Diplomatic Tensions for Qatar & American Education Institutions

By Lama Ahmad

On Monday, June 5th, 2017, all eyes were on Qatar after 6 countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya, cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar. Per the Saudi Press Agency, the decision to sever diplomatic ties stemmed from Qatar’s alleged ties with extremist groups such as ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood. The decision is not a complete surprise, considering Qatar’s tendency to walk the line with Iranian relations and step on the toes of the Saudi government.

Cutting off diplomatic relations means that all the countries involved would halt land, air, and sea traffic with Qatar as well as eject its diplomats, and order Qatari citizens to leave the Gulf States within 14 days of cutting off ties according to the Guardian. There is also worry of food shortages and large inflations considering that many goods are imported to Qatar from neighboring Saudi Arabia.

The political and economic ramifications that result from the political turmoil have taken center stage as the consequences play out and has left many wondering what’s next for Qatar. American higher education institutions in Qatar have been left in a particularly precarious situation and there has not been much discussion about the effects that students, faculty, and the institutions themselves may be affected by the situation in Qatar.

There are several major American institutions with a presence in Qatar’s Education City that attract students and faculty from the United States and across the GCC and the MENA region. These institutions include Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Northwestern University, Texas A&M University, and Weill Cornell Medical College. These institutions are mutually beneficial to both parties involved. For American institutions, a presence abroad is both lucrative and enticing for an emerging demand for a globally focused education. For host governments, American universities are an expansion of opportunity for quality higher education for their citizens and the region. Participation in study abroad programs has been continually increasing, and there has been a huge push for American institutions to increase their presence abroad.

However, unrest and instability around the world affects these types of study abroad programs and the situation with Qatar is no exception. While Doha’s Education City reflects the merits and appeal for globalization of American higher education, concerns surrounding issues like academic freedom, geopolitical tensions and U.S. interests abroad have been exacerbated ever since American institutions have existed abroad. In this case, Qatar is home to the largest U.S. military base in the middle east and meanwhile the U.S. continues to perform balancing act between it’s relationship with Qatar and other GCC countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Institutions have not shown any sign of suspending programs and summer terms in institutions like Georgetown Qatar have operated as normal. However, travel restrictions to and from Qatar as well as the ambiguity surrounding the status of educational institutions in Qatar could result in barriers for the future success of American Institutions in Qatar.

Lama is a Lebanese-American student majoring in Social Research & Public Policy and Interactive Media & Technology. Lama is interested in issues all over the world including gender equality, religious conflicts, human rights, and technology for social good.

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