The Qatar Crisis & Scientists

Ehsan Masood is former editor of Research Fortnight and author of several books including Science and Islam: A History. Writing in the 17 August 2017 issue of Nature:

“. . . Last month, the tiny oil-rich nation of Qatar filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization that its neighbours have been unfairly blocking its ability to trade goods, services and intellectual property. The countries are now in the midst of a 60-day consultation process that will probably go on to a formal dispute settlement. Amid this turmoil, the scientific community could offer a surprising source of influence and, for Qatari researchers, relief . . .

And yet you won’t find a single academy among the wealthy nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional alliance. Some parts of the GCC — such as Abu Dhabi, which aspires to build one of the world’s first zero-carbon, and Qatar, with a network of high-technology national laboratories — employ many scientists. But these scientists are forbidden from setting up academies . . .

With an influential, independent science academy, Qatar could capture researchers’ concerns and put these to the government. A Qatari academy would also be able to call on the help of sister academies, and of international federations such as the World Academy of Sciences and the InterAcademy Partnership, both based in Trieste, Italy . . .

Qatar is an absolute monarchy, with an indigenous population of just 300,000, so political power is distributed among a small number of families — who are likely to prefer an academy in which members are endorsed, if not appointed, through Qatari royals. But such a body would not be a genuine science academy. And it would be ineligible for membership of the major global academy networks.

The nation’s leaders fear that a science academy might shelter seeds of what could become a larger democratic revolution, and they are not wrong. But they should be able to see that a little more democracy, especially in a form that strengthens science and innovation, will help to preserve the long-term security of their tiny nation: moral arguments to protect a democracy against dictatorship are still compelling.” click here.