the Persian Gulf to a utopian-esq array of shining silver structures.

Yet, the vast majority of these buildings are government entities. This suggests that progress is being done for progress’s sake, and not due to a sudden influx of business or tourism that would necessitate such infrastructure. In fact, the number of foreign visitors in Qatar is relatively low, totalling close to two and a half million persons in 2012 compared to Saudi Arabia, its neighbor who averaged fourteen and a quarter million visitors in the same year.[1]

The country has seen, however, an increase in tourism largely due to the success of Qatar Airways. The airline has made a major push to become the dominant airline in the Middle East and concurrently establish Doha as the central terminal for travel throughout the region, with plans to attract up to 7.4 million visitors by 2030.[2] In May of 2014, Qatar Air became exclusively government run, abandoning the private-public partnership that had previously governed the airline.[3] Qatar Air also consistently ranks among the greatest airlines in the world and was recognized as the best airline in 2011.[4] If Qatar Airways rings a bell, you most likely know it from its prominent sponsorship of the Spanish soccer team FC Barcelona, which boasts stars such as Lionel Messi and Neymar. Each of these cases further exemplify how detail oriented the country is in establishing its on a global platform through what are, for all intents and purposes, nationalistic marketing plans. The more the name “Qatar” is known, advertised, and branded, the better the campaign to promote domestic pride in Qatar is achieved.

While creating its own brand, however, Qatar does not hesitate to capitalize on the reputations of hallowed institutions to further its people’s clout and prowess. Education City, a reality unlike any other place in the world, was founded to provide the best possible education for those who could attend. It was founded by the Qatar Foundation and was the grand plan of Mozah bint Nasser Al Missend. Featured in Forbes Magazine as the 74th of its most powerful women in 2010, Sheikha Mozah is also the wife of the former Emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.[5] The principle behind Education City was that it was to be created in such a manner that it is to take the best from each institution it invites in, and to then create satellites of these schools that are hyper-focused in the programs in which the schools excel. Since its founding, Education City has been highly successful in its recruitment of schools. Georgetown has established a school of foreign service, Northwestern a school of journalism and communication, and Cornell a medical college, to name a few.

From these points, the first plank can be dubbed the “internal plank,” as each of the policy changes relates to domestic interests. Through funding infrastructure projects, pushing to become the dominant regional airline and expand tourist travel, and reforming education, the Qatari government’s implementations have been and will likely continue to be successful.

To conclude I will leave you with this: The idea to write about Qatar’s push for nationalism came to me while I was in Doha. While in Doha, I saw signs time after time in front of ongoing construction projects that said “Qatar Deserves Best.” A wonderfully nationalist slogan.

References:

[1] http://databank.worldbank.org/data/views/reports/tableview.aspx#

[2] http://dohanews.co/qatar-aims-to-attract-7-4-million-annual-visitors-by-2030/

[3] http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/05/05/qatar-airlines-idINKBN0DL0JM20140505

[4] http://www.eturbonews.com/27194/qatar-airways-named-best-airline-international-travel

[5] http://www.forbes.com/lists/2010/11/power-women_2010.html

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