Address: Education City
I am Assistant Professor in Residence at Northwestern University in Qatar, and an affiliated faculty member of Northwestern University's Middle East and North African Studies Program in the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences. I hold a BA in political science and Middle Eastern studies from Brown University and an MA and a PhD in government from Georgetown University.
Middle East & North African Politics
Gender and Politics
Arab Gulf States
Nationalism, National Identity
United Arab Emirates
My work focuses on oil and politics, state-society relations, and political tolerance in authoritarian contexts. My current research project challenges common assumptions of the place of money and the nature of politics in resource-rich ("rentier") authoritarian societies, using Qatar as my primary case study. Funded by multiple grants, I use a mixed-method approach that includes original, nationally representative survey data, in-depth ethnographic interviews and observations, and Arabic media analysis to better understand the domestic politics of the contemporary rentier states of the Persian Gulf.
How do perceived inequalities in allocation impact citizen satisfaction with state-distributed benefits in rentier societies? Resource-rich rentier regimes are widely theorized to maintain the economic and political satisfaction of subjects through wealth distribution. Yet, while qualitative research in the rentier states of the Arabian Peninsula has identified unequal distribution as a source of discontent, the relative importance of objective versus subjective factors in shaping satisfaction at the individual level has never been systematically evaluated. Here we assess the impacts of inequality on the nexus between wealth and satisfaction among citizens of the richest rentier regime in the world: the state of Qatar. Using original, nationally representative survey data, we test the effects of two separate mechanisms of unequal distribution previously identified in the literature: group-based discrimination, and variation in individual access owing to informal influence. Results show that perceptions of both group- and individual-based inequality dampen satisfaction with state-distributed benefits, irrespective of objective socioeconomic wellbeing. The findings demonstrate that even in the most affluent of rentier states, economic satisfaction derives not only from absolute quantities of benefits but also from subjective impressions of fairness in the distribution process.
A common approach to correcting for interpersonal differences in response category thresholds in surveys is the use of anchoring vignettes. Here we present results from the first applications of anchoring vignettes in Qatar and, to our knowledge, the Arab world. We extend previous findings both geographically and substantively to show that a range of social and demographic variables account for important variation in response scale use in the domains of economic well-being and political efficacy, and that this variation leads to substantively misleading conclusions when not appropriately modeled. Qatar’s exceptionally homogeneous citizenry presents a uniquely hard test of response scale heterogeneity, and our results suggest that potentially obfuscating differences in individual reporting styles are even more ubiquitous than previously known.
Since oil exportation began in 1949, the Gulf state of Qatar has used its hydrocarbon revenues to rapidly modernize in all areas, from infrastructure to health care. Recognizing that the domestic economy cannot rely indefinitely on non-renewable fossil fuels, the Qatari government has invested in human development of all its citizens -- male and female -- through increased opportunities in the educational and employment fields. Yet the state needs more information about the drivers and obstacles of Qatari women's engagement and empowerment in order to help women balance work-life commitments and ensure successful personal and professional lives. Our project studied the intersection of two pressing concerns -- increasing female participation in education and the work force, while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the family and ensuring that women's personal needs are met -- through qualitative and quantitative methods. In particular, the faculty mentored the student researchers on the use of ethnographic methods of participant-observation in majaalis al-hareem ("women's gatherings"; singular = majlis) to provide context for our survey response statistics. Our research reveals the conflict between, on the one hand, Qatari women's increased ability to pursue higher education and enter the public sphere through participation in the workforce or political arena and, on the other hand, traditional social norms and attitudes that prioritize domestic life -- a conflict that necessitates complex personal and professional choices for Qatari women today.
Since the beginning of the diplomatic crisis in June 2017, Qatar has been busy addressing several large-scale geopolitical, economic, and security challenges. Yet the small kingdom has gone beyond these pressing issues to engage in extensive domestic policy shifts. These policies range from expanded citizenship rights to stronger labor protections to increased foreign business and investment opportunities. This presents us with a puzzle: With all of the international demands on Qatari political and financial resources, why is domestic policy such a priority? In this chapter I suggest that Qatar’s rulers are seizing the opportunities provided by this period of uncertainty to make surprisingly strong progress on societal issues that have been simmering for far longer than the blockade itself. The system-wide shock of the blockade has created a rapidly changing situation in the GCC, in which the normal parameters of social, economic, and institutional rules are “in flux” and the rules of the political game can be redefined. These moves are an indication that Qatar is using the crisis to its advantage, by pushing through domestic policy goals that may not only reshape its own country but also the GCC as a whole.
There is a common assumption about the political system in Qatar: that the state’s control of hydrocarbon wealth (and lavish distribution to citizens) suppresses dissent in exchange for economic largesse. How does this link between natural resource wealth and political acquiescence purport to work? Rentier states like Qatar—states that derive more than 40 per cent of their budgets from certain types of exports, such as oil and gas—do not have to tax their citizens to produce revenue. This financial autonomy, in theory, leads to political autonomy by severing the connection between taxation and representation. With this framework in place, all other policy preferences—no matter how sweeping—can be determined by the state, and shielded from citizen input or pressure. Rentier states, then, are seen as a special class of polities: strong, autocratic states that use their financial autonomy from society to pursue their desired policies effectively and efficiently, particularly to maintain the elites (in the GCC case, the monarchies) in power and to transform their societies. Rentier theory, however, tends to make blanket statements about the power of these states to simultaneously stabilize and radically re-mold their societies. Rentier state theory is largely silent on the policy processes that accompany these large-scale transformations, and fails to explain the specific policy and programmatic mechanisms these states use to accomplish these goals. We suggest in this chapter that rentier states do not only “power” their ways through the policy-making arena—they must also “puzzle.” In other words, even with vast financial resources and independence from their domestic economy and society, rentier states still need to craft and implement their policies and programs. Despite the wide array of wealth and coercive power available to rentier states, there is a growing body of evidence from rentier states across the globe that nevertheless demonstrates that they often fail to implement fully their transformative and developmental agendas.
All successful nation-states invent traditions in order to establish group cohesion, legitimize institutions and authority, and inculcate particular values and behaviours in society. Yet the oil-rich states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been largely excluded from theoretical discussions on nation building. This omission may owe, at least in part, to the primacy of the rentier state theoretical framework when analysing state-society relations in these countries. The assertion that rentier states do not nation-build, however, ignores empirical reality: for decades the GCC states have engaged heavily in the process of noneconomic nation building. In particular, Qatar -- arguably the quintessential rentier state due to its immense oil and gas resources and relatively small citizenry -- has used its resources to fund extensive nation-building efforts since its independence in 1971. As this chapter demonstrates, the Qatari state is purposefully reshaping a contested and ill-defined view of what it means to be a Qatari national to fit its preferred narrative in ways that promote its social and political goals. In particular, the efforts of the state to combine the separate hadar (settled townsfolk) and badu (nomadic, Bedouin communities) narratives into an idealized historical unity are a striking example of a rentier state going beyond welfare benefits alone in its quest for political stability and loyalty. This chapter contends that rentier states are not as exceptional as once perceived. The case study of Qatar suggests that while oil wealth may give rentier states more resources to pursue their goals, it does not remove their responsibilities to take charge of their national narratives. Rather, rentier states -- despite their oil wealth -- should be reinserted into the theoretical literature on nation building and invented traditions.
For more than two months, Qatar has been under a political and economic blockade led by Saudi Arabia. Just last week, Qatar approved a draft law that gives permanent residency status to certain noncitizens, including children of Qatari women married to non-Qatari men. With everything the besieged country has been doing — changing its shipping routes, finding new importers of basic food products, and solidifying its defenses — why is Qatar spending time changing its residency laws? By pushing through domestic policy goals that will reshape not only the country but the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a whole, this move is an indication that the Qatari leadership is using this crisis to its advantage. It is also the clearest sign yet that Saudi Arabia’s influence over the six-country GCC is waning. The Saudi-led blockade was an attempt to force Qatar back in line with the more conservative members of the GCC. But Qatar’s move on residency laws demonstrates that the blockade is having the opposite effect intended.
Inside Story: Are presidential debates important?
The Monocle Daily, Interview, 2:52–13:02
The Foreign Desk, “The Gulf—another Cold War?,” Interview, 13:15–20:12
The Monocle Daily, Interview, 15:43–25:24
Princely feuds in the Persian Gulf thwart Trump’s efforts to resolve the Qatar dispute
Will the GCC summit resolve the ongoing crisis?
Bahrain re-opens border dispute with Qatar
Most Arabs believe foreign intervention gave rise to ISIS, survey finds