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Sanjiban Ghosh/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

In response to questions from friends and family back home about how Qatar has been affected by the Gulf crisis, American attorney Gerard Harmon posted this take on the situation on Facebook.

In the piece, Harmon discusses Qatar’s strategy of taking the high road, its neighbors’ timing for the blockade, his newfound love of Turkish dairy products and how media is shaping perceptions of reality, among other things.

To my friends back home who are worried about me:

Honestly, nothing has happened yet that makes “the Doha siege” much of an issue. From inside the country, you cannot even tell anything is going on.

Except there are more Turkish dairy products, which have proven to be higher quality and less expensive than what we were getting from KSA and the UAE.

Brian Candy/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Yes, there was a rush on grocery stores the first day the embargoes were announced.

But even that was not very bad. Nothing like what I was reading about in the papers.

I had plenty of groceries, but I went out to get some stuff anyway just because I wanted to see how crazy it really was. I didn’t want to be left out of all the excitement.

While I was at the store that first day, shelves were only temporarily bare. Everything was in the process of being perpetually restocked (except for water, milk, eggs, and meat, which did run out in some stores; chicken was a hot commodity).

Doha News

Ramadan 2017 dates at Lulu

Yes, I could have taken a picture of some empty shelves for Facebook. But I would have had to time it just right, or else there would have been store workers in the way putting boxes back on the shelves.

I didn’t take a picture though. Because it would have been deceptive. It would have provided support for a false narrative.

And the next day? Well, the shelves were full again. And they have been full ever since.

No rationing, no crowds, no hoarding. Just regular, boring shopping.

There are no petrol shortages, people are still going out to eat at giant buffets for iftar, expats are still gathering at each other’s houses for discrete festivities, etc.

No regime change

There will be no regime change or anything like that, regardless of what the UAE and Saudi Arabia might have been hoping for.

Qatar has not been destabilized. Qatar is not intimidated. The Emir is more popular than ever. Probably more popular.

Bosco Menezes (Big B Photography)

Ramadan Car Parade 2017

Seriously, 75 percent of the cars I pass on the road have a decal of Sheikh Tamim on the back window.

On expat cars as well as citizen cars. The streets are lined with businesses flying Qatar flags. It’s like National Day came early this year. Even the expats are feeling patriotic.

Heck, I want one for my car. #WeStandWithQatar and all that.

Nobody has clean hands

To clarify, I do not think anyone in the region has completely clean hands. Everyone has room for improvement.

And I definitely agree that extremist groups should not be funded.

I also agree that the Muslim community needs to clean its own house, and that outside actors cannot do it for them. Nor should they.

Amnesty International

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

But the premises on which this whole event has been based are questionable at best.

There are some topics where one might legitimately criticize Qatar:

  • Treatment of domestic workers and laborers;
  • The status of women;
  • Attitudes toward sexual orientation;
  • Treatment of sexual assault victims,
  • Restrictions on free speech and expression.

But none of the countries complaining about Qatar seem to have a problem with any of that. In fact, they all engage in the exact same behaviors.

But when the KSA is accusing another state of funding terrorism….I have no words for the irony there. It should be self-evident.

And to find out that the UAE is trading $40 billion annually with Iran, while saying that Qatar’s softening stance toward Iran is unacceptable, and imposing sanctions they do not even impose on Iran itself….Not very persuasive.

QNA

For illustrative purposes only.

This is retaliation for breaking rank.

It is about undermining the uniformity of the GCC “party line,” which KSA wants to dictate.

It is about deterring Al Jazeera from reporting anything critical about the region.

It is about Qatar allegedly fomenting unrest by supporting democratic movements in the region (“interfering in the internal affairs” of other countries). Stuff like that.

US involvement

I am also disappointed about Trump intermittently trying to take credit for everything, even while the State and Defense departments are reaffirming their appreciation of Qatar and our GIANT FREAKING MILITARY BASE HERE.

It is ridiculous.

Trump saying the Saudi King is “my friend”? Saying his big arms deal (which is just at the memorandum of understanding stage at this point) is going to create thousands of American jobs?

Gage Skidmore/ flickr

US President Donald Trump

All of that is coming out of one side of his mouth, while the other side talks about the importance of containing terrorist activity and stabilizing the region.

What happened to all the US isolationism we heard about on the campaign trail? What happened to America First?

And what happened to all of the hardliner, zero-tolerance campaign rhetoric? That’s just for Qatar now? Really?

C’mon. Is there anyone out there (other than KSA) who thinks KSA and Wahhabism do not deserve the lion’s share of the blame for the rise of extremism in the Middle East and abroad?

Boeing

F-15 fighter jets

So why are we selling them billions of dollars of high tech military equipment again?

And if Qatar is really such a credible threat, then why did the US just enter into a contract to sell Qatar $12 billion worth of weapons? And why did the UN reject the list of violators supplied by the blockading countries?

Why punish the people?

Aside from motive, there is the decision to pull the trigger on this during Ramadan.

Splitting up dual-nationality family units, with children in one country and mothers forced to move to another, or vice versa?

Extended families who can’t get together across borders for Eid? People having to abandon businesses and property, even if only temporarily?

my_southborough/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Expats with residence permits who can’t go to Bahrain, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, etc?  UAE and Bahrain criminalizing any expressions of sympathy towards Qatar?

None of that really seems consistent with the whole Ramadan spirit of introspection, empathy, and forgiveness.

Fundamentally, this is a diplomatic issue. It is business between governments.

So if destabilizing Qatar was not the goal, then why in the world would they attempt to inflict suffering directly on the citizens and residents of Qatar?

Why punish the people?

Taking the high road

I have been pleased to see Qatar taking the high road so far. Exercising restraint. Refraining from escalating speech and actions.

Encouraging citizens and residents to avoid saying mean things about the other countries on social media.

Assuring resident citizens of those countries that they are not in danger of deportation or retaliation.

Pixabay

For illustrative purposes only.

Remaining open to dialogue but firmly asserting their sovereignty? I’m for all of it.

I have read some speculation that the timing and the extremity of the actions taken were supposed to make everyone turn on the ruling family, or maybe to force Qatar to make major concessions.

I do not know. But there are some pretty damning emails leaked from the UAE ambassador in Washington that appear to provide support for this conclusion.

Al Meera

Turkish dairy products

Whatever the plan was, inside Qatar it has backfired.

Even after KSA and UAE food products come back on the shelves (to the extent they do), a lot of people here are going to boycott them out of principle.

I’ll be avoiding them, but not for political reasons. I just absolutely love Turkish dairy products.

Backfiring plans

This whole thing reminds me of a jealous partner driving the other into a suspected lover’s arms.

It is creating a self-fulfilling prophesy. Iran and Turkey are now sending food and other assistance.

Qatar and Iran are likely to develop friendly relations at a greater rate than they would have otherwise done before the gloves came off.

QNA

Qatar\’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan in 2016

Relations with Turkey were friendly before, but now the two countries are absolutely bros.

And once the new supply chains are in place, I doubt things will ever go back to the way they were.

This means KSA and UAE businesses that used to profit from trading with Qatar will no longer do so, at least not to the same extent.

Qatar has been forced to make changes and diversify its supply lines because its “brotherly neighbors” chose to exploit Qatar’s geographical vulnerabilities for political purposes. Trust has been lost as a result.

MoTC/Twitter

Hamad Port

And to a certain extent, this is an honor thing.

There has been an attempt to embarrass and malign Qatar on the world stage. Around this part of the world, people may make up and carry on.

But they do not forgive easily. And they do not forget.

So yes, it is a big deal that it came to this.

The bell has been rung, and it cannot be un-rung. I think this means there could be some big changes in the future, as Qatar and perhaps other countries increasingly migrate out of KSA’s sphere of influence.

But who knows what will come of it. Maybe more stability, maybe less stability. Maybe we will get some movement on regional policy towards Iran and Israel. It is starting to look that way.

Media’s effects on reality

My last thought is more meta. It is about how the media manufactures attitudes within populations.

It has been a rare experience to read different regional and global news articles on what is going down, to see how different countries are reporting the same events in drastically different ways, all while being able to see what is happening on the ground with my own eyes.

magicatwork/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

I can understand why people in the US may have trouble seeing when their propaganda machines are working on them.

I mean, outside of the whole “FOX Fair and Balanced / Liberal Fake News” dichotomy, it can be hard to identify the forces at work while you are in the middle of it.

That is precisely because they are at work on you.

It is a lot easier to see the cogs of manufactured consent turn from a distance. I have read many news reports from the US, KSA, UAE, etc. that are total baloney.

I read about hysteria, panic, famine, on and on. And I get stressed out for a second.

Article3

For illustrative purposes only.

Then I look outside. And it’s just crickets (figuratively). And construction machinery, doing business as usual. Intentionally or accidentally, someone is distorting the truth.

It makes me think about all the things I read about unfamiliar places and events.

And about how I often believe what I read. And how what I read makes me feel like I know what I’m talking about.

It makes me think about how what I read worms its way into my psyche and creates those attitudes, those feelings, that are often not even conscious. And how over time those attitudes and feelings concretize into opinions.

And it makes me think about how a lot of what I base my opinions on could very well be untrue. Sobering stuff.

Pixabay

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Well, I must be off.

I’m going to the grocery store to get some taco shells from the Netherlands, some hamburger from New Zealand, cheddar from Ireland, sour cream from Turkey, and produce from Iran, India, and Lebanon.

For even the Siege of Doha cannot thwart my Taco Tuesday. #IStandWithTacos.

Thoughts?


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this Opinion article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Doha News’ editorial policy.

Hatoon Al Fassi/Facebook

Dr. Hatoon Al Fassi

Prominent Saudi scholar Dr. Hatoon Al Fassi teaches at Qatar University. Last October, several people in Qatar attacked her on social media for her feminist views, with many calling for her to be sacked.

In honor of International Women’s Day earlier this week, she explains here the impact the attack had on her, and why she believes feminism and open debate both have a very important role to play in the region’s development. 

Last year, a female Qatari student came to me angry about the appearance of another Qatari woman on TV.

The woman had told the interviewer that everything was fine for women in Qatar, and that all women’s rights were granted.

Qatar University

Qatar University

My student had written an article rebutting these views with another colleague of hers from Qatar University (QU).

I was impressed by their well-written piece.

Once they published it online and passed the link on, I endorsed it. I expressed how proud I was, as any teacher, of my growing pupils going out into a world of well versed-grown-ups.

Unexpected consequences

I thought that the piece would draw attention to the issues that are holding Qatari women back from full participation in their growing country.

I also expected the piece to inaugurate these two college students into the world of opinion writing, and assumed they would start to have offers from media outlets asking them to further express their ideas.

What I didn’t expect was that the world would turn upside down and collapse on both these students and their instructor in the ugliest, most vulgar way.

mkhmarketing / Flickr

For illustrative purposes only.

Their article was shared widely on social media. This prompted an angry crowd to jump out from behind their (often anonymous) Twitter accounts to lecture about rights and traditions, religion and beliefs.

They started by attacking the students and asking how they dared to criticize their “ideal” lifestyle.

They then moved onto me, and dug into any juicy element from my academic and activist past, using and abusing without limit.

And they even created a new hashtag asking to fire me from my professorship at QU.

Unfortunately, some op-eds in respectable newspapers also took part.

Postponed lecture

During the furor, a debate I had been due to have at QU with a professor from the Sharia college about Women In Islam was postponed.

My views on this are well-known already.

Santiago Sanz Romero/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

My position stems from the fact that I am a Muslim woman of faith who believes in Islam’s contribution to human civilization, thought and values.

I believe that Islam came as a social and economic revolution to ancient practices and beliefs.

A large part of that change was on the level of women. For example, Islam challenged norms at the time that denied a woman’s right to inheritance and did not acknowledge her as an equal human being.

Human interpretation

Thus, I have high regard for what Islam has contributed to women.

However, we need to revisit and rethink the way in which Islamic ideals have been translated into our laws and practices. This process is totally man-made – and not enshrined in divine law.

What is known in Islamic history is that there is a rich history of differences and discussions among Islamic scholars.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

These differences were accommodated and considered to be normal.

I believe that it is time for women to participate in the production and interpretation of Islamic knowledge. The process could contribute tremendously to women’s status in Muslim societies today.

Questioning and debating are tools that are required in the Quran for Muslims to reach the level of thinkers, reflectors and sages. They are also required to reach the level of Khalifa (Trustee on Earth).

I believe that questioning the human production of Islamic knowledge produced hundreds of years ago should be acceptable in public, as it is in university classes.

A second home

November 2016, the month of the online furor, was one of the worst months I’ve ever had in Qatar, the country to which I owe a lot professionally and personally.

Doha has become my children’s second home, where they have grown up and been educated well.

Omar Chatriwala/Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

And at the same time, they could still visit Riyadh every holiday and see their now late grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins.

But after the Twitter mobs descended, my son came to me asking, “what does firing in Arabic mean, and what does it mean to us?” He had heard about it from friends at school.

In the end, I was not touched, but it was a difficult time for all of us.

Beacon of enlightenment

Despite my experience, I believe that it is vital that universities remain a place for open debate.

They are the beacon of enlightenment for any society, the space where knowledge is produced and generations are prepared to take their turn in carrying on their country’s development, building and progress.

Qatar University

The QU campus

They are a place where ideas are presented from all angles, debated, negated, accepted, adopted or refused in an environment of academic freedom, with respect for each person’s views.

Hence, they are leaders of change and progress.

This role might be challenged by society through its traditions and practices. But universities need always to keep standing their ground.

Otherwise, their existence becomes pointless.

Hatoon Al Fassi is a well-known Saudi commentator on Gulf women’s rights, championing for women’s ability to vote and drive in her home country. The scholar has been part of QU’s faculty for the past seven years, and teaches women’s and Middle East history in the Department of International Affairs. 


The views expressed in this Opinion article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Doha News’ editorial policy.

Supplied

D���Souza’s family enjoying a day out at the beach on the site of the Sheraton Hotel in Dafna

Priya D’Souza was born in Qatar in 1972, and has recently left the country. This week, she blogged about what it was like to grow up in Qatar in the 1970s.

In this shortened version of her post, she shares her nostalgia for the easy-going, diverse community she belonged to as a child.  

My father moved to Qatar from Bombay in 1969.

Back then, the flights took six hours instead of less than the four hours they take now. That’s because they had to stop in Karachi and Muscat to refuel.

Ismail Mandani House

A home that looked just like D’Souza’s.

Shortly after I was born, we moved to a seven-bedroom house in what is now a row of shops and restaurants in Matar Qadeem (Old Airport Area).

Limestone houses

In the 1970s, our neighborhood was predominantly middle-class Qatari (Irani-Qatari), and we were one of the few Indian families living there.

The houses were made from local limestone and packed mud, with mangrove beams for roof.

For this house, my dad paid QR280 as monthly rent while he earned QR5,000. We lived there for six years.

Ismail Mandani House

A home that looked just like D’Souza’s.

My father preferred the Old Airport area because the big house also came with a huge yard he built a warehouse in, that he went on to expand over the years.

We also had chicken, a goat, a make-shift aviary housing 140 birds, and rescued animals, including a hare and a turtle.

Today, I recognize the place only because the electricity transformer and mosque (since renovated) that marked our east and west boundaries still stand.

We moved a lot in Doha; we changed 17 houses over 40 years. Every time my father ran out of garden space for his vegetables, sometimes after just one season, we moved.

Today, not one of those homes have survived Qatar’s infrastructure development.

A sense of belonging

What I remember most about the Matar Qadeem house and area is a sense of community.

When Qatari grandmothers went shopping at the souq, they came back with boxes of goodies for children in every family in the neighborhood.

When our dog would go missing, all the children in the neighborhood would get together to look for her (she got lost a lot).

Salim Abdulla/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Weddings in the community (almost always Qatari) were especially fun because we got to run in and out of tents and eat as many sweets as we liked.

Everybody was too busy taking care of something or the other to bother with what the children did.

In the mid- to late 1970s, when my family moved to more central neighborhoods, the wonder of Doha only grew.

Safe spaces

As legal advisor to the British and Indian Embassies, besides being a businessman, my father hosted many soirees in our backyard.

Every other weekend we had people over. My father also had an unlimited alcohol permit.

Alcohol permits were already hard to come by and an unlimited one, issued to very few people, meant my father felt “obliged” to throw parties also for the community.

Jamie Dobson/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

This included “bachelors” (as married men, mostly from the Indian sub-continent, who live in Qatar without their families are referred to today).

This was so people, especially those with no liquor permits, could enjoy a drink or two. We even had live music at these parties that would often go on till the wee hours of the morning.

We continued to explore spaces on our own because Qatar was safe.

It was safe enough for us as children to bicycle in the streets to nearby parks 500m away unchaperoned, with no threat of being kidnapped, raped or run-over.

Brian Candy/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Summers were hot even back then. We had air-conditioners, but there were power outages quite often.

Many a night was spent under candlelit desert skies, listening to stories about ghouls and spirits.

This stuff didn’t frighten us because my father told us we were in Allah’s land and were safe from anything that caused harm.

Qatari friends

I did not know I was Indian or that my family was Catholic until I moved to India for a while when I was seven.

In Qatar, not once was I made to feel different from the others, and I didn’t know I was.

When we were young, we used to go to a Qatari house for the occasional weekend family lunch or dinner, and we all sat together. The women were never veiled, and they treated my father like their brother or son.

Isabell Schulz/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

In more recent years, I started having lunch one Friday every month at a Qatari friend’s house. Not much had changed, except that I was now a woman in my late 30s.

As of 10 years ago, many Qataris still held family lunches at the parents’ house, with four generations gathering together for the meal.

As there’d be over 20 of us, we’d all sit on an oversized Persian rug. Men and women weren’t separated, and nobody was veiled or wore headscarves.

I almost always ended up sitting next to somebody older who was unafraid to heap servings onto my plate.

Exotic in their own land

In 2010, mainly western colleagues at the university where I worked told me how very little they knew about Qataris and Qatari families. Some said it was a privilege to have visited a local’s home.

I started to understand what the fuss was all about. Qataris had become exotic in their own land.

None of these colleagues experienced the sense of community I did as a child  – or as an adult – though I was a migrant like them.

It is a sense of community that I have missed most about Qatar in the last 10 years.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

This certainly isn’t unique to Qatar, however. Everybody has probably experienced this “change” in their own cities, and towns and countries.

So why does this aspect of Qatar seem so surprising to so many who have heard of my experiences?

Is it because I’m a migrant who has experienced this sense of community, while most migrants today don’t?

Or is it because people know so little about Qatar and Qatari culture? Thoughts?


Read the full version of this article on D’Souza’s website.