MESA Banner
Gulf Studies: Advances and Shortcomings

Panel VI-26, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 4:00 pm

Panel Description
  • Gwenn Okruhlik -- Presenter
  • Dr. Kristin Smith Diwan -- Chair
  • Khushboo Shah -- Presenter
  • Dr. Md Mizanur Rahman -- Presenter
  • Mr. Mirdef Alqashouti -- Presenter, Co-Author
  • Lauren Clingan -- Presenter
  • “Openings” in Saudi Arabia reflect state-engineered culture and entertainment (Alowfi; Alahmed; Jones; Leber), re-branding (Binkhunein; Wheeler), autocratic-liberalization (Cerioli), populist-nationalism (Al Rasheed), and the myth of the reforming monarch (Wearing). I build on these through a different lens. Questions: What does the opening mean on the ground? Who has access to enjoy the new freedoms, who lacks access? Social openings go hand-in-hand with pre-emptive repression. To what threat is Mohamed Bin Salman responding if he removed contenders for power? Why does he care about women, dissidence or dissonance? Methodology: I draw on interviews with Saudi students abroad, and the increasingly large and vocal diaspora of academics and activists in the US, Canada and Europe. Data about instances of resistance to the “opening” is from Saudi newspapers and blogs. I examine the muddy edges of popular response. Thesis: One appropriate lens is gender. The ability to enjoy new social freedoms remains utterly dependent upon permission from men in the family. While the state made it permissible for women to drive, dress more informally, and interact with men in public, it in no way required men to allow these freedoms. This is evident in the new Personal Status Law of March 2022. Rather than dismantle the system of guardianship over women, it further codified restrictions on women in marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance – after allowing visible freedoms in dress and driving. MbS is vulnerable. He seeks to deepen authoritarian power as he nurtures an outwardly creative, innovative, and competitive society. Research: I add critical voices of Saudis to demonstrate not a popular response to the opening, but a wide range. Not all Saudis feel a hyper-patriotic nationalism. It is there to be sure, but the attentive population is more ambivalent, dissonant or dissident. Many Saudis welcome the relief provided by social interaction. For others, it is a tentative embrace, ambivalent acceptance, or even anonymous pushback. There is also a sense of anger or betrayal from women and other champions of change who have been denied their agency in making change happen. It is a bittersweet moment for those who fought the battles (Aldosari). I am interested in Saudis who are not impressed by the outward changes, from all perspectives. Conclusions: Women remain central to the construct of citizenship. That is why they were further restricted by the new PSL. We should examine various women’s responses to the opening and their sources of power
  • Men’s backlash—individual and organized resistance to potential feminist progress—presents a significant obstacle to progressive gender change globally. Within the literature on gender change and masculinities, prevailing sociological and psychological theories hold that negative emotional reactions to masculinity challenges drive men’s backlash. Yet what that emotional process entails remains unknown. To address this gap, following processual insights from the sociology of emotions, this study asks: how do men manage their emotional reactions to potential feminist progress? In the United Arab Emirates, successful state efforts to promote Emirati women’s employment have been underway since the 1970s, but we know little about their impact on men and gender relations. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 33 Emirati men, collected between 2016–2019 as part of a larger study of Emirati experiences of pro-women policies, I find that Emirati men experience emotional ambivalence about women’s employment, which they manage according to two salient masculinity schemas. First, they strive to embody the generous provider ideal which, enforced by cultural and religious expectations and codified in federal personal status law, demands men assume full financial responsibility for their families. Second, they attempt to enact modern masculinity, a global ideal rooted in Orientalist hierarchies and adopted in government discourse that involves not opposing women’s employment. Following feeling rules from each schema, Emirati men engage in what I call emotional distancing, ultimately pursuing an unaffected stance toward women’s employment. As generous providers, men feel but work to dampen their personal interest in sharing breadwinning. And as modern men, they rationalize, and therefore suppress, their frustration and fear of emasculation from what they experience as the state privileging women in the labor force over men tasked with breadwinning. The effect of this emotional distancing process is to suppress negative feelings as well as those that might generate more egalitarian behavior. These findings contribute to an interdisciplinary literature on men’s backlash by illustrating how negative emotions do not necessarily lead to backlash. Instead, whether men’s feelings result in backlash may depend on the feeling rules embedded in salient masculinity schemas. As such, this study highlights the importance of progressive schemas and institutions, including federal legislation, which shape whether men lash out against, support, or—as in the Emirati case—remain largely uninvolved in potential feminist progress.
  • Khushboo Shah
    How do non-citizen entrepreneurs in Qatar engage with public officials and Qatari business partners to achieve their business aims? What do these everyday business engagements reveal about state-society and state-business relations in Qatar? Via a qualitative, inductive approach and snowball sampling, this paper traces the social and business engagements of entrepreneurs in Qatar’s non-energy sector. The paper argues that entrepreneurs engage with four key stakeholders, 1) citizen bureaucrats, 2) citizen business partners, and 3) customers (citizens and non-citizens), 4) salaried professionals to expand their business operations and gain customers to increase their business revenue. The paper adopts a state-in-society approach to demonstrate how everyday engagements at majlis,’ social settings and office spaces, braid public officials, Qatari citizens, and non-citizen entrepreneurs in each other’s social circles. The paper is driven by two key motivations. One, there is a knowledge gap on the lived realities of entrepreneurs who have no tribal lineage, no prestigious family names, and no access to welfare benefits. Two, there is a theoretical gap in the literatures of migration and state-business relations in the Gulf which do not discuss citizen and non-citizen business partnerships in detail. It is worth examining the everyday social interactions of entrepreneurs with their Qatari partners as the act of owning and operating a business explicitly sets them apart from the migrant working class in Qatar on whom the majority research focuses on. The paper contributes to the literatures of rentierism and state-business relations and has three key findings. One, the non-rentier sectors of the economy are connected to the rentier economy as state agencies, citizen-owned firms, and everyday citizens are customers of these entrepreneurs and inject a portion of rentier income in the non-energy sector. Two, non-citizen entrepreneurs make an 'outsider bargain' with the Qatari state, as they negotiate their way into the ruling bargain between the state and its citizens (made during the time of state formation). These entrepreneurs are temporary insiders of the state as they are outside the welfare state but inside the rentier framework vis-à-vis their business partnerships, customer relations, and social relations with locals and non-locals. Three, though there is a strict citizen-migrant divide in some parts of Qatari society, in the business landscape the state's regulatory environment operates in a way which forces active collaboration between citizens and non-citizen entrepreneurs. This demonstrates that there are variations in migrant experiences and these variations deserve further research and inquiry.
  • Dr. Md Mizanur Rahman
    Co-Authors: Mirdef Alqashouti
    This paper explains why there is a need for Gulf Studies as an academic field for the scientific study of the Gulf region within the long tradition of Area Studies. The regions of Area Studies have been redefined and reshaped with changes in the international political and economic order. New regions have often gained prominence in the field of Area Studies due to its geopolitical and economic imperatives in global affairs. It is important to note, however, that not all emerging regions have received the same level of academic attention as the field of Area Studies. The Gulf region is a case in point. One of the fastest-changing and most important economic and political regions in the world, the Gulf region is rich in culture, history, and resources. Still, it is also one of the least understood. As the Gulf states have undergone unprecedented social, economic, and political changes, they have also become instrumental in the transformation of other regions that share significant flows of goods, capital, and labor. This paper argues that a complex set of forces and means that has wrought the social, economic, and political changes in the Gulf region deserves new independent attention within broader Area Studies. This paper explains why there is a need for Gulf Studies within the academic field of Area Studies. The paper reports that while a Southern perspective on Gulf Studies is steadily evolving with the establishment of research and academic programs on Gulf studies in the region, it is essential to maintain academic impartiality and independence in the production of knowledge on the Gulf region. The paper holds the view that the field of Gulf studies would greatly benefit from finding its new academic homes in the universities of the Gulf region under study.