I have to admit that as I reflect on my time with Duke in the Arab World, I am multitasking. I am not only reflecting on my past experiences in the middle east right now, but also watching the Al Jazeera Live Stream to Tahrir Square to look on as the historic outcome of Egypt’s first presidential election since the January 25th Revolution is announced. This announcement is the culmination of years “A Struggle for Egypt” (as author Steven Cook would say), and I cannot believe my luck that I was able to be in Egypt to witness the nation weeks prior to this announcement. As I watched the announcement from the comfort of my living room, the roar from the crowd in Tahrir and the beauty of the euphoria seemed to stop time in the country thousands of miles away. Throughout my experience in Doha and Cairo, I truly felt privileged to see two nations during extraordinary points in their histories. While flying out of Cairo about 36 hours before the announcement that Mohamed Morsi had won 51 percent of the runoff vote and he would be the next president of Egypt, I looked at the syllabus for Duke in the Arab World and found a thought provoking line, “the study of cultural citizenship must not only look at the privileged, full class of citizens, but also look at the less privileged, marginalized class.”
This line truly resonated with me while reflecting on my own privilege of being able to engage in these two cultures and while looking at the juxtaposition of Qatar and Egypt. While in Qatar, we mostly engaged with individuals who were of the privileged class; where as in Egypt, I interacted with individuals who were not Egyptian elite, but on a relatively lower-socio-economic status. When my group began preparing for our final presentation, we were all struck by the major differences in economic privilege in both countries. We decided to look at citizenship and social stratification and where it stems from in each country. Social stratification clearly exists in both Qatar and Egypt. In Qatar, social stratification stems from formal citizenship. In Egypt, social stratification stems from the institutions and is almost an externality of the system. A good way to define social stratification is using Chris Baker’s Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice: social stratification is the “classification of persons into groups based on shared socio-economic conditions … a relational set of inequalities with economic, social, political and ideological dimensions.”
Before reaching Doha, Qatar, all that I really knew about the esoteric nation was that, it will be the host of the 2022 World Cup. Being an avid soccer fan, I was immediately drawn to this place that will host one of the world’s largest sporting events. Qatar is using the World Cup as an opportunity to market itself to the entire world as the future of success, excellence and prosperity. It seemed that everywhere we went, we were being sold the Qatar Dream and the Qatar 2030 vision. From our trips to Qatar Gas to Qatar Foundation to Qatar University, all the locations were different, but the spiels were the same. They all were trying to sell Doha and Qatar as a place of the future. But what was left out of this discussion was information about the population of Qatar and the socio-economic divide, which exists in the population. Qatar’s population consists of 1.7 million people, but only 225,000 are Qatari people (which is about 20% of the population). During our visits to various places, the 80% expatriate population (especially those at the bottom of the socio-economic spectrum) was not always addressed. If it were not for reading the Allen Fromherz book, Qatar: A Modern History, and interacting with people living in Qatar, one could have no idea about the social stratification in the country.
Formal citizenship is a privilege granted only to those whose fathers are Qatari citizens; if you are a female, whose father is Qatari and you decide to marry a non-Qatari, you lose your citizenship. If you are born in Qatar and live in the country your entire life, but your father is not Qatari, you may never gain citizenship. One individual we met at Qatar University identified as Omani and carried an Omani passport, but was born in Qatar and had never been to Oman. Other expatriates we met only came to Qatar to make money to send back to their families; they suffered through working long and arduous jobs hundreds of miles away from their families because their salaries were higher than anything they could have made in their home country. While looking at privilege in Qatar, it is clear that wealth and opportunity come from possessing formal citizenship. In Qatar, social stratification stems from formal citizenship. For my group’s presentation, one way I contributed was by finding many historical examples of formal citizenship relating to social stratification in Qatar. These examples, mentioned in both the Parolin (page 116) and Fromherz books, included the Al Ghafran clan of the Al Murrah tribe being stripped of their citizenship and many of their rights for allegedly betraying the Emir. Another example of this social stratification stemming from formal citizenship is looking at Qatarization and who has the right to hold what positions in finance. More recently, parts of Qatari culture, which used to be informal rules or laws have become more formalized; this formalization is another way that social stratification has taken form in Qatar. More recently, it has been mandated that taxi drivers are non-Qatari; the government wants to keep Qataris at the higher end of the social pyramid. In Qatar, all taxi drivers are expatriates. By looking at the roads in Qatar, there are also ample examples of how informally citizenship can affect social stratification.
Being from Boston, Massachusetts, I am used to wacky driving, but in Qatar, people took it to a whole new level. While driving back from dinner, I saw a particularly audacious driver on the road disregarding the laws of the highway. I asked my Algerian friend who had lived in Qatar for his entire life why on earth people were driving like that and what the repercussions were. He said that this person had to be a Qatari because if they got caught or if they were in an accident, it would be unlikely that there would be any. “They are Qatari so they can do whatever they want,” my friend replied with a smile. This friend was a part of a community of Algerian individuals living in Qatar who did not have formal citizenship in Qatar, but embraced parts of the informal Qatari citizenship; in his house he had a typical “Majelis” or sitting room, and maintained parts of his Algerian culture, like the food, while also adapting pieces of the Qatari culture. Being in Qatar was a truly fantastic experience, and I feel so fortunate to have gained insight into such an esoteric culture. My favorite experience in Qatar was going to a Qatari women’s “Majelis” and spending the evening chatting about everything from American television shows to politics. I feel so privileged to have been able to see a place so full of innovation and promise, before heading to Egypt, which was a completely different experience.
The minute we landed in Egypt, the group was immediately thrown into something totally different. Goodbye desolate streets; hello chaos and crowded subway stations. In Egypt, our first site visit to the Egyptian Museum. The museum was filled to the brim with historical tombs, artifacts, jewelry and unimaginable amounts of history, but the facility itself lacked the same beauty as the art itself. The building was hot, dusty, and curator-less. The hundreds of thousands of years of history were incredible, but the preservation and (lack of) curation were not. The juxtaposition of this museum and all of the sites we visited in Qatar perfectly represent the difference between the two places; Cairo, full of myriad epochs of historical artifacts and significance, but little money to preserve them, and Doha, a place with no dearth of money, but fledgling in comparison to Egypt’s rich history.
The Museum we visited on our first full day sits in Tahrir Square, next to a place that has incredible historical significance for Egypt in the modern period. Tahrir Square represents historical and recent struggle for Egypt. Unlike in Qatar, social stratification in Egypt stems from the institutions and is an externality of these institutions. In Cook’s book, he mentions many institutions in Egypt, including the Army, Foreign Interests, Businesses, Mosques and Churches, and many other systems that have caused a struggle and unhappiness in Egypt. The connection between the people of the Egypt, the Nile and social stratification was one of the most interesting connections that to citizenship in Egypt. Egypt is considered the gift of the Nile and in the book Final Exit, the Nile is referred to as “the only outlet for the Egyptian people” (87). More recently, government and other institutions in Egypt have taken the Nile from the Egyptian people; “Nile has been privatized… [and] it is no longer accessible to the poor lovers and simple people… [it is] reserved for the privileged few” (87). The essence of what is meant to be Egyptian has been degraded just as the Nile has been polluted and privatized. Ahmed Tawab, a character in Final Exit, says “I am denied the chance to drink from [the Nile] because it is contaminated” (29). The contamination of the Nile is analogous to the contamination of Egypt as a whole. Ahmed Tawab struggles to find a job and he feels he has been robbed of the same opportunities that privileged Egyptians receive. One study that I found published in 2011 proved that in Egypt there is a low association between your level of education and income and a low association between level of education and occupation. This fascinating study confirms many of the suspicions among Egyptians and shows that there is social stratification and inequality engrained in the system. The Nile has become a more recent symbol of social stratification in Egypt just as Tahrir has become a symbol of change. These places that I was so privileged to see first hand and my experiences in Egypt during such a significant time in its history is something that I will never forget.
While reflecting back on this trip, one of the major roles I played in the group was photographer, enthusiast, jokester and friend. I am so lucky to have been able to meet all of the people, including my now good friends in the group, and been so fortunate to see history in the making. While seeing Tahrir Square from the live coverage on the Al Jazeera website, I am also recounting our trip to the incredible Al Jazeera headquarters in Doha. SO COOL! This blog post could not sum up the fantastic and life changing experiences I had while partaking in Duke in the Arab World, but hopefully it will do the journey some justice. Thank you so much to everyone I met and I cannot wait to see you all again soon! Ma’salama!