Wednesday, October 28, 2020
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Soft power soaring up in style in Qatar

Soft power soaring up in style in Qatar

Victoria Beckham came from London. Diane von Furstenberg and Alexander Wang from New York. Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino flew in from Rome, while Olivier Rousteing of Balmain and Giambattista Valli came from Paris. So did Carla Bruni, with her husband, former President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, firmly in tow.
They were part of a pantheon of the biggest names in fashion that descended upon Doha last week as judges for the inaugural Fashion Trust Arabia prize.
Twenty-four hours earlier, the same group — alongside the artist Jeff Koons and the soccer manager José Mourinho, as well as celebrities including Johnny Depp and Sonam Kapoor — had attended a star-spangled opening event for the new National Museum of Qatar, designed by Jean Nouvel.
Their en masse arrival was an unmistakable demonstration of the unlikely influence of Qatar. It was also the latest move in a cultural and architectural arms race raging in the Gulf, according to a New York Times report.
“Qatar’s investments — especially in luxury, sports and the arts — aren’t just about prestige and profits. They are also about hearts and minds,” Giorgio Cafiero, the chief executive of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington-based consultancy.
The importance of shoring up soft power as part of a broader national security strategy has grown in importance for Qatar lately, as it is under an unjust blockade by its neighbours.
“Isolation has, it seems, acted as a catalyst to Qatar’s long-term vision for itself,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a fellow for the Middle East at the Baker Institute at Rice University.
As Qatar prepares to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, it has furthered efforts to bolster its standing overseas.
In a bid to diversify away from a carbon-based economy, Qatar has taken stakes in a wide variety of things, including the French soccer team Paris St. Germain and London’s Heathrow Airport, along with global finance, health care, technology and auto companies.
In the art world, the buying power of the Qataris has — until recently — been essentially unmatched. Elsewhere, a string of sizable luxury investments has also been built up by the Qatar Investment Authority, from holdings in groups like LVMH to ownership of the upmarket British department store Harrods and luxury hotels like Claridge’s in London.
Observers such as Cafiero of Gulf State Analytics and Dr Coates Ulrichsen of the Baker Institute say it is the blockading countries, rather than Qatar, that have found themselves on the back foot in recent months.