Members of CIRS traveled to the International Studies Association’s (ISA) 58th Annual Convention in Baltimore, USA, on February 22-25, 2017. The title of the conference was “Understanding Change in World Politics.” CIRS held an exhibition booth where CIRS staff distributed publications and networked with conference participants and scholars.
Mehran Kamrava, Director of CIRS, chaired a panel titled “Secular and Religious: Bridging Theory and Practice.” Moreover, he also presented a paper titled, “The China Model and the Middle East,” in the panel titled “Understanding China’s ‘Market’ Approaches,” on 24th February, 2017. Mehran Kamrava’s paper examines the question of whether the widespread appeal of the “China model” among policymakers in the Middle East holds any promise for the model’s applicability in the region. Despite efforts at emulating China’s success, the paper argues, there is little chance that the China model can be replicated in the Middle East. Given their traditions of statist activism in the economy and the development process, Middle Eastern countries almost uniformly have come close to adopting the China model. This inconsistency bespeaks of deeper structural incongruities in the political economies found in the region that undermine their ability to successfully adopt and implement China’s pattern of development. Reinforced by expansive trade, commercial, political linkages between China and the Middle East, the China model may have appeal in the MENA region. But the possibility of its transferability is mitigated by structural features inherent in the political economies of the Middle East. Specifically, China is exporting the idea of “market authoritarianism,” whose appeal rests largely in its simplicity. It is more the idea of the China model and the replication of its economic miracle that are likely to hold the imagination of future generations of Middle Easterners.
Zahra Babar, Associate Director for Research at CIRS, presented a paper titled, “Highly Skilled Migrants in Qatar,” in the panel on The Importance of People and Place in Mena on 23rd February, 2017. Her presentation discussed how across the vast and growing literature on highly skilled international labor migration, one overarching theme emerges: mobility. Increasingly such mobility is attributed to economic globalization and cultural transnationalism, transport and communications innovations, and neoliberal governance strategies, among other things. While this literature on highly skilled migrants has often associated high levels of skills and human capital with increased mobility, it has systematically overlooked situations where highly skilled workers might become involuntarily immobile. Many of the highly skilled workers in the six monarchies of the Persian Gulf originally come from other Arab countries, and a significant number of them are from places that they cannot return home to. Rather than being highly-mobile, preference-seeking global talent flows, these highly skilled individuals might very well be seeking refugee status were it not for their jobs and residency visas in the Gulf. In this paper we examine the conditions and experiences of highly skilled migrants in to Qatar, to determine whether restrictive migration regulations create conditions of involuntary immobility for some of them. We also explore whether there is a relationship between migrants’ countries of origin, and whether conditions of instability, conflict, and insecurity at home mean that certain communities of highly skilled workers in Qatar are made involuntarily immobile as they cannot return home or move to resettle in a third country. Understanding some of these nuances behind the motivations and experiences of highly skilled migrants is accomplished by analyzing the results of nationally representative survey of 300 high-skilled expatriates in Qatar, as well key-informant interviews with 32 individuals.
Islam Hassan, Research Analyst at CIRS, presented a paper titled, “Ruling Family Security: The Problem of National Identity in Qatar,” in the panel focusing on the importance of people and place in MENA on 23rd February, 2017. He examined the question of how the ruling family proactively continues to consolidate its own position within Qatari society some 165 years after first coming to power. One of the primary means of doing so is by narrowing down the definition of national identity in order to limit vertical social mobility in society only to certain tribal families. The state has also been influencing individuals, insofar as marriage choices are concerned, as a further means of preventing social mobility to wider strata of society. In doing so, the state has limited the official narrative of homeland, common myths, and historical memories to being of an Arab tribal origin and practicing the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. In investigating the question at hand, a qualitative methods approach is adopted that analyzes primary and secondary sources such as the Constitution of the State of Qatar, Qatar’s Family Law, and government documents. The paper argues that some articles of the constitution and legal code, symbols, and official history of Qatar made this systematic maintenance and stimulation of the Qatari social order possible. This, in turn, has secured the position of the ruling monarchy—and its Arab tribal allies—at the apex of the social pyramid in Qatari society.
Suzi Mirgani, Editor at CIRS, presented a paper titled, “Communicating Change in the Gulf Cooperation States (GCC): Information Technologies and Social Transformation,” in the panel titled, “Information and Communication Technology,” on 23rd February, 2017. She focused on a critical paradox taking shape in the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Many of these countries rate among the most religiously conservative societies in the world with authorities maintaining high levels of restriction on speech and behavior. Paradoxically, these nations also boast some of the world’s highest internet penetration rates and digital media access, exposing societies to new found expressive freedoms, and furnishing users with tools to overcome decades of imposed limitations. Even though GCC governments control much of the content available online and curtail public online speech with new media laws within their defined jurisdictions, the nature of digital communication is such that these restrictions are often easily negotiated. This paper examines the paradox that occurs in GCC societies that are simultaneously restricted in the domestic level and yet afforded new found freedoms of online expression, and especially creative expression in the form of film. The study focuses on online films uploaded by members of GCC societies, and questions whether these two radically different approaches to communication, actual and online, remain isolated within these separate spheres or whether one will necessarily have influence over the other.