By Yuri Justo
Recently, Qatar has been in the news. Specifically involving its alleged funding of terrorism. I would like to share with readers my observations of the country, where the government owns the citizens. Qatar has two ideas about the U.S., friendship and suspicion.
I have experience in the region going back over 20 years, and have some knowledge of Arabic, and the regional culture. I made friends and dealt with a number of Qataris while there.
The worst encounter that I had was in visiting the Defense Ministry. There our group representing the U.S., was treated very disrespectfully. Our basic run-of-the-mill logistical concerns and wishes were shrugged away. They put us in a little room, and then made us wait for a long time. As I remember, we met with no one important, very little that we wanted was allowed us, and we were treated very suspiciously. There was an American working there, but our minder got upset when I spoke to him. I walked away thinking, maybe the Qataris really don’t like or trust us. In fact, I had never been treated so badly by an Arab ally before. Everything in Arab culture is given through in gestures and tones, but the nonverbal cues were not signs of friendship at all.
Other, more positive observations: a Qatari career police officer talking about how his government sent him to Libya to advise and mentor the rebels there. Basically, as it was explained to me, as soon as he was an adult, the government decided his career and determined his assignments. So, as something like a street police chief, he was simply told to go to Libya, which he said was pretty Wild West. I recall some mention of others doing the same thing in Syria. He had no choice in the matter, and could not retire until the government said that they did not need him anymore. In return for lifelong state service, he got a house and a car, and a few other such perks that grant a comfortable life.
Probably funniest was his discussion of the perils of polygamy in a rich country. It seems that he married two women, and was forced then to buy two separate houses for them. Then both women were mad at him each time he would come to the house. Mad at him, because he had been with the other woman! So, he concluded, I divorced my wives and am now much happier.
I met another Qatari who, it seemed had the job of showing Qatar’s good side to its U.S. guests. He did a remarkable job of showing the legendary Bedouin hospitality that Arabs are known for. He went out of his way to spend time and welcome Americans, explaining that he took part in the first Gulf War, and he still remembered the feeling of togetherness of that time as countries from around the world worked together to liberate Iraq.
Of note, though, was how every TV in every government office was always tuned to a religious channel. And how there was no government email. If government members wanted to communicate with others, they typed up a memo and sent it by courier. Very insightful, as Qatar can remain a blank slate to U.S. electronic surveillance. I also recall, driving through the capital, how many separate military units there seemed to be, each one perhaps to protect the ruler from the other. Important to know, as the old emir had himself invaded his own country to take it over from his father.
One other thing is the love of soccer. Each neighborhood had a large stadium, and virtually everyone government official I met played soccer professionally as a young man. Thus, it makes more sense than it would at first glance that Qatar is currently scheduled to host the World Cup in 2022.