Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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Diplomatie & Défense
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  S.E.M. / H.E. Mohamed Jaham Abdul Aziz Al-Kuwari

Qatar: A Different Vision for the Middle East

A true laboratory for democracy in the midst of the Arab world, Qatar is following a development model that blends tradition and modernity. H.E. Mohamed Al-Kuwari, the Ambassador of the State of Qatar to France, discusses the challenges faced by his country as it steps forward as a force for change in the Middle East.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador, on 29 April 2003 the Qatari people approved a new constitution that calls for the election of a “parliament” by universal suffrage within the upcoming months. H.H. the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has called on all Arab countries to reform their political systems. Could you tell us what prompted Qatar to begin opening up its own political system in 1995? Does your country hope to serve as a “democratic model” for the region?

H.E. Mohamed Al-Kuwari: Immediately after taking over as Head of State, H.H. Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani launched a number of measures aimed at fostering the development of Qatar. Starting in the political arena, he made infusing democratic principles into Qatar’s political life a key and essential priority. The goal is to get Qataris involved in the government’s decision-making process and make this process more transparent, and thus spur the country’s development.
H.H. Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani firmly believes that Qatar must be democratized, in order to ensure the country’s development.
I had the honor of serving as spokesperson for the new Constitution, which was approved by 96% of Qatari voters, by referendum. We hope to set up the “parliament” provided for in the Constitution by the end of next year. Putting this body into place has not been easy, since it requires transforming the legal framework of our political system. We have already made good headway towards setting up the “parliament,” but a number of technical and legal points have yet to be hammered out.
We must keep in mind that Qatar will have to be democratized gradually, step by step. We held our first municipal elections several years ago, followed by elections for the board of the Chamber of Commerce. We have also lifted press censorship. Our education system has undergone considerable changes as well. When you come to visit Qatar today, you can feel all these changes. But H.H. Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani’s initiative is being applied in a conservative and traditional tribal society. We must first start by preparing the people for this new system. Democracy will have to be introduced in Qatar gradually, as has been the case in every other country that has gone through this process, such as France.
While we are pleased to see other countries take our experience as a “model,” we are not trying to impose it on anyone. Just because it’s right for Qatar, doesn’t mean it’s right for other countries. Other countries and other peoples could nevertheless benefit from our experience, the same way they could benefit from models offered by other Arab, Asian or European countries. There are many different ways to set up a democratic system, depending on the country and the society in question. On the other hand, certain points are common to all countries, such as the people’s participation in the political process. Consequently, no one single model can be applied throughout the Arab or Muslim worlds, where we see wide differences in economic, political, cultural and social development. In the end, the Arab world must follow a model in tune with its own traditions and economic and political circumstances.

T.D.L.: In late 2003, H.H. Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani announced the launching of a deep-reaching restructuring of Qatar’s education system. Is this a key element in the political and economic reforms being carried out in your country? Will certain fields of study be given special priority?

H.E.M.A-K.: Education is one of the cornerstones of democracy. H.H. Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani believes that our education system must be expanded to encompass all categories of Qatari society, so they can adapt to the changes in our country. Giving greater value to the experiences of others is a key element in this reform, as seen in the innovations that have been made in Qatari higher education. In addition to the University of Qatar, Doha now has an “Education City,” run by the Qatar Foundation. It has been laid out like a campus, with ultramodern infrastructures and all the facilities students need to carry out their studies. The tenants include several foreign universities, such as the American institutions Cornell University and Texas A&M University. We also hope to see a French university open its doors there in the near future. H.H. Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, the Emir of Qatar’s wife, heads this educational institute. Her goal is to ensure Education City profits not only the Gulf region, but the Arab world as a whole and other regions as well, turning it into an international education hub. The fields of study include medicine, the sciences and the arts, vocational training, and several other areas. This new campus has sparked positive and healthy competition between the different teaching approaches practiced there. The University of Qatar launched the campaign to reform and open up the country’s education system. It gives all Qataris a place where they can pursue advanced studies, offering an alternative to the past practice of completing universities studies abroad. This reform has further strengthened the role of women in Qatari society. H.H. Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned is playing a leading role in education, both in Qatar and in the international arena, as a UNESCO goodwill ambassador. Working in conjunction with UNESCO, she is setting up a $15-million fund to help rebuild the education system in Iraq. Our Minister of Education is also a woman, as well as the President of the University of Qatar.

T.D.L.: Speaking before the 4th Conference on Democracy and Free Trade last April, H.H. Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said that Arab States should listen open-mindedly to U.S. proposals regarding democratic reforms, and can’t let the Israeli-Palestinian conflict prevent them from instituting internal reforms. Could you summarize Qatar’s view of the situation in the Arab world for our readers?

H.E.M.A-K.: We must acknowledge that the problems currently facing Arab countries do not all stem from outside our borders. Arab countries are responsible for their problems and must face up to them themselves, starting with the problems raised when they open up their political system to the people. Furthermore, we cannot wait until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been resolved to begin implementing reforms. That said, this conflict remains of key importance not only to the Arab world, but to the international community as a whole.

T.D.L.: Your country is a partner in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and one of the rare Arab countries that have established trade ties with Israel. One year after the meeting in Paris between Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Hamed bin Jassem Al Thani and his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom, what are the two countries doing to normalize and expand their ties? More than a year has gone by since the “Road Map” for building peace in the Middle East was put forward. What do you think must be done to reach a peaceful and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How do you feel about the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip?

H.E.M.A-K.: The opening of an Israeli trade office in our country should be seen as a positive step forward, not as a concession. With this initiative, we wanted to indicate very clearly to Israelis that Arabs are ready to live in peace with Israel. The Palestinians’ right to an independent State has been recognized. Until they are allowed to exercise that right, it will be extremely difficult to restore peace. And peace is essential for the entire region, first, in order to ensure its development, and second, to resolve our political problems.
I think the biggest problem, at present, is Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policy. The Palestinian problem is a political and historical problem, which will never be resolved through the use of force. Looking back at the world’s conflicts over the ages, we see that military solutions have always failed. It is thus vital for both parties to return to the negotiating table. Israel must adopt a peaceful policy, and must recognize the legitimate rights of Palestinians. Living in peace with its neighbors is the key to its future.
If the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip isn’t merely a tactical or strategic move, but is part of a wider agreement between the two parties, then this initiative can be seen as a positive step. Yet I doubt, for the time being, that Israel’s policy is really designed to pave the way for peace, but is instead part of an internal political strategy.

T.D.L.: The transfer of the U.S. Army regional control center from Saudi Arabia to Qatar opened up a new chapter in U.S.-Qatari relations. How would you describe current bilateral ties between your countries? Has this move given the Qatari government greater room to maneuver?

H.E.M.A-K.: Qatar and the United States have excellent relations across the board, in the political, economic, and cultural arenas. It can be fairly said that we have quite normal relations, for a country like ours and a superpower. In fact, both countries are working to build up these ties. That said, our relations are guided very clearly by a bilateral agreement that covers every area of cooperation, including the military arena. All of the countries in the region have ties of this kind. Other countries set up similar military cooperation programs even before Qatar. Both Qatar and the United States benefit from this arrangement, which is in no way a “dominator-dominated” relationship. Our country maintains full freedom in its political choices and in its vision of the situation in the region.
On a broader level, as a small country, Qatar seeks to establish good ties with all countries, be they neighboring countries in our region, the United States, or European countries such as France. This is why we are so strongly committed to regional stability and development. The tensions and wars that have destabilized our region have often had an even greater impact on us than on larger countries. In consequence, our foreign policy is inherently pro-peace.

T.D.L.: While your country has never been a terrorist hotbed, the Al-Jazeera television network has drawn harsh criticism from the U.S. administration, which accuses it of serving as a mouthpiece for Al Qaeda and of spreading distorted information on the situation in Iraq. How do you respond to this?

H.E.M.A-K.: First of all, I would like to point out that Al-Jazeera is a totally independent organ. It is financed by the State of Qatar, in a setup comparable to that of the British television network the BBC. While the State of Qatar does finance Al-Jazeera, this is only because the network doesn’t take in enough advertising revenue, because of the opposition it has drawn in numerous countries. Al-Jazeera is, all the same, a totally independent media outlet, and we cannot be held responsible for the programs it broadcasts.
Al-Jazeera is a brand-new experiment, born out of H.H. Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani’s desire to foster the country’s development and encourage freedom of speech. It is an outgrowth of the democratization of Qatar, and is playing a vital role in its development. I am firmly convinced that we must support Al-Jazeera’s work, which is part of the long-desired democratization process in our region.
We can, of course, point to both positive and negative aspects in this network’s work. The United States has criticized various Al-Jazeera programs, saying the network incites Arabs against U.S. policy towards the region, especially in Iraq. But if Al-Jazeera’s aim is to guarantee freedom of speech in its programs, then it would be difficult to control the various opinions voiced there. In judging Al-Jazeera, we must consider the way most other media outlets operate: constantly looking for news that will boost their fame. Al-Jazeera has become a very popular TV network, watched by some 50 to 60 million viewers, Arabs and non-Arabs alike. It has proved that it is able to play a key role in the international media, alongside CNN and the BBC, as we saw with its coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Let me end my answer by going back to the problem of terrorism. Terrorism is a phenomenon that we simply cannot accept. It is detrimental not only to our entire region, but to the entire world. Our country wants stability. We thus clearly condemn all forms of terrorism, no matter who the perpetrators may be.

T.D.L.: The recent terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia and Iraq underscored the vulnerability of the petroleum industry and helped push the price of a barrel of oil to record levels. What are your thoughts on this problem?

H.E.M.A-K.: Qatar is deeply committed to stabilizing the price of oil, with the aim of building better harmony between oil-producing countries and oil-consuming countries. After analyzing the rise in oil prices, we believe that this trend has been spurred primarily by psychological and political factors that cannot be controlled, and to a lesser degree by economic factors. The situation in the Iraqi oil industry, for instance, may well have helped push up the price of oil. But various problems that have arisen in consumer countries must also be taken into account, starting with extremely high taxes on oil. In any case, we do not believe that production is the root of the problem, since despite an increase in oil production, oil prices have continued to rise.

T.D.L.: Qatar has been experiencing strong economic growth for nearly a decade. Thanks to its gigantic North Field, your country has the world’s third largest gas reserves. Will Qatar follow Dubai’s example, attempting to transform itself into a key regional platform? Is it looking to build dynamic partnerships with Western countries, including European nations? What is your country doing to diversify its economic resources, and to attract greater private foreign investment?

H.E.M.A-K.: Tapping the country’s natural gas resources is a key priority for Qatar. Our country has 900 trillion feets of natural gaz reserves in the North gaz field, and equally colossal projects in the works. Let me just mention the Dolphin project, in which the French firm Total is involved. This $7-billion project will build a 440-km sub-sea gas pipeline that will link Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai, and could even be extended into other countries. We are thus working to further the general interests of the region as a whole, and have other regional-level projects under study as well. Let me add that the countries in our region do not compete with each other in the economic arena. Each country has its own role to play on the regional stage, Qatar as well as Dubai. We do hope that neighbor countries will continue to coordinate their efforts. Each one has its own particular assets, which it must put to best use.
In our case, we have gas, along with Qatar’s other resources.
We are tapping our gas reserves by focusing on four primary areas: LNG (liquified natural gas), GTL (gas-to-liquids), gas via pipelines, and using gas as feestock for the energy and petrochemical industry. Qatar currently produces 18 million tons of gas per year, and expects that figure to rise to 60 million by 2010. We have already signed agreements with Japan, India, and South Korea, among others, and hope to find clients in Europe as well.
With the completion of the expansion of exisiting LNG projects in Ras Laffan and the construction of the GTL joint ventures that are in several stages of negociations with the world’s major oil and gas companies, Qatar is set to become the World’s capital of the gas industry.
I would like to underscore the fact that Qatar has made protecting the environment a top priority, and respects international standards in this area. In fact, we recently put forward a proposal at the WTO requesting that natural gas and its byproducts be classified as an “environmental good,” in an effort to help strengthen the global natural gas market and bring down direct taxes and customs duties.
Finally, Qatar is not building its economy solely on the gas and petrochemical industries. We should also mention the expansion of small- and medium-sized businesses and of industries such as tourism, which accounts for an ever growing share of our national income.

T.D.L.: Both the North Field, which belongs to Qatar, and the South Pars, which belongs to Iran, are part of a single gas reserve separated by a maritime border that divides the waters of the Gulf between the two countries. Have Qatar and Iran made any headway towards establishing bilateral economic ties? Couldn’t Iran’s nuclearprogram make this cooperation all the more difficult, perhaps even rekindling the arms race in the Middle East?

H.E.M.A-K.: Let me start by saying that there is no conflict of interest between Iran and Qatar. The border between Qatar’s gas field and Iran’s gas field is clearly marked out by an agreement that delineates the maritime border separating the two States. We have even set up a bilateral commission to look for ways to foster cooperation between our two countries. Iran is an extremely important neighbor for Qatar, as well as a major regional power. In consequence, we are doing our utmost to maintain friendly ties with Iran. We continue to affirm, in this respect, that the countries of the Gulf need to maintain relations with Iran.
As for military programs, we continue to call for the total disarmament of the entire region as concerns weapons of mass destruction, and nuclear weapons in particular. The total disarmament of the Middle East would foster the region’s development and help build greater trust between its countries.

T.D.L.: Qatar has held the rotating presidency of the Group of 77 since January 2004. What is your country doing to strengthen economic ties between developing countries, and to defend their interests in the face the developed countries? Qatar has been a member of the World Trade Organization since 1996, and was the launching site of the ongoing “development cycle” in 2001. As the talks head to their scheduled close, in late 2004, how do you feel about the way things have gone so far?

H.E.M.A-K.: In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, H.H. the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani has specified Qatar’s approach towards this subject. It is our job is to support and to improve the economic structures and commercial activities of developing countries. This means finding a link between trade and development, which these countries so desperately need. For this reason, we believe we must devote whatever means are necessary to decrease poverty around the globe, and to ensure peace as well as social and economic security for all the world’s peoples. In that light, we support all efforts to help ensure prosperity for all.
We must all work together to come up with formulas that will help the developing countries, especially as regards health care and education, which are absolutely vital to successful development. Qatar is presiding the Group of 77 in this spirit.

T.D.L.: Bolstered by the close and long-standing political ties between Qatar and France, Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani made his first state visit to France in March 2004. After having served from 2001 to 2002 as head of the Qatari delegation during the France-Qatar strategic dialogue, how would you describe current bilateral relations? Given the situation on the world stage, do you expect Qatar and France to expand their ties in the military and defense arenas? How can your country help strengthen bilateral economic ties and expand cross investments between our two countries?

H.E.M.A-K.: I can say, without hesitation, that our relations with France are excellent. This is true at the very highest level of State. These ties are being constantly bolstered by new exchanges and new visits by political leaders from both countries. H.H. Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani keeps a close eye on the development of our relations. The two countries have established close and deep ties in a wide variety of areas. For Qatar, these ties are of great strategic importance. I believe that the intensity of these relations is the outgrowth of a strategic decision on the part of both governments. A large French parliamentary delegation took part in the discussions at the Conference on Democracy and Free Trade organized by Qatar. Our countries come together every year to advance their political and strategic dialogue, and look for new cooperation opportunities that will benefit both countries. We have very strong ties in the military arena as well.
In the economic and trade arenas, a great many French firms are working in Qatar, such as Total, Air Liquide and Technip, along with several small and medium-sized businesses. The Franco-Qatar Business Club is playing an important role in promoting this form of bilateral cooperation. Our economic and trade ties are boosted by numerous events and activities, such as the French trade show that has been organized for the end of the year by the French Embassy in Qatar and Qatari officials.
Finnally, in the cultural arena, I would like to point out that some eighty Qatari students are currently pursuing their studies in France, a very positive sign that Qatar is being transformed from a Francophile country into a Francophone country.

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