Dr. Marc Owen Jones, Assistant Professor in Middle East Studies and Digital Humanities at Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, says a new book analyzing the impact of the blockade of Qatar illustrates “resilience in the face of adversity”.
It has been three years since Qatar was blockaded by the quartet of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. In Qatar and the Gulf Crisis, Kristian Coates-Ulrichsen lays out fully the social, political and economic upheaval caused by this sudden act of aggression. Published by Hurst and Oxford University Press, the book is the definitive English-language account of one of the most enduring political rifts to have hit the GCC states in modern times.
While Qatar, in many ways, has long forged a somewhat different path from its neighbors, nobody would have predicted the dramatic events that unfolded in May and June 2017. With little to indicate that the blockade will end any time soon, Ulrichsen’s book is an essential intervention that documents, in meticulous detail, how and why the blockade unfolded. The book is far-ranging and comprehensive, exposing both the human cost of the blockade, but also the high-level politics and pragmatics of how a Gulf state so previously intertwined with its neighbors managed to overcome and ‘win the blockade’.
A particularly fascinating aspect of the book is its discussions of renewed ‘bottom-up’ nationalism in Qatar, which marks a break from the often state-led attempts to impose and guide national identity.
Split into three parts, the book is framed very much in the language of politics and international relations. The five core chapters deal with the economy and trade, energy and infrastructure, politics and society, regional and foreign affairs, and defense and security. Addressing each of these, the book is accessible, succinct, well-written, and appealing to academics, journalists, and lay-readers alike. It relies on illuminating interviews with numerous Qataris and residents of Qatar who were on the frontline of attempting to mitigate the effects of the blockade. This lends the book an empirical richness and energy, itself reflecting the complex and wide-ranging impact of the crisis.
The tone of the book is one of resilience and even triumph in the face of adversity.
From Gulf families torn apart and lives disrupted by the sudden and draconian blockade, to migrant workers left jobless by the economic fallout, Ulrichsen leaves few stones unturned in his analysis of the consequences of the Machiavellian political decision to reassert Saudi and Emirati hegemony over Qatar and the GCC more broadly. A particularly fascinating aspect of the book is its discussions of renewed ‘bottom-up’ nationalism in Qatar, which marks a break from the often state-led attempts to impose and guide national identity.
Despite the emphasis on the term ‘crisis’, the tone of the book is one of resilience and even triumph in the face of adversity. It’s implicit tone places Qatar as the reasonable interlocutor in a global political milieu in which personality, parochialism, and nationalism are prevalent. Explicitly, Ulrichsen forcefully argues that it was, or is, Qatar’s respect for international norm and rules-based, rule-of-law-based diplomacy that allowed it to successfully negotiate the crisis, as well as to position itself favorably in the court of public opinion.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the book is how it frames the crisis in optimistic terms, without trivializing the human cost.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the book is how it frames the crisis in optimistic terms, without trivializing the human cost. Many GCC states have attempted and failed to diversify their economies and become more integrated into the global system. Ulrichsen argues that the abrupt and deep-rooted rupture of the crisis made such changes necessary and unavoidable. What might have been decades of reform occurred within the space of a few years, often months.
The book is very much from a Qatar-based perspective. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the hostility the blockading states have shown towards academics writing on the region. Nonetheless, the perspective or at least justifications of the blockading states are evident throughout. They are framed, and indeed rightly so, as maximalist demands seeking to capitalize and take advantage of an inexperienced and ideologically blinkered US administration.
Perhaps the most important thing about the book is its broad appeal. Although the focus is Qatar, the book is a case study of the broader political consequences of a new type of post-Trump international relations, one in which there has been an abandonment of a liberal rules-based order in favor of personalistic power politics.
The name ‘Gulf Crisis’ perhaps belies in some ways the encouraging message of the book, which is refreshing in that it challenges somewhat essentialist and often orientalist notions that all Gulf countries are homogenous. While it is not disputing their commonalities, especially in economic terms, it does an excellent job of guiding the reader through what will inevitably be a paradigm shift in regional politics.