06 dec Double agenda in Qatar
The change is for today, but not in this country! This could be the motto of the Qatari emir, with his good principles about freedom which he has been exporting ever since the start of the Arab Spring. Last Thursday, November 29th, a court in Doha has put a poet behind bars for life. His work is supposed to contain remarks that do not please the emir. The bold writer’s name is Mohamad Al-Ajami, a.k.a. Ibn Al-Dhib. He has already been in prison for a year, despite protests from Amnesty International who calls the verdict ‘a scandalous attack on the liberty of expression.’ Although the exact words are not known to the public, the hypothesis points into the direction of a poem read by the 37 year old Al-Ajami in his room in Cairo, sometime in 2010. This poem was then put on the internet by a friend and when the author arrived in Qatar, a few months later, he was suddenly arrested. Another version points at the ‘Poem of Jasmin’ written in 2011, in which the author refers to the Tunisian revolution and expresses his wish that all Arab countries follow this example. It says: ‘All of us are Tunisians, confronting a repressive elite…’ This case must certainly embarass sheikh Hamad Ben Kalifa Al-Thani, who is known for the lessons in democracy he regularly gives to his neighbours. With his soundboard Al Jazeera, he cultivates an image of the modern, intelligent liberal, a man the West can trust. According to Le Monde though, the poet’s case is not lost yet: many judges working in Qatar are immigrants, often coming from the Sudan. They are eager to please the authorities in order to keep their temporary visa and therefore they might over react in cases involving the emir himself. A source in Doha told the French newspaper that he wouldn’t be surprised if the poet would be liberated soon. It would be a graceful gesture coming from a man known not only for his huge fortune but -most of the time- also for his broad mind.