UA Little Rock student visits Qatar on international fellowship

Mariam Bouzihay. Photo by Benjamin Krain.

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock student will share her knowledge of the government and culture of the Middle Eastern nation of Qatar after being selected for a prestigious international fellowship that included a diplomatic visit to Qatar.

Mariam Bouzihay, a UA Little Rock junior psychology student from Jonesboro, was one of 10 U.S. college students selected for the Joseph J. Malone Fellowship in Arab and Islamic Studies cultural immersion program to Qatar, a peninsula nation with a population of 2.6 million that borders Saudi Arabia to the south and is surrounded by the Persian Gulf on all other sides.

“The whole point of the program is to expose people to different countries,” Bouzihay said. “There are many stereotypes about the countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. Last spring, I got to represent Qatar in the Model Arab League, and then I got to experience Qatar in real life. It was an amazing experience.”

Since 1984, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations has provided American professionals in academia, government, and business educational experiences in the Arab world through the fellowship, which places its participants into the dynamics of Arab-U.S. relations and provides first-hand exposure to the region’s cultural, economic, political, and social diversity pursuant to increased knowledge and understanding.

After an orientation in Washington, D.C., Bouzihay traveled to Qatar from Nov. 16-23, 2018, with the other fellows and five professors to learn about the country’s culture, society, and economics, as well as government priorities, concerns, and needs as pertaining to Qatari-U.S. relations.

Qatar is quite different than most people would expect, Bouzihay said. Its economy was largely based on the pearl industry. Now, Qatar is a high-income economy backed by the world’s third-largest natural gas and oil reserves and has the highest per-capita income in the world. The United Nations has classified Qatar as a county of high human development, and it is widely regarded as the most advanced Arab state for human development. Since 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates have embargoed Qatar, breaking off economic and diplomatic ties.

“It’s been interesting to see how Qatar has rose up after the blockade began,” Bouzihay said. “A lot of people expected Qatar to fall, but the country fought back and established ties with other countries, which caused Qatar to become very self-sufficient. They are even hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022, and they will be the first Arab country to host the event. After it’s over, Qatar plans to donate its stadiums to other countries that don’t have stadiums.”

During the trip, Bouzihay’s group met with officials from the U.S. Embassy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Office of Counterterrorism, and the Ministry of Defense. The group also visited the Museum of the Islamic Art, Aljazeera, Qatar National Library, Al Udeid Base, Qatar Petroleum, and the 2022 FIFA World Cup Supreme Committee.

“As part of the one-year fellowship, I will implement a variety of programs, events, and outreach efforts in my home community,” Bouzihay said. “These programs aim to share my newfound knowledge of Qatar with the American public, multiplying the educational impact of the program. Many people are unaware of the true Middle Eastern and North Africa region, so it is important to spread my experience and the things I learned during that time.”

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