« | Home | »

In Doha

Tags:

The streets of West Bay, Doha’s skyscraping financial centre, were deserted last Tuesday morning, as prominent Qataris filed into the Emiri Diwan to welcome the new emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Most people in Doha seemed mainly concerned with whether Sheikh Tamim would announce a national pay rise to celebrate his accession; in 2011, Qatari nationals working for the government saw their salaries go up by 60 per cent. They were hoping for another boost. Non-Qataris – about 80 per cent of the population – were hoping otherwise, worried about a further hike in the cost of living.

In a region where leaders tend to rule until they are deposed or die, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani’s retirement at the age of 61 was a surprise, though rumours have been circulating here since May. Some say he is ill. He has had two kidney transplants and is much slimmer than he used to be. But the general consensus is that he simply feels it is time to stand aside and give his 33-year-old son a go.

Sheikh Hamad deposed his father in 1995 in a non-violent coup and set about transforming Qatar. Fuelled by vast oil and gas wealth (per capita income, at more than $100,000 a year, is the highest in the world), he pushed the country into regional and world affairs. In recent years, Qatar has mediated peace agreements in Darfur and Eritrea, helped to topple Gaddafi and armed Syrian rebels. If it were a larger or more threatening country (like, say, Iran), all this would bring accusations of meddling. But the country’s so small, no one’s worried by it.

Doha’s greatest contribution to world affairs has arguably been the TV station al-Jazeera, which it funds to the tune of between $200 million and $300 million a year. Al-Jazeera, which Hamad launched on 1 November 1996, has given Qatar yet more opportunity to shape the regional debate, not always to its neighbours’ liking, or the United States’ – though Qatar more than makes up for that by hosting Washington’s largest military installation in the Middle East at Al Udeid Air Base.

The Taliban recently opened an office in Doha, as a base for negotiations with the US. But the first round of talks were cancelled because of objections from the government in Kabul. It’s hard not to imagine that Sheikh Hamad must be relieved he isn’t the one trying to bring the two sides to the table.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • UncleShoutingSmut on Goodbye, Circumflex: Unfortunately this post is likely to leave readers with a very partial idea of what is going on. Firstly, there is no "edict": all that has happened i...
    • martyn94 on The Price of Everything: If it's a joke at anyone's expense, it's surely at the expense of any super-rich who take it seriously. I used to skim it occasionally as a diversion ...
    • mideastzebra on Swedish-Israeli Tensions: Avigdor Liberman was not foreign minister November 2015.
    • lars hakanson on Exit Cameron: Europe will for good reason rejoice when the UK elects to leave. The country has over the years provided nothing but obstacles to European integration...
    • Michael Schuller on Immigration Scandals: The Home Office is keen to be seen to be acting tough on immigration, although I'm not sure that the wider project has anything to do with real number...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement