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Qatar’s national culture

Qatari Heritage policemen ride camels during the Gulf emirate’s National Day celebrations in Doha on December 18, 2013. AFP PHOTO / KARIM JAAFAR / AL-WATAN DOHA == QATAR OUT == (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AL-WATAN DOHA / AFP)

The recently renovated Qatar National Museum in Doha exhibits a range of interesting artefacts and local antiquities. These are almost invariably presented as typical examples of Qatari tradition. But does ‘Qatari’ tradition really exist? It is important to realize that the National Museum was originally set up by the Qatari government – shortly after independence – with the aim of creating a ‘national narrative’. The institution and its collection had to present a shared history and culture for the new state’s citizens in order to further the political process of nation-building and the creation of a shared identity.

In a region where common borders are sometimes still subject to controversy, the definition of a national culture is a daunting task. In many ways, it really does not make sense to speak of a specific ‘Qatari’ culture or tradition. Even when interpreted in a restricted sense, as relating only to ‘nationals’,  problems soon arise. The troublesome identification of a specific ‘Qatari’ dialect can illustrate this point. This could be understood to be the locally dominant form of speech, that of the prominent Sunni families of Doha. However, the Bahrani – or Shia Arabs – of Doha speak a very different dialect, related to the language of the Bahrani of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The identification of a ‘national’ dialect therefore excludes the Shia citizens of Qatar from their ‘own’ national culture.

Furthermore, it ignores the fact that Sunni Arabs from Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait speak a very similar dialect, commonly known as Gulf Arabic.

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