Both Oars In Qatar: hard to say

Can you say Qatar properly? I have been working on it for some time, but I am not sure that I will ever get it right. I may have to settle for the Anglicized version which is pronounced simply “cutter”. From what I have read, this is preferable to tripping up and saying Qatar in a manner that rhymes with “guitar”. Unfortunately, that is exactly what’s stuck in my head, complete with the emphasis on the “tar”.  

Usually, one can just avoid mentioning small countries with hard names, especially if they have less than 300,000 citizens. But, that doesn’t work with Qatar. The Connecticut-sized, Middle East nation comes up far too often in the press and in conversation to ignore indefinitely. It has become an important regional and global player since the current emir gently usurped power from his father in 1995.   

For a small country, petite Qatar occupies a disproportionately large place on the world stage due to its immense oil and natural gas reserves. For the same reason, it can boast having the highest per capita income and possibly the lowest unemployment on the planet. It is also home to Al Jazeera, the Islamic world’s CNN, and will host soccer’s coveted World Cup in 2022.

This last laurel will require investing billions—possibly as much as $100 billion—to make verdant playing fields out of the roasting desert and to increase the capacity of the country’s infrastructure. Critics of the odd venue fear field temperatures will easily exceed 100 degrees even with artificial cooling. Curbing the heat will require a lot of A/C. I guess when you have all the oil and gas you need, you don’t have to worry about being green while you are turning green.

As a point of clarification, Qatar’s effective population is between 1.7 million to 2 million if you include the huge migrant workforce residing in the country. The bulk of the private sector work in Qatar is done by these foreign workers, not Qatari citizens. These workers are not permanent residents; the duration of their stay in the country is largely dependent on their employer. This high ratio of imported to indigenous labor is as startling as the nation’s wealth even if it is not as widely discussed.    

I started paying more attention to Qatar when a Haitian friend mentioned to me that he had been approached by representatives of Qatar about possible aid to Haiti. I wondered why a nation with no cultural, political, or historical connections to Haiti would reach across the globe—bypassing several closer needy nations—to offer help. I was even more curious about what fueled the small nation’s big heart and long reach after I learned that Qatar had donated $100 million to the Katrina effort. I remain perplexed.

Most recently, I ran into Qatar in TIME. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, was listed as one of the magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. He was categorized as a “peacemaker” for his work with resolving regional conflicts. I found this a bit confusing. I am accustomed to peacemakers with battle scars and signs of emaciation from imprisonment, not billion dollar yachts and lucrative jobs assured by family ties. I am also surprised that he has time to leave his country to council others given the obvious internal humanitarian issues requiring attention at home. 

Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim does have an impressive list of successful conflict resolutions in the Middle East to his credit. Nevertheless, I am not sure how a nepotistic prime minister of an absolute kingdom which relies on non-citizens to do 75% of its work can fit in a category usually reserved for likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Aung San Suu Kyi. How that works—just like Qatar—is hard to say.

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