Vision 2030 and Qatar’s trans/national future: redefining the terrain of ethnocracy within American branch campuses

By Neha Vora
Submitted to Session P4067 (Trans/nationalism in the Arabian Peninsula: Continuities and Disjunctures, 2015 Annual Meeting
Arabian Peninsula;
Qatar’s National Vision 2030 has become a standard reference point for legitimizing almost every new development project, policy change, or institutional mission in the country since 2008. This short document highlights certain challenges the country will face moving forward—most importantly diversifying away from natural resource reliance into a new economy based on “human capital” while simultaneously decreasing the reliance on foreign workers. To this end, the state has invested heavily in the idea of a “knowledge-based economy” and implemented Qatarization policies to privilege citizens in all aspects of education and employment. The shift to a knowledge-based economy can therefore be read as yet another iteration of what Anh Nga Longva calls “ethnocracy”—the small minority Qatari citizen population reaps immense benefits from the state, while the majority foreign national population continues to experience forms of exclusion based on nationality and class, including geographic segregation, lack of access to citizenship, and dependence on the kafala system of labor sponsorship. In addition, state discourses, as several scholars have noted, erase the hybrid transnational past of Gulf societies and vibrant longstanding diasporic communities in order to maintain tight boundaries around citizenship and limit what Amelie Le Renard has called the “national distinction” of performing belonging and accessing invented traditions to a privileged few.

In this paper, I trace how Vision 2030 differs from previous state discourses by carving out space for non-national belonging in Qatar’s future, redefining the terrain of ethnocracy to retain national distinction while also acknowledging the permanence of a transnational future. Focusing on my ethnographic research in the American branch campuses of Education City—the hallmark of Qatar’s knowledge economy—I argue that the university, despite Qatarization policies that privilege citizens, is also a key site for this increased official integration of certain non-citizens—specifically those born and raised in Doha—who have recently been afforded privileges that distinguish them from the “international” students who have come to Qatar in order to attain degrees. These foreign resident students are produced as a distinct “local” yet non-national group within Education City. Alongside the cross-national interactions and friendships that American branch campuses enable, shifts in policy and rhetoric that hail a new form of “local” subject signal a change in national identity that allows for transnational belonging within ethnocracy.