The role of educational capacity building, specifically through higher education, can have implications beyond just better educated citizens prepared for work and community development. Amid the ongoing updates about the Saudi Arabia-led blockade of Qatar, the power of educational diplomacy has emerged as a key factor.
For now, two months into the blockade, Qatar is doing pretty well. Specifically, the higher education sector is pursuing matters in a calm ‘business as usual’ way. Additional reports indicate that food shortages that initially occurred due to panic have been addressed by other countries providing all that Qatar needs. Qatar has also moved to greater self-sufficiency by doing things like creating a dairy industry out of nowhere in a matter of weeks.
How does educational diplomacy work? In two examples Qatar’s investment in its university partnerships are paying off very well. The first is in relation to developing a free media industry that cannot be easily questioned (which Saudi, UAE, and others questioned in relation to Al Jazeera). Northwestern University’s new building in Qatar’s Education City just opened and is an amazing example of Qatar’s dedication to fostering robust and free media and in ways that are really unmatched elsewhere in the world.
While I’ve not seen official statements from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, a Professor of International Relations & Gulf Studies, Gerd Nonneman (@GerdDoha) offers regular comment about the situation in Qatar. His Twitter account indicates that his Tweets do no represent views of employers which is what one might expect. However, his academic freedom at GSFS-Q and in Qatar itself, allows him to comment and he has offered numerous points that discredit the Saudi coalition blockade and reiterate the balanced role Qatar plays, and has been playing, in the Arabian Gulf region.
Regardless of the initial statements made by U.S.A. President Trump when he was being manipulated by Saudi Arabia, he equivocated on his original statements and Secretary of State Tillerson has made it clear throughout the blockade that Qatar was a good partner to the U.S. StateDepartment and that it was in the best interest of the U.S. to continue to work toward resolution and rebalancing the relationships among the warring GCC countries.
Educational diplomacy is very powerful. It develops trustable relationships and ones where transparency and authentic problem solving can take place. Those who believe that military armament and intervention is more effective need only look at the long game. In the case of Qatar, smaller and less visible than Saudi Arabia on the world stage just two months ago, seems to be winning through its alternative educational diplomacy, begun over twenty years ago and now paying off in very significant ways.