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Start Spreading the News: New York City ‘Will Rival Silicon Valley’ By 2020!

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Education City, Qatar: The Real Arab Awakening?

The small desert state of Qatar has, until recent years, been almost totally anonymous in terms of its international profile – even to those who keep a keep eye on developments in the Middle East. Trawling through our recollections of all things global, the only reference to Qatar that we at Mediolana can remember coming across before the late 2000s was a clip of the 1992 Gulf Cup of Nations that found its way onto the legendary and much-missed Transworld Sport; a Qatari state television commentator breaking into wild Arabic supplications on the realisation that his team was about to win that tournament for the first time in its history was the limit of our associations with Dawlat Qaṭar.

Fast forward to 2012 and the one thing that can definitively be said about Qatar is that it is ineluctable. Al Jazeera and its sister channel Al Jazeera English have changed popular perceptions of the Middle East forever with their postmodern role in reporting and shaping the numerous revolutions and political shifts across the region, a process which is likely to be ongoing for many years; an audacious and ultimately victorious bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup has been greeted worldwide with reactions ranging from bemusement to outrage, yet for a country which the vast majority of the world’s population would struggled to locate on a map, perhaps the most important thing is that there is any reaction to it at all.

However, for all the rather public statements of intent emanating from Doha in recent times, the country’s establishment have inaugurated an institution which is likely to engender a low-key but equally profound transformation within Qatar itself: Education City (‘EC’). A giant facility situated at the edge of the Qatari capital, Education City is very much an initiative of the reasonably iconic Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, the most prominent of the ruling emir’s three wives: as Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development since 1995, she has overseen the construction and growth of EC, an über-university housing branches of no less than six American colleges as well as outlets of University College London (‘UCL’) and Hautes études commerciales de Paris (‘HEC Paris’).

We at Mediolana have a few ideas as to the precise significance of plonking a mini-Ivy League in the middle of the Arabian desert:

1. Orientation. With some honourable exceptions, the image of most rulers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (‘GCC’) has been simply dreadful from the third quarter of the twentieth century onwards: absolutism, hypocrisy and comedy have featured strongly in the global public’s reading of them. Yet a project such as Education City shows that, in many respects, at least some countries in the GCC have moved from the 1970s and 1980s, when a combination of ludicrous welfarism and North Korea-style personality cults defined this part of the world as much as anything else; while both these elements are still richly in evidence, EC illustrates that one or two regional heads of state are recognising that the future of their countries will increasingly depend on education as much as natural resource endowments.

2. Tactics. The Arab Spring is still causing shockwaves around the MENA region and the world more generally as governments and supranational organisations struggle to react coherently or consistently. Some countries in the region are embracing liberal democracy more fully than most dared to dream; others are sinking huge amounts of money into the standard responses of repression and bribery. But Qatar seems to be plotting a different path altogether: top-down change which anticipates any challenges to the fundamental structure of society and that permits just enough dynamism and liberty to ensure that the country can integrate into the global flow of ideas without too many destabilising ruptures; the Qatari legislative elections, scheduled to take place in 2013, is another example of this path.

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Synchronicity III: You Know This Blog Post is Coming

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