The Resilience of Qatar

Historically, nationalism has been very helpful for many countries, such as when civil or international wars broke out, and many people supported the efforts by either joining or volunteering as a soldier or donating what they could to the cause. Extreme nationalism can lead to either unwavering support of one’s country or its destruction. Although nationalism may have a connotation that is derogatory, the term can actually be used in a positive light to describe patriotic actions or situations. In Qatar, the country’s nationalism has helped it through a tough time.

Every year on December 18, Qatar celebrates its independence from its fellow Arab countries. Up until 2008 Qatar had marked its National Day celebration by commemorating the day the British relinquished control and left the country in the hands of the Al Thani, the ruling family of Qatar, to rule fully independently on September 3, 1971. The change to December 18 is interesting, as it marks the battle fought between Jassim Al Thani and the OttomanTurks in 1871, in which the tribes of Qatar united to defeat the last Ottoman presence on the Peninsula. Moving the date of this national day was certainly an act of nationalism. Qataris commemorate the occasion with many choosing to affix elaborate displays to their cars, fly flags or even dye their white robes maroon so as to mimic the flag itself.

On June 5, 2017, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE cut off Qatar by land, air, and sea, and severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar to try to get the small country to stop being quite so friendly toward Iran. Consequently, the slogan for 2017’s independence day celebration was “Promises of Prosperity and Glory.” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Abdulrahman al-Thani made it clear that it was a message aimed at Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the nations involved in the blockade. In the face of the quartet’s boycotts, Qatar’s expatriates and locals alike joined on the corniche in Doha in a display of patriotism and defiance.

Despite Doha’s refusal to capitulate, the Saudi/Emirati-led bloc was determined to pressure Qatar into changing its foreign policy and may resort to more action aimed at further restricting the country. By making Qataris pay an economic and political price for their government’s foreign policy, the Saudi/Emirati-led bloc wanted to cause Qatar’s citizens to begin blaming their ruling monarchy for their country’s relative isolation. Yet one month after the severance of diplomatic relations between three GCC members and Doha, the Emirate remained stable with no major opposition to the Al Thani royals coming from any Qataris. On the contrary, Qataris rallied around Emir Tamim who is riding a wave of Qatari nationalism and enjoying growing support from his fellow Qataris. The art of Sheikh Tamim has been printed on T-shirts, flags, and cars, to show the citizens’ love and support for their leader.

On January 5, 2021, gulf Arab leaders signed an agreement to ease a rift with Qatar following Saudi Arabia’s decision to end the embargo and restore diplomatic relations. It is the ruler of Qatar who comes away from all this with the greatest gains. In essence, the embargo ended on Qatar’s terms, with Doha retaining as much control of its policies, at home and abroad, as it had before the isolation began. Sheikh Tamim, the Emir of Qatar, can claim with some justification that his tiny nation has become stronger over the last few years. On the foreign-policy front, Qatar was able to deepen its relations with Turkey and Iran during the embargo — as both countries provided vital supplies and transport links — without weakening its ties to the U.S. or the major world powers. Doha used its vast wealth to build up its armed forces, acquiring an array of weapons systems from the U.S. and Europe. Qatar also developed its own food security by encouraging local companies in agri-businesses. Some of these companies will now have the opportunity to compete in the GCC and Egyptian markets against Saudi and Emirati firms.The Qataris are proud of what their country has achieved on the international stage over the past several decades, rising from an impoverished Arabian backwater to the world’s top liquefied natural gas exporter/producer, a key military partner of the United States, and owner of Al Jazeera that leverages tremendous economic and political influence across multiple regions of the world. Although in the past nationalism has been an intimidating force in the form of extremists and the divide between the Sunni and Shia groups, Qataris are now more focused on their own country and its well being.

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