The Qatar Blockade: A Reflection

To all my friends and relatives: thank you for all your love, care, prayers and concerns.  We are all well, safe and enjoying food like always in Qatar. There are no empty shelves in the grocery stores and everything is on routine. We have food and lots of it!  

To everyone who is wondering what is going on: I am writing at a time when Qatar is facing a blockade from the neighboring GCC countries; Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.  On June 5th, the 12th fasting day of Ramadan, the country woke up to the news that Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt are cutting ties with Qatar. Qatar stands accused of funding terrorism and meddling with the internal affairs of the four neighboring countries. Soon thereafter other countries followed suit: Yemen, Maldives, Mauritania, Eastern Libyan government, Senegal and Comoros. Others such as Jordan downgraded diplomatic relations with Qatar. Kuwait and Oman stayed neutral with Kuwait leading the mediation efforts to resolve the crisis.

At the time, everyone thought that like the rift in 2014, this conflict too will resolve itself. So the closure of land border, air space and sea will really not last that long.

But matters took a different turn.

The conflict evolved and saw announcement from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain calling their citizens to return from Qatar within 14 days and for Qataris to leave these countries and head back to Qatar.  On the other hand, there were reports that the grocery stores’ shelves are empty as people hurried and stocked up on necessities like water, milk, chicken and rice.

Since June 05th, the crisis hasn’t abated and the political and economic blockade continues. The 13 demands list issues by the four Arab states: including shutting down Al Jazeera, scaling down relations with Iran and shut down the Turkish army base, stands rejected by Qatar. The mediation efforts to resolve the crisis continues from US, Kuwait and Oman.

As the crisis continues and evolves, what have I learned from the current blockade?

A crisis in any form, in any area, whether personal or professional, not only brings changes in life, but also, changes one’s perception and thoughts on various matters.

Qatar is a country where I was born and live to this day. It is my home where I’ve had my beautiful childhood and teenage years. Whenever asked where I’m from, my answer is Qatar (followed by an explanation in a few seconds that I’m Pakistani, but was born and raised in Qatar).

The crisis when it began was a shock. The first thing coming to mind was the 1990 Gulf War scenario. The fear, the anxiety and the confusion all at once raced simultaneously in mind. We, the family, were here in Qatar then and now. We didn’t leave because there was no question at all leaving my dad behind alone. As mom says, “we stay together and  go through every single thing together”.

But in times of political and economic crisis, there are always human costs involved. Qatar was no different. According to Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) “at least 13,314 people were directly affected by anti-Qatar measures” with the violations including family separations, right to travel, education, work, freedom of opinion, residency and ownership. It sent shivers down my spine. I realized how we take family relations and friends for granted. We don’t even think what if , one day, they are all taken away from us. It made me highly grateful to be with my family and to have relations in my life.

The blockade via land, airspace and sea meant that many goods would no longer be available.  Products like Almarai milk, butter and other goods from Saudi, UAE and Bahrain would be unavailable during this crisis. The initial scenario where the stores faced empty racks was true because people panicked and ensured that basic necessities like rice, chicken and milk were available at least for children. Qatar government assured the residents that it had taken measures to ensure that normal life routine continues in the country and there is no need to panic. Turkey and Iran both countries sent food both via plane and sea.

What amazed me was how as consumers we are all highly adaptable to situations. We teach and study in economics that given the change in factors, consumers substitute from one good to another. In times of crisis, that holds to be absolutely true. We didn’t have Almarai milk, but, we bought Turkish milk (and are amazed how actually good it is!). I love Dandy yogurt (made in Qatar), but Turkish yogurt is good. We, the consumers, quickly shifted our preferences to other brands, which makes me wonder when this crisis is over would we ever return to Almarai milk and yogurt?

Prices did spike as expected. Now as goods arrive via sea, the prices will start to go down.

I also highly appreciate mom’s small vegetable garden here. While there was a shortage of mint and coriander leaves for some time, we were enjoying fresh mint, tomatoes and chillies from our Mama Khan’s little vegetable garden 🙂 (she even gave fresh mint leaves to her friends!) The idea of a farm-house really is not that bad 🙂 Maybe in future, I might go for a farm-house than a city life (just a thought).

The critical lesson learned in this crisis is: leadership,patience and tolerance.

The Qatar government continues to bear all the costs ensuring that normal life in Qatar continues for all the residents. And indeed, the normal life continues.

Bahrain and UAE banned people from publishing expressions of sympathy towards Qatar. Sympathizing with Qatar in UAE and Bahrain was a cyber crime, with the offenders facing fines of up to $136,000 and up to 15 years of jail term. While the boycotting countries’ media said a lot on social media, Qatar government requested all its residents to take the higher road by not insulting or saying anything negative about the boycotting countries and their leaders and to express their opinions in a peaceful manner on social media. This is tolerance and what we have seen here is a real life example.

This is true leadership!   Every one has the right to their opinion and there are always agreements and disagreement. Successful is the one who is patient, listens to others and presents arguments in a peaceful, constructive and respectable manner. The Qatari leadership is a prime example of this.

Despite the blockade from neighboring countries, Qatar did not expel their citizens and assured them that they are welcome to stay (even when it could have taken the same path).  Despite the tense environment, we see patience and the leadership continuous, non-stop effort to resolve the crisis through constructive dialogue. It has won the people’s hearts and support! The “Tamim Al Majd” (meaning “Tamim the glorious”) is viral. From car stickers to murals to posters on residences, the strong support and love is evident. Its’ in the air! It brought everyone together under one roof. It has strengthened the unity of a nation.

The crisis has taught me strong positive lessons. I always am grateful for things, but now, I’m highly grateful for the small things in life which we take for granted. I have many times thought the in today’s time values don’t matter. Wrong. Values, how you conduct yourself in life and how you treat others does matter for they form real human connections that are not broken easily. I have learned to be hopeful, even in tense times and remain optimistic.

I am thankful for everything in life.

Qatar: The Tragedy and The Media

Today Qatar mourns. Yesterday, 19 lives – 13 children, 4 teachers and 2 firefighters were lost in Qatar’s Villagio’s Mall fire. For Qatar, this is the biggest tragedy, ripping  across all the communities at once.  Many questions are seeking answers, many are still in shock at the scale of the accident and many simply don’t understand how it happened. The effects of this tragedywill linger for a long time until the investigations answer some questions.

 What I am surprised is by the coverage of the news in the international media such as CNN, The Daily Telegraph, Reuters and other news media outlet.

Qatar first made news when it won the rights to host FIFA 2022 Football World Cup in December 2010. For a Middle East country to win the hosting rights of such an event was unimaginable as  there were questions from the size of the country to its capabilities of hosting the event. The event did put Qatar and the Middle East on the international arena and brought the attention of the world to a country that remained relatively unknown for a large period of time.

But this was not the only feature. Qatar’s Education City featuring the best schools, Carnegie Mellon, Weil Cornell, Georgetown University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Texas A&M and Northwestern University offered an insight on how a vision became reality and the purpose behind providing a high-class education. Recently, The Economist magazine published an article on the art culture, the Islamic Museum of Arts – one of the monumental museums showcasing arts from various regions and the initiatives being taken in this new field. Al Jazeera – the news channel is another key feature of the state.

But when a country opens up and makes it presence on the world arena, it must be prepared for all the contingencies. Since winning the rights of FIFA 2022 World Cup, in one way or another, the country has remained engulfed with one controversy or another. Although the issues and reasons vary, the fact that Qatar is now on the global platform means that no longer can one contain the events within the country itself. The country is open to media scrutiny and as the time approaches for the world cup, the media hype and scrutiny will only increase. The coverage of the Villagio Mall incident is just the beginning for it provides an insight as to what Qatar is and will be dealing with in the future.

In the light of the FIFA 2022 hosting rights, the role of media will play a significant role and could have spillover effects on cultural, regional, economical and political grounds. The intensity with which this will occur highly depends on the coverage of the events by the media.   It is well-known that media does sometimes exaggerates the events and the ground reality could altogether be different. Therefore, journalism itself could come into questioning and place an immense pressure on Qatar’s institutions, especially Qatar’s media bodies, to ensure that the correct information, facts and figures are disseminated, for all the media outlets check the domestic media as a source for news.

In this particular incident, it was the lives of foreigners lost. As the people come to grip with the accident, there are questions and issues raised both within the local and international media. The issues range from whether a day care center should be allowed to operate in a mall, the maintenance of safety standards  to the training of the personnel for en emergency situation are now on the forefront.  There is a domino effect now in that the incident has caused concerns in the neighbor country Dubai, U.A.E.  This is the first brush with the international media. If observed carefully, it is basically providing a picture of its ability to conjure a picture of a country in a certain way for its audience.

It is certain that Qatar’s authorities will deal with the matter in the strictest manner. There is an ongoing investigation and the authorities here are well-known for cracking down hard on matters that affect its population in a bad way. All the violations that took place in this incident, mall authorities who were unable and ill-equipped to deal with the situation and violations that might be present in other malls will be dealt with a stern hand. There is a very high probability that the Ministry will further pass and enforce strictly new safety standards and laws in all the buildings in the wake of this accident. It will provide the public with information on the investigation. But until then, questions and various emotions will rage on across the communities.

New Zealand Family Lost 2 year old triplets - Picture by Mailonline
New Zealand Family Lost 2 year old triplets – Picture by Mailonline

As I write this article, I find tears continuously streaming down my eyes.  At times, I feel as if someone has stabbed me right in the heart. The pain of losing a loved one has become fresh. I lost my maternal grandmother this year in January.  4 months have passed and yet her face is still fresh in front of my eyes. Every day has been hard since she left. My life scattered in a million pieces in accepting that she will never ever return.  But to imagine the pain of the parents is beyond words or any feeling.  This is a catastrophe for the lives of parents have turned upside down.  A New Zealand family lost 2-year-old triplets and many other parents lost theirs. Even as Qatar bid goodbye to the victims today, the emotions have made everyone numb.It has jolted all the communities because we take many things, especially relations, for granted without acknowledging the consequences if they were ever to leave us for good.

Since the accident, I have only been praying and I can only request you to join in the prayers for those who have to bear an immense loss.

‘Dear God, please give the parents and all those who have lost their loved ones the strength to bear this irreplaceable loss. Please bless those whom we have lost and grant them a place in heaven. Please help to heal this pain as this difficult time has turned the lives upside down of many. Please give us the strength to stand by them, support them and reach out to them in this tragic time. Please help us to become better human beings (amen)”

The Arab Revolutions 2011

These are uncertain times. The year 2011 like its predecessor began differently. Middle East – the region assumed by many to be safe, erupted like a volcano when streams of people came out on the streets, demanding change for a better life, for better conditions and for freedom.  What began in Tunisia spread like contagion in various other parts of the Middle East.  Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Jordan, Algeria and Libya saw people rising against their own rulers and taking fate in their own hands. It is as if nations are awakened from a long sleep.

Many of us have read about revolutions only in history books.  We know the accounts through the eyes of the witnesses present at the time, who wrote about the circumstances and the conditions that prevailed and the chaos that came.

But today the story is different. Although we are not directly present in the current uprisings in the Arab region, we are witnessing via satellite images, news and social media, accounts of hundreds and thousands of people who want change and are struggling to find their place in both national and international arena. We are observing a tremendous phenomenon in a region that for over a decade have been led by dictators, was thought to lack intellectual thoughts on concepts such as democracy, constitution, poverty and international relations and only knew how to subordinate to outside demands. That has changed.

The Center for Regional Studies, Georgetown – School of Foreign Service in Qatar presented the distinguished lecture on “The Arab Revolutions 2011” by Rashid Khalidi  last night in Grand Hyatt, Doha, Qatar. Dr. Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University in New York and is also the editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies. He was an advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid and Washington Arab-Israeli peace negotiations from October 1991 until June 1993. He is author of many books such as Sowing Crisis: American  Dominance and the Cold War in the Middle East (2009) and The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (2006). Thus, the lecture was of critical importance due to both the timing and the changes taking place on a global scale.

The Arab Revolutions

What we are witnessing are tectonic changes and historic moments in the Middle East. Countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and more possibly Yemen saw despotic regimes crumbling before the very eyes of the world. Yet, this is not the first time that the region is witnessing such movements. For a decade, the Arab world has witnessed movements against various regimes such as Syrian Revolt in 1925-1926 and Libyan-Italian resistance movement in 1911 and onwards. In these movements, massive force was deployed by regimes to crush the uprising. History bears witness to massive air strikes against civilians that  resulted in major causalities, which became a sombre human chapter. Thus, for Rashid Khalidi,  the current uprising is not new at all.

Hosni Mubarak
Hosni Mubarak

However, for the first time,  the revolutions throw some light on how Arabs were perceived by the world. Thought of as a region lacking intellectual thoughts on concepts such as democracy, constitution, political rights, freedom of speech, human rights, international relations and social justice, the revolutions have shown with crystal clarity that intellectual thoughts within the Arab world have always existed and it was only forgotten with time. There exists an immense dynamic in terms of intellectual discourse as the Arab youth is well aware of many ideas and knows how to delegate its thoughts. The Egyptian revolution organized through the use of social media is an example of how the youth today knows ways to achieve its goals and is aware of the global dynamics being played out.  Rashid Khalidi argued that the ideas of constitutions and democracy are now new to the Arab world. They came from the Ottoman Empire. Yet, within the Arab world, they all faced failures simply because the self interest and other internal factors came into play. In addition to this, the European colonialism obstructed the democratic rule by undermining the democratic systems in these countries, which led to military driven corrupt regimes.

The revolutions were brought about by the amalgamation of several factors such as lack of social justice, poverty, lack of accountability, lack of transparency, unemployment and freedom of speech. But these factors were fueled in turn by the dogmatic neo-liberal policies of the Washington institutions such as IMF, World Bank and WTO. The uprisings, therefore, is also against the dogmatic policies which have brought nothing but misery and suffering. Privatization, shredding of safety nets such as subsidies, health care, increasing exports while lowering tariffs have only worsened the economic indicators. Income inequality, poverty, unemployment and inflation are just some of the on-the-side effects that the countries bore for following Washington institutions’ policies. The policies made international corporates fatter via super profits, while, the poor and local suffered. An example is that during Mubarak’s era, the real wages declined rather than increasing and people became poorer. Only 4% of the population the so called elite class received the benefits of the policies, while, the poor became poorer.  Thus, the revolutions demanded ‘dignity’; dignity of individual and dignity of nation.

It cannot be denied that the autocratic regimes excessively infringed the rights of its people. Most of these countries were police driven states that used violence as means to quell the public and to ensure that the order of the day goes in their favor. The ‘social malaise’ infested itself in the form of sectarian violence, violence against women, social injustices and various other forms that tore apart the social and moral fabric of the society. The rulers had nothing but contempt of their own people by perceiving them as immature, incapable of handling democracy, disillusioned and have no respect in the world. And there is no doubt that these are the characteristics displayed by rulers such as Mubarak and Gaddafi in their speech.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi

On the other hand, it is unfortunate that within the Arab world, there is no real “Arab Power’ .  Thus,  the continuous infringement of  dignity, repression and lack of economic development and growth, paved the way for a rebellion that broke all the barriers. The scenes from Tunisia and Egypt with thousands gathering, protesting and demanding the removal of autocratic regimes are a testament to the fact that at the end of the day, it is the people who rule and not the governments.

However, there are many challenges in various fields. The present Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries presently face a daunting task in terms of rebuilding democratic institutions to provide social justice and economic growth for increasing equal opportunities. Further, according to Rashid Khalidi, the task is complicated by the fact that in the globalized world we are living in today, the rebuilding of countries cannot alienate the West. Thus, with the uncertainty and the vacuum in the leadership, there is a possibility that the forces of the repression could be back should there be a failure in achieving the critical tasks. The oldest tool in the book of politics is sectarian and ethnic violence, that is, creating tensions between certain religious sects such as Christians and Muslims in Egypt. This very tool could pave a way of comeback of a repressive regime. However, should the fire and the energy of the youth remains alive,it would be difficult for such regime to take hold.

The Role of US and Europe

Rashid Khalidi stated that with the internal struggle going on in various countries, both US and Europe should refrain from preaching the young Arabs about democracy. This is because each Arab country is different and with the consequences of the dictated policies by world organizations, developed world should let the Arab people decide the course they want to take. For a long time, US has been torn in its Middle East foreign policy in terms of pointing out several abuses in the countries and protecting its own self interests. But with the US media covering the unrest in the Middle East in a fair manner, the public wants the people to take their decisions which is dictating the US policies for now. However, as soon as the public interests wanders, the US policy would be back to protecting its own self interests. Thus, the US should realize that the stagnant Arab world is now changing and that the decisions are now being taken on streets with the realization that the freedom is not free and sacrifices will be made to achieve it.

Food For Thought

Clearly, the future of the Arab countries remains uncertain. The dynamics are changing, but, where will they lead remains in question. There are developments that require both attention and thoughts. The latest development of Morocco and Jordan invited to join the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) has taken everyone by surprise. Why in the face of uprisings are these countries being invited to join the GCC? The development raises an eyebrow for it seems that the two countries are now seeking external support other than from US and Europe. The freezing of assets of Mubarak and Gaddafi by the developed world indicates that perhaps some level of distrust has now taken place. The situation of Bahrain with Saudi Arabia and UAE coming in for help could also be one reason why Morocco and Jordan could seek membership of the Council and certainly this can change the dynamics even further.

In the face of such change, the relations between the Arab world and US-Israel will be tested. Israel has lost a crucial ally in the Middle East with the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt. It will be interesting to observe the relations between the two regions over time and over the global scale.

Unprecedented changes are taking place and only time will reveal the results.

The Journey of Thoughts and Ideas – A Memorable Night

To many of us, university is a unique time in our lives. It is where desires of success, the craving for independence, the opportunity to experience life as per one’s wishes and the chance to  meet people from diverse backgrounds all becomes a reality. The excitement is beyond any description.

Yet, to some of us (or most possibly a few) a university is much more than studies and obtaining a degree. Academia, in itself, is a world highly charged by international affairs and events that shape our reality. Various researches analyze a wide range of dynamics that have an impact on our communities and our world in a million ways. To simply state, a university is where one embarks on a journey of ideas, experiences a whole new world and a realm of opportunities that were never thought of.

The inaugural of the New Georgetown University (School of Foreign Service [SFS] Qatar) in Education City on 13 February 2011 turned out to be a major memorable event.  Known for producing world-class leaders, the University opened its doors to students in Qatar seeking higher education in the field of international and regional affairs. The occasion was special for HE Sheikh Mohammed Bin Hamad Al-Thani, 2009 graduate of SFS Qatar and the Chairman of Qatar 2022 Bid Committee, was present along with Chairperson Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, HE Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser, Dr. John J. DeGioia – President Georgetown University and other dignitaries.

Yet, it was the spirit of the event that set it apart from the rest. The event became special for me as it provided an insight of a university that not only conducts high-end researches on critical international affairs, but also, is a tight-knit family where each member plays an important role in various ways.

The Building Opening Program

The building opening program began in the morning by a welcome note from Dr. Mehran Kamrava – Georgetown University SFS Qatar Interim Dean.  I had, previously attended, one of the Distinguished Lecture Series organized by Georgetown University – Centre for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) where Robert Fisk was the guest and was the subject of an article here on my blog. Little did I knew, that in future, I would get the chance to be in the University and would be swept off by a variety of highly charged discussions.

For the first time, I witnessed a ritual that I always thought could only take place in books and films. Rev. Philip Boroughs and Imam Yahya Hendi conducted the blessing of the new building. This fascinated me for post 9-11, the world has changed dramatically, especially for the Muslims. Yet, here it was both a priest and imam standing together, blessing and praying for the building.  Despite much real world challenges, I was made to realize that religions can co-exist and that inter-faith dialogue can foster a peaceful co-existence.

The blessing was followed by a panel discussions titled “The World in 2050: Global Issues and Their Impact on diplomacy and Education”. The distinguished speakers included Interim Dean Dr. Mehran Kamrava, Mr. Salman Shaikh – Director of Brooking Center Qatar, Dr Robert Wirsing – Visiting Professor SFS Qatar, the Honourable Chuck Hagel US Senator 1997-2009 and Distinguished Professor Georgetown University and Rev J. Bryan Hehir. The panel – divided in two parts – discussed the importance of America in the world politics and regional affairs, especially the Middle East, the energy, food and climate change challenges that the world faces and how changes in foreign policies especially of USA will set the new world order. The panel discussions set off my mind in a million directions. Links, articles, economic theory and research paper all came like a film running before my own very eyes.

My interest in researching issues from both social and economic perspective – the main reason of my writing – was fueled further by the panel discourse. Before I realized,  various ideas regarding economic development and social issues became hot topics for research and articles. The fire had been re-kindled. After graduating from University of Glasgow, the atmosphere whereby I could discuss ideas, my perspectives on global issues and challenges arrived in a such a manner that even words cannot capture.

The Inauguration Ceremony

The inauguration ceremony of a new building could mean either nothing special or very special. For me, it was very special for it gave me the courage to follow my dreams.  Visions can become reality and despite all challenges, it is determination, humbleness and strong belief that paves the way for achieving that vision and creating new relationships along the way.

Qatar Foundation is the vision of HE Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser. Realizing education as critical in creating future leaders and in bridging the gaps, Qatar Foundation has brought world-class universities such as Georgetown University SFS, Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, VCUQ and Weill Cornell  to Qatar to pave the way for higher education in the fields of international affairs, medical sciences, engineering, business administration and arts. There must have been many challenges in the way, and yet, the determination and the will to develop and foster an educated community triumphed in the end.  The vision today is a reality as students enroll and graduate from the universities and pursue careers in various fields. The students enrolled in such universities are fortunate for they have access to world-class education that one could only dream about.

Tonight is unforgettable for I have learned a lot more than ever.

It’s not a crime to have a vision. If you have a vision, pursue it no matter the obstacles in the path. Dream for they set the wheel of life in motion. Without dreams,  the purpose of life is lost.Believe and live your dreams and be ready to work for it. Hard work always pays off. Be humble for arrogance never helped anyone. Be open to ideas for it is an experience of a lifetime not to bee missed at any costs.

In Georgetown University, I don’t feel like a stranger, an experience that I felt only in University of Glasgow. The smiling faces, the encouragement, the desire to excel and contribute, the space whereby to deliver your perspectives and to become a part of the world whereby one can contribute productively to the society can only be felt by those who perhaps see themselves in the world of academia.

It might be difficult for people to understand my experience of the ceremony. But, perhaps, some might not find it strange especially those who are working what they have always have been passionate about.

I have returned home :).

Most importantly, Georgetown University has made me dream again. I have dared again to dream. Only this time, I am ready to give it all.

The Doha Tribeca Film Festival 2010 – An Event To Remember

‘Let’s be courageous with stories and talk about issues that matter’ – Burhan Qurbani

This statement comes from an emerging German director Burhan Qurbani whose film ‘Shahada’ was winner for original story and representation in this year 60th Berlin International Film Festival.

Indeed, film-making in itself is courageous for the fate of film remains unknown until it’s released. Films are a form of art. They are produced not only for entertaining purposes, but also, for telling a story and to reach out to people with messages and hope. Film become the catalyst for change, especially, when human stories and issues are the subject. When reality comes on the screens, it makes the audience question a broad range of subjects and their own ideals and morals.

Film festivals’ purpose is to encourage and showcase such films in order to give boost not only to the filmmakers, actors and the industry, but also, to educate the audience on the scope of issues that surround us in our daily lives. This year, The Doha Tribeca Film Festival 2010 brought a wide and diverse range of films to the Qatar audience. For five days, Qatar was gripped with films that ranged from family drama, comedy,horror, documentaries and real life stories.

Katara Open Air Theatre - Picture by DFI
Katara Open Air Theatre – Picture by DFI

The festival launched the opening of Katara – The Cultural Village of Qatar with an opening night screening of Emmy award winner film “Outside The Law” by the French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb.  The open air theater with a 7.1 Dolby sound system vowed the audiences with a range of films.

Algerian-French Director Rachid Bouchareb, Salma Hayek Pinault, legendary Egyptian Actress Yosra, Danis Tanovic, Geoffrey Gilmore, acclaimed director Mira Nair, DFI Executive Amanda Palmer, Indian Director Bhavna Talwar, Indian Director Ram Gopal Verma, famous actors Kevin Spacey and Robert De Niro, Freida Pinto, Director Justin Chadwick, American Egyptian comedic director Ahmed Ahmed, famous Egyptian Actor Adel Imam and many more graced the red carpet and captivated their fans.

International films screened for the event were Paranormal Activity 2, Machete, Let Me In, Bhutto, Rakht Charitra, Stone and Casino Jack among many others.

Rachid Bouchareb - Director of 'Outside The Law'
Rachid Bouchareb – Director of ‘Outside The Law’ Picture by Doha Film InstituteGeoffery Gilmore - Picture by Doha Film Institute

For the very first time, I enrolled in this biggest event as a volunteer and as a reporter for Newzglobe covering the entire event. I got the glimpse behind the mechanics and the work that goes into making the festivals of this size and nature so big. From organizing the accommodation for the VVIPs, Guests, Press and others to ensuring everything is running smoothly in the production departments, the general audience and the press communication, the festival becomes a big mill churning out more surprises for everyone involved.

The reward of volunteering for such festival was the vouchers received that could be exchanged for the tickets of any films or panel discussion. This was a great opportunity as I received the exposure to the Arab Cinema. Though Arabic is not my language and being a fan of Hollywood movies, I have never even heard nor seen good Arabic films. Yet, I was blown away by the enormous talent and potential of the Arabic cinema. The stories presented showed that film has a universal language and no matter which part of the world you belong to, you always, always for dead certain have stories to tell and share that resonate with others.

‘Outside The Law’, ‘The First Grader’ , ‘Miral’ captured the audiences for its explored the costs of wars and conflicts on human lives. The Arab documentary ‘Grandma, A Thousand Times’ followed the life of the director’s grandmother who deals with loneliness as all her children are married and gone and wonders what will happen to her when she dies.  In one way or another, all of us despite the differences in culture, religion, geography or race can find ourselves with people or know people who go through this stage. Another Arabic film ‘A Man Without a Cellphone’ tells the story of a group of young men in Palestine , who despite such hardships, enjoy their lives by talking to girls and trying to live ordinary lives in extraordinary circumstances. Ahmed Ahmed documentary ‘Just Like US’ explored the cultural and political taboos through comedy by taking the audience on a journey from New York, Beirut, Riyadh, Dubai and back to New York.

And this was not all!!  Burhan Qurbani, the German director of the film ‘Shahada’ was also here for the screening of his film in Doha, Qatar.

Burhan Qurbani - Picture by Sean Gallup Getty Images
Burhan Qurbani – Picture by Sean Gallup Getty Images

I had the great chance not only to see this film , but also, got the opportunity to interview this talented emerging director for Newzglobe. The film took me by surprise for it dealt with issues that in multiple ways we all go through in our lives.  I was grateful that finally someone told story of how Muslims in the West are grappling with their identity, religion and the Western ways post 9/11. The film follows the story of three Muslim protagonists who struggle to find a way of living with their religious beliefs and with the Western system. The challenges each character goes through shows that no society regardless of religion, race, caste, or creed is immune from such issues and every society has its own demons to fight.

The interview was an eye-opener for I was simply stunned by the director’s soft manner and sensitivity to human issues. I was in awe of his courage to show that every society has its own issues and one cannot pinpoint one specific society for being cruel or different.

Most importantly, in our daily lives, we are bombarded by media about stories of other religions and cultures. We are so heavily influenced that not even for once do we stop to think or even question the representation by the media.  It made me re-think how I represent my views on issues that affect me through reports and articles. It also made me realize that when one is passionate about something, a way always comes out for success.

No doubt, the second edition Doha Tribeca Film Festival is a hit. With a chance to cover the event live for an online magazine added with the duties of volunteer, it was a great educational and practical experience  in the field of films and journalism. For someone with specialties in economic development, this event was a roller coaster ride and I loved it!