History is not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of young, energy-rich monarchies of the Gulf that often punch above their weight in geopolitics and geoeconomics. Yet, that is the rich, mostly unknown story of Qatar that Michael Quentin Morton tells in his book, Masters of the Pearl: A History of Qatar
(Reaktion Books, 2020).
It is a story that sheds light on a country that is ruled by an autocratic family that has wielded power for centuries and that frequently dominates headlines with its grand and often controversial ambitions, including its hosting of the 2022 World Cup, as well as its predicaments, controversies, and idiosyncrasies.
Morton, author of nine books on the Gulf and oil, brings an understanding of Qatari history to the table based on extensive research and the fact that he lived as a young age in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates where his father worked as a geologist.
Morton puts into perspective Qatar’s differences with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE that exploded in 2017 with the imposition of a diplomatic and economic boycott that its detractors unsuccessfully hoped would force Qatar to fall into line with their designs for the Gulf and the Middle East at large.
Morton draws the reader in by weaving a well-written tale of tribal intrigue, regional and historic animosities, and big power rivalry. It is a history that on the one hand illustrates the forces that have shaped Qatar and other Gulf states and on the other describes how much the region has and is changing as the result of economic and social development and wealth garnered from oil and gas.
Masters of the Pearl
constitutes a critical, yet compassionate contribution to an understanding of a small state that manages to punch above its weight and the stormy winds that attracts.
Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist, senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, and the author of the syndicated column and blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer