What Veep got wrong about Qatar (and what it got right)
HBO viewers who have never heard of Qatar learned a little more about the country this week from award-winning American political satire show Veep.
But the show’s coverage of the Gulf nation left much to be desired.
For those who don’t regularly watch Veep, season 6 opens with former President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) trying to find her path after losing an election.
Her reputation at home in ruins, Meyer attempts to score some political points by traveling abroad to Qatar and Sudan. Shenanigans predictably ensue, and stereotypes abound.
Speaking to Doha News, Khalifa Saleh Al Haroon, co-founder of ILoveQatar.net, said he understands the show is a comedy, but it “doesn’t do this part of the world any favors.”
He added, “Sadly people believe what they see on TV and it just perpetuates the stereotype.”
For those who don’t know much about Qatar, here are some of the things that Veep got wrong about it:
Qatar’s ambassador to the US isn’t named Jaffar
That name, which Americans most commonly associate with the bad guy from Aladdin, isn’t even a common one among Qataris.
The current ambassador to the US is actually Sheikh Mishaal bin Hamad Al Thani, a seasoned diplomat who previously served as Qatar’s ambassador to France.
The MIA is not Jaffar’s palace
On the plus side, Veep doesn’t paint Qatar as a desert nation with no development. It uses actual photos of the skyline, the Pearl-Qatar and some of its most well-known buildings.
But unlike in the show, this isn’t Jaffar’s palace – it is the Museum of Islamic Art.
Birth control isn’t taboo in Qatar
After spending the night with Jaffar, Selina wonders whether she needs to learn how to say “morning-after pill” in Qatari.
“It’s probably a stoning. Which would also do the trick,” she concludes.
As residents (but not most viewers) might know, stoning isn’t an actual punishment in Qatar.
And birth control, including condoms and pills, are readily available in pharmacies, usually over the counter.
What Veep got right
Veep also did allude to some uncomfortable truths about Qatar and the Gulf region in general.
Here are a few of them:
Controversial leaders are often welcome
In the show, a Sudanese warlord causes trouble for Meyers when he photobombs a photo taken of her during a funeral in Qatar.
In reality, Sudan’s president Omar Al Bashir is a regular guest of Qatar, even though he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes (which he denies committing).
This relationship does ruffle feathers in real life. Just a few weeks ago, the US, Canadian and Australian ambassadors walked out of a humanitarian conference in Doha before Bashir began his talk.
“The Sudanese president is wanted by the ICC, so it would not be appropriate to be present for his remarks,” one of the diplomats told Reuters at the time.
The Gulf is still very male-dominated
Meyers’ team tells her she is welcome to speak at a human rights conference in Doha, “after all the men of course.”
This incensed some people in Qatar, which does do a lot to empower women through education, employment and other opportunities.
However, Qatar usually fares poorly in international gender equality reports. This is in large part because of a lack of female political involvement.
Currently, only one woman serves in the 14-member Cabinet: Dr. Hanan Al Kuwari, Minister for Public Health. And there are only two women on the Central Municipal Council.
Marriage with foreigners remains taboo
At the end of the episode, Jaffar breaks up with Selina, saying his father saw photos of the two of them together and that he is not allowed to be with a white woman.
This isn’t technically true, as Qataris are allowed to marry foreigners. However, they first need the permission of the government, which can sometimes be impossible to get.
When trying to alleviate Meyers disappointment over a soured political deal, Jaffar tells Meyers, “As we say in Qatar, you should never build your house on shifting sands.”
“Okay, well, everything is built on sand here,” Meyer retorts. “So, that doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Did you watch the episode? Thoughts?
Note: This article has been corrected to reflect the background of Qatar’s ambassador to the US.