Gulf Showdown Exposes Qatar’s Fragility – Bloomberg

At her new exhibition in Doha, Qatari artist Maryam Al-Semaitt explained to guests the central message of her latest work: what happens when great wealth is taken for granted.

That money, mainly from selling natural gas from a peninsula in the Gulf desert that was a British protectorate until 1971, has paid for the city’s skyscrapers, hotels and investments in some of the world’s most iconic companies, buildings and sports teams. What it can’t do, she said, is provide a shield for what’s now the world’s richest nation.

The showdown with Gulf neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has exposed the precarious position of Qatar. The soft power of the multi-billion-dollar Qatar brand that was meant to protect it has never looked more fragile. Doha’s isolation, cutting it off from diplomatic and transport links, is heading into a third week.

“The fact that we have always taken safety for granted, security for granted, now we’re questioning these kinds of things,” said Al-Semaitt, 27, on the second day of showing her sculptures and images done with another artist. The point is to highlight, she said, how “we never actually stop and appreciate what we have in our lives until we lose it.”

Qatari artist Maryam Al-Semaitt stands in front of her work at the Fire Station Gallery in Doha on June 12.

Photographer: Donna Abu-Nasr/Bloomberg

At the crux of Qatar’s predicament is its refusal to toe the line drawn by more powerful neighbors. It adopted the ultra-conservative Saudi strain of Islam, though a lighter version, and as its economy boomed, foreign policy diverged. Though Qataris and their emir remain defiant, the question is how to sustain an almost paradoxical existence.

Take foreign policy. Qatar has hosted a U.S. air base since the early 2000s while maintaining close ties to Islamist groups. According to the Saudis and Emiratis, it funds jihad while its $335 billion sovereign wealth fund has stakes in global companies from German carmaker Volkswagen AG to Glencore and Barclays Plc. In 2022, Qatar is due to host the World Cup, the showpiece global soccer tournament.

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