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SESRI symposium addresses benefits and challenges of oil wealth | Qatar University

SESRI symposium addresses benefits and challenges of oil wealth


The Social and Economic Survey Research Institute (SESRI) at Qatar University (QU) hosted on May 17-21 a group of political science scholars taking part in the annual Middle East and North Africa Workshop which is sponsored by the American Political Science Association, the leading professional organization for the study of political science.

Held for the first time in the Gulf region, the program brought together a competitively-selected group of 22 promising junior scholars studying the issue of oil and politics in the Arab world, drawn from prestigious universities in the Middle East, Europe, and North America. The workshop, entitled “Cure or Curse? The Benefits and Challenges of Oil Wealth”, revolved around the theme of resource wealth and its impact on democracy, state-building, political stability, and state-society relations in the Gulf and in the wider Middle East and North Africa.

On the concluding day of the workshop, SESRI brought together members of the wider academic and policymaking communities in Qatar in a discussion of the important issues examined over the course of the week. Moderated by SESRI Director Dr Darwish Al-Emadi, the distinguished panel of speakers included the former deputy Prime Minister and former Minister of Energy and Industry of the State of Qatar H.E. Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah, well-known Kuwaiti professor of political science Dr Ghanim al-Najjar, and prominent US-based Gulf scholar Dr Michael Herb. This public event represents the first in a planned series of Expert Policy Symposiums organized by SESRI’s newly-launched Policy Unit that will aim to involve top policymakers in discussions and analysis of SESRI research findings.

Each speaker offered his insights on the opportunities and challenges of oil and gas wealth in Qatar and in the Gulf region, and noted the divergent economic, social, and political outcomes of individual Gulf countries. Speaking on the benefits and challenges of oil, H.E. Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah addressed the historical context of economic and political relations between Qatar and other Gulf countries, external collaborations between Qatar and European as well as Asian countries, and recent efforts at investment diversification on the part of Qatar Petroleum.

H.E. Al Attiyah then highlighted the challenges of ensuring the sustainability of oil wealth for future generations in Qatar, the instability of petroleum prices, the political context of Qatar-Gulf economic cooperation, and instability on the Arabian Peninsula.

Dr Ghanim al-Najjar discussed differences in the type and quality of infrastructure and welfare systems across the Gulf countries as well as the challenge of democratization and pressure from international organizations. Dr al-Najjar also cited challenges in the areas of security, political Islam, international terrorism, and water security. Both Dr al-Najjar and Dr Michael Herb highlighted the issue of demographic disparity between Gulf nationals and non-nationals.  Finally, Dr Herb offered a review of the scholarly literature on the so-called “resource curse”, arguing that oil, all things considered, has been an unequivocal blessing to the Gulf region. Its positive effects, he said, can be seen in investments in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and employment. On the other hand, Dr Herb stressed the importance of transformation from fiscal reliance upon oil wealth to a more diversified economy. He observed that, given the small sizes of Gulf citizenries, efforts at diversification so far have been driven by expatriate labor, worsening rather than alleviating the imbalance between citizens and non-citizens. The symposium concluded with an open question and answer session.