Dr. Joe P. Dunn, Charles A. Dana Professor and chair of the department of history and politics, and Converse senior Gabby Chamberland, from Newburgh, NY, have just returned from Doha, Qatar, where they were participants on a Qatar Fellowship travel-study program for participants in the Model Arab League program. In its 27th year in the Model Arab League, sponsored by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, Converse is a national power.
Dr. Dunn shared the following account of what they learned during their visit:
Not many Americans have heard of this small peninsular country, slightly smaller than Connecticut, which juts out of Saudi Arabia into the Arabian Gulf, with the highest per capita income in the world (approaching $100,000 per person). Its population is about 2.1 million with only about 20% being native Qatari citizens and the rest are non-citizen residents, but Qatar is very important to the United States and the world. The too-simplistic reason is hydrocarbons—oil, yes, but vastly more important is Qatar’s status as the world’s second leading exporter of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG), the energy source of the future. With the world’s third largest proven reserves behind Russia and Iran (where present sanctions limit the supply on the world market) and amidst reports that domestic shale deposits might elevate the U.S. to the future world leader in this source, Qatar presently is a primary energy source for Britain, Europe, Japan, China, and other areas of the globe. Given Russia’s employment of gas exports as a tool of an aggressive foreign policy, this greatly enhances the geopolitical significance of Qatar’s LNG.
But Qatar’s import isn’t just about energy sources. Security issues are also paramount. The U.S. Central Command Forward Headquarters and the Combined Air Operations Center is located at Al Udeid Air Base in the country. (Dr. Dunn’s son will begin a deployment at this base in January.) Qatar has cooperated in the international war on terrorism and affords a modernized, moderate Islamic state in a volatile region. Qatar pilots flew missions in the NATO campaign against the Qaddafi regime in Libya and Qatar has been a partner against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
The bilateral relationship has tensions as the Sunni Muslim country, with a Wahhabi tradition, is a long-time supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and it has ties with Hamas. Both had headquarters in Doha, but Qatar recently may be distancing itself a bit, particularly with the Muslim Brotherhood under pressure from other Gulf states and international scrutiny. It also has good relations with Hezbollah and the Taliban, but it discreetly trades with Israel. The U.S. has employed Qatar as an intermediary in contacts with groups with which the U.S. cannot deal directly, most recently with the Taliban. Qatar accepted several Guantanamo prisoners as President Obama wishes to close down the detention facility. Qatar’s network of relationships and the financial support of some of its private citizens for groups that the U.S. considers terrorists will continue to be a source of stress in an otherwise growing bilateral partnership.
On the positive side, Qatar is a major importer of American goods and services and the Education Center, a compendium of six major American universities which operate branch campuses on a Doha complex, places an American educational stamp on the region and the world. Northwestern (journalism), Cornell (medical school), Carnegie Mellon (business and IT), Georgetown (School of Foreign Relations), Texas A&M (engineering), and Virginia Commonwealth (arts) have magnificent facilities all housed on this large campus (with a few European and Asian institutions joining the consortium) that teach students from 90 different countries. Admissions and graduation standards are the same as at the home institutions and eminent faculty from the U.S. campuses rotate into the programs. This experiment in global education is extraordinary and almost mind boggling.
Al Jazeera, the worldwide international news network, which rivals and globally is probably even better known than CNN or BBC, is, of course, housed in Doha. Few institutions have had a larger transformative global impact. While these elements project Qatar on the world stage, the small country’s commitment in the world sports arena is also attracting attention. Already hosts to many international sports championships in swimming, aquatics, gymnastics, track and field, motor racing, sailing, handball, golf, and horse racing to name only a few (we were present for the World Short Course Swimming Championships, one of five world championships held in 2014 through early 2015), the nation is totally focused on the FIFA 2022 World Cup to be held in Doha. Soccer may be secondary in America, but it is the sport of the world and the World Cup surpasses the Olympics for many countries. Landing the World Cup was a huge coup for Qatar although not without considerable controversy in many quarters and some strain on Qatari’s social and ecological infrastructure.
The whole nation is focused on preparation. The proposed expenditures dazzle the mind, including eight to twelve new stadiums that are marvels of architecture whose total cost will be in the billions, a whole new metro system under construction to support transportation for the events, tens of thousands of world-class hotel rooms, and a total infrastructure development such as the world has seldom if ever witnessed. All this will shine considerable attention on an event that will take place when temperatures can reach 120 degrees in this desert country. The Qatari response is “We plan to succeed.” Next then will be another bid for the Olympics. Qatar already has facilities and a sports development program that reaches down to very young children to prepare athletes to win Olympic and other world competition medals. Qatar is not lacking in ambition or the resources to achieve its goals.
If the nation of Qatar is not on your present radar screen, it should and will be.