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Pan-Semite Blog

Election Day in QatarQatar does not have an elected national legislature, but it does have a Central Municipal Council for which the first elections occurred in 1999.  In May, I had the opportunity to observe Qataris go to the polls.  In "The Female Face of Qatar's Election," I tackle your burning questions.  What is the role of women in Qatari political development?  Just how significant is this Central Municipal Council?  Are these local elections a stepping stone to an national parliamentary elections, as the Emir has promised?  To find out and see more great Election Day pics, click here!

Doha played host to its eighth annual Conference of Interfaith Dialogue last week. Sitting at the plenary session, my husband quipped, "This is the most kippot (Jewish skullcaps) I've seen in Doha." To which I replied, "You mean more than zero?" With the purpose of generating dialogue between the three Abrahamic faiths, each panel had representatives from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities. The gathering was one of many conferences organized by the Qatari government, and an impressive effort to ameliorate the so-called "clash of civilizations."

DICID conference opening sessionThe conference opened on an optimistic note with a welcome by Qatar's Minister of Justice H.E. Mr. Hassan bin Abdulla Al Ghanim, who spoke of the principles of peace and universal brotherhood.

Unfortunately, the next speaker was Sheikh Teyseer al-Tamimi, Chief Justice of the Palestinian territories. An unannounced speaker, Sheikh Tamimi used the platform to deliver a harangue against Israeli policies in Jerusalem which, among other allegations, he maintains are responsible for the substantial decline in the city's Christian inhabitants. The veracity of the substance of Tamimi's fiery rhetoric is debatable, but that is not the point. At a conference on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict such claims could be productively explored. At a conference on interfaith dialogue, his contribution was regrettable. His belligerent approach - as well as his exclusive focus on politics - evinced little interest in faith and none in dialogue.

Sheikh Tamimi's speech was not his first salvo in a context intended for interfaith reconciliation. A year ago during Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Jerusalem, Sheikh Tamimi delivered a similar rant. Once again, he was not invited, and this time, his speech led the pontiff to leave the event. Pope John Paul II was treated to a similar diatribe in 2000. Curious to learn the official Qatari position on Sheikh Tamimi's unannounced speech at last week's conference, I contacted the event's press officer. He declined to comment.

Happily, most of the conference's participants evinced a genuine interest in building bridges. In particular, I had a wonderful chat with Sheikh Jihad Hammadeh of Brazil's National Union of Islamic Entities about his country's Muslim community and his extensive efforts toward intercommunal dialogue in Brazil and beyond. Rabbi Hershel Gluck was another notable conference participant. A British orthodox rabbi and chairman/co-founder of the Muslim-Jewish Forum, Gluck spoke after Tamimi during the opening session. His speech, both in tone and content, was a welcome antidote. The only one of the panelists to speak without notes, Rabbi Gluck appeared to choose his words from the heart.

DICID ID"I would hope that this conference is about transcending . . . differences, transcending this conflict," he implored. "Religion is the most potent force against conflict."

Witnessing dialogue between Muslims, Jews, and Christians in Qatar was a heartening experience. Inshallah may there be hope for interfaith reconciliation after all.

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Arab aid image from MEC piece










Middle East Channel, the excellent new blog at, has just published a piece by myself and co-author Chris Marcoux, which introduces some of our findings regarding foreign aid by Arab donors using AidData.  If the MEC piece piques your interest, we would be delighted for any comments on our working paper, which we presented at the AidData conference at Oxford University last month.

For years, I had pondered the "last name question."  Namely, what would I do with my last name when it came to getting married?  All of the possible options had considerable drawbacks in light of my criteria:

Egalitarianism: This rules out the "I'll take my husband's last name" option.  (If my husband would agree to flipping a coin with the winner's last name becoming the last name for both partners, that would satisfy my egalitarian principle.  But I think one partner taking the other's last name is suboptimal.  Who wants to feel that one's identity is being subsumed by one's partner?)

One last name for the family: Why nix the "we each keep our last name" option, so common among professional couples?  Kids.  If my husband and I did not want children, then keeping our own last names would be fine.  But I have always wanted kids, and I did not want to end up with the fate of so many professional women who have different last names than their children. 

Not overly cumbersome: This nixed the "let's hyphenate" possibility.  Beyond being onerous (unless both partners happen to have monosyllabic names), hyphenating seems to push the "last name question" onto the kids, who will one day have to figure out what to do with the three or four last names they and their spouses have collectively inherited.

So what to do?  I could think of one last option: a joint last name change/merger.  Warning: this option is not available for all women, as it requires an open-minded partner willing to make a name change.  Most men are not willing, but then, I did not marry most men.  I married the incredible Mike Rosenberg.  (You're welcome, Mike!)

Mike and I considered how we might combine our last names.  Rosenshul?  Shulberg?  Bergman?  We were not happy with the sound of any of these, but wanted to pick a last name for our new family that would contain links to the family identities with which we had grown up.  

Then, a week or so before our May 2009 wedding, I had a brainstorm.  Shushan!  Let me explain.

Rechov Shushan/Shara'a Shushan/Shushan Street

As I mentioned, Mike's last name was Rosenberg.  Rose in Hebrew is "shoshana." Shushan, the former seat of the Persian empire (famous in context of the Jewish holiday of Purim) could be construed as having the same three-consonant root as shoshana (SH-SH-N). Indeed, I have seen Shushan referred to as the Rose City. And of course, Shushan is similar to Shulman. When my paternal great-grandfather came to the US from Lithuania, his last name was Shub. So I decided the "Shu" was the important part to convey my own family's heritage.  Given my Middle Eastern predilections, I love that Shushan works both in Hebrew (שושן) and Arabic (شوشان), as well as Persian (written the same way as in Arabic).

So that is our answer to the "last name question."  What is yours?

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That sage of my hometown of Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin, is credited with the insight that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.  While that may be true in much of the world, life is simpler in the Arab Gulf states, where the only certainty is mortality.  In Kuwait, where I am now, and other oil-rich Gulf states, there are no taxes.

Have I found Paradise?  Does utopia come in the form of governments that recognize that a citizen's earnings belong to him, free and clear of claims by the state?

kuwaiti license plateKuwaiti native Abdul Rahman Al-Sayed Hashim told me of his experience studying in Arizona in 1972.  None of the American students had heard of Kuwait, so he told them it was a small Arab country with lots of oil and no taxes.  Abdul Rahman described how the American students' eyes grew wide with amazement upon hearing about a country without taxes.  The students enlisted the interest of local newspapers who wrote stories about this mythical tax-free land.  If this little Arab country could make it without taxes, why not the great USA?

Abdul Rahman, a manager at the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, shared this anecdote with me as I interviewed him about the Kuwaiti government's foreign aid programs.  We discussed the Fund's accountability, and Abdul Rahman stated that the Fund must be transparent to, and meet with the approval of, Kuwaiti taxpayers.  I looked up from my notes.


Abdul Rahman admitted to using a little poetic license in his choice of words.  Speaking to me, the American, he was using the language of American accountability -- government must be accountable to the American people because we pay taxes and we voice our preferences over how our taxes are spent at the polls.  Not so in Kuwait.  In the oil-wealthy Gulf states the famous American revolutionary war cry is flipped on its head, with the result: "No representation without taxation."

kuwait towersIn an interesting twist, Abdul Rahman informed me that Kuwait's Council of Ministers is studying a proposal to introduce a minimal income tax here, the burden of which would fall mostly on corporations rather than individuals and families.  He cited two reasons for the government's interest in the proposal: 1) it would prepare the populace for a post-oil future in which case the government would need taxes to function, and 2) it would solicit respect for public services, such as parks, because people would feel a sense of ownership in them.

This is a fascinating little morsel of information to a political scientist.  I find it highly unlikely that the Kuwaiti government would introduce taxes -- and introduce a possible source of public discontent, plus the need for increased popular responsiveness -- if the financial situation does not demand it.  But it would be quite interesting if I'm wrong!  Let's see what happens.