The Cost of Belonging: Citizenship Construction in the State of Qatar

By Babar, Zahra R. | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

The Cost of Belonging: Citizenship Construction in the State of Qatar


Babar, Zahra R., The Middle East Journal


In Qatar, processes of constructing citizenship have been strongly state-driven over the past four decades. This article reviews the primary influences on Qatari citizenship laws, including historical and contemporary social contexts that have impacted the development of relevant legislation. The article argues that the existing financial privileges of Qatari citizenship as well as the presence of a dominant nonnational population have led to an ever more restrictive legal environment around access to citizenship.

The interaction and interrelationship between citizenship and migration have been studied in many other contexts, but so far have been absent in scholarship on Qatar. This scholarly gap exists despite the fact that Qatar continues to demonstrate high levels of migration inflows, with no sign that these will be diminishing soon. This paper examines the evolution of citizenship laws in Qatar and reviews the particular rights and privileges that Qatari citizenship provides. This analysis engages with the broader literature on migration and citizenship, and draws causal explanations for why citizenship laws in Qatar have continued to remain highly exclusive, and why they have grown more restrictive over time. This article argues that in Qatar, as a result of particular state-society relations, welfare benefits are exceedingly high for nationals, and consequently, the state shows great reluctance to expand citizenship, as it would be economically burdensome. Additionally, the number of temporary migrants, who now dominate the national population, has also increased pressure on the state to further restrict citizenship access. While migration and material benefits of citizenship are not the only determinants of Qatari citizenship, they are certainly critical ones.

The manner in which concepts of citizenship evolve within a particular polity is intrinsically linked to the development of migration policy and governance.1 Citizenship and nationality laws filter out those individuals who are not eligible, and create levels of exclusion that impact migration governance.2 While the state builds citizenship around norms of inclusion, in reality the process is just as potent for creating norms of exclusion. In Qatar, processes of constructing citizenship have been strongly state-derived and stateZahra driven over the past four decades. A normative creation of national citizenship has evolved alongside a legal framework with stringent criteria of eligibility. This article reviews the primary influences on Qatari citizenship laws, including historical and contemporary so- cial contexts that have impacted the development of relevant legislation, and this analysis suggests that the evolving processes of restricting citizenship are inexorably intertwined with broader patterns of regional migration. It further posits that the existing financial privileges of Qatari citizenship as well as the presence of a dominant nonnational popula- tion have led to an ever more restrictive legal environment around access to citizenship.

In addition to the clear impact on the juridical-legal framing of citizenship, the decades of hosting ever-increasing numbers of alien migrants have also impacted Qatari citizens' self-conceptualization. The continuous presence of a large number of foreigners has reinforced citizens' sense of their distinct Qatari-ness, and shaped a sense of national- ity along clear lines of cultural belonging. The fact that the visible majority of the popula- tion is nonnative presses Qataris to conceive of their own citizenship along rarified lines.

As Rainer Bauböck has so eloquently stated:

How migration changes citizenship depends to a large extent on how states and their citizens perceive migrants and on how they construct the meaning of citizenship. Migration is seen through the lenses of particular national conceptions of citizen- ship, and this perception of migrants falls back into ideas about citizenship. …

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