Qatar’s Visa Revenge
If the US is waiting for an apology from Qatar for last week’s insolent-ambassador incident, they are wasting their time. Qatar has been silent since last Wednesday’s flap but if this recent news out of the Qatari Embassy is any indication, they are kind of pissed off:
The Government of Qatar recently informed the U.S. Embassy that as of May 1, 2010 U.S. citizens will no longer be able to apply for tourist visas on arrival in Qatar.
via US State Department Info on Qatar.
The announcement goes on to detail how the Qatar-bound can go about figuring out how to obtain a visa- by contacting the Qatari Embassy, the Qatari Ministry of the Interior and a number of other red-tape-ridden governmental agencies. This is a drastic change from the country’s previous laissez-faire policy of doling out Visas upon arrival in Doha. And it’s not just Americans getting a chillier reception- residents of 33 other countries (including France and the UK) are reportedly also affected by the new restrictions.
The sudden change has caused a firestorm in the Twitter-sphere with confused, annoyed, inconvenienced expats and business travelers feeling a lot less welcome in a country that had until now been aggressively touting itself as a hot destination for business, culture and the arts. It has also miffed hotel execs, concerned about the law’s potential impact on a nascent tourism industry.
January’s assassination of a top Hamas official in Dubai (by assassins holding forged European passports) has rattled authorities across the Gulf- vigilante justice perhaps not being as commonplace in the GCC as elsewhere in the Middle East. Says one Edy Abbott:
This is one way to prevent the Mossad from using Qatar as their play ground. It seems European, Australian and Canadian passports can be forged quite easily without being punished and Qatar doesn’t want to see another 30 Mossad agents roaming its streets on a man hunt.
#2 Bureaucratic Quid Pro Quo:
Qataris face arduous Visa processes prior to arrival in many major Western and Asian countries. Why shouldn’t the playing field be leveled? Per Marjorie:
This is part of Qatar’s new “reciprocity” kick. A few months ago they switched to a reciprocity system for driver’s licenses: American licenses can’t be automatically converted to Qatari ones, because the US doesn’t automatically convert Qatari licenses.
#3: Revenge for Long-Simmering Indignities:
Specifically, indignities having to do with racial profiling in the post-9/11 world. Says Wael Hallaj:
By any means the Qatari move to impose a visa on Europeans and Americans is a right one, the justification is clear and reasonable…Qatari citizen are humiliated at the European checkpoints.
While it’s highly unlikely that Qatar immigration officials are acting from a purely punitive perspective, the Arab world’s sensitivity to visa and travel issues is very real and (particularly after last week’s diplomatic dust-up) very raw. As one Gulf diplomat put it to The Washington Post last week, last week’s incident “never would have happened” had the ambassador been Swedish.
But in the long run is this a good decision for Qatar’s economy? Seeing as the economic development plan they’d been cautiously unrolling over the past ten years relied heavily on courting international universities (filled with international students), journalists from all over and a veritable United Nations of energy companies, the answer seems to be no. As one Gulf blogger put it:
Whoever made this decision has perhaps not thought through the full consequences. It makes a mockery of the hundreds of millions spent promoting Qatar as a country ‘open for business’ and is a particular disincentive for multinationals to locate operations in the country.
And yet- as last week’s episode made clear- every country has the right to protect its borders. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.