"We have to invest in the people."
Thursday, September 13th, 2007
Interview with the Ambassador of the Emirate of Qatar H. E. Saleh Bin Mohamed Al Nesef
At the latest since the World Trade Organization met in Qatar’s capital Doha in 2001 and created the Doha Round, the name of the small state on the Arabian Peninsula has become known worldwide. But Qatar is only small in respect to its population (ca. 900,000 inhabitants) and size (11,437 km2). In other respects Qatar is big. It has enormous resources of oil and gas, and the Qataris have one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. The European Airbus industry would not be as successfully without the orders from Qatar, and the free press in the Arabian-Islamic world would no longer be imaginable without the Doha based Al Jazeera TV-station. ARAB FORUM discussed these topics with Qatar’s ambassador, H. E. Saleh Bin Mohamed Al Nesef.
ARAB FORUM: Excellency, Qatar has a big airport that serves many people as a stopover between Europe and the Middle and Far East. What would be some reasons to stay longer in Qatar?
Al Nesef: Qatar is booming in many sectors. We have developed much in the economy, in education and other fields. That’s why companies from Germany and other countries like to stay in Qatar. There are many things to do.
ARAB FORUM: 28 % of Qatar’s import consists of airplanes. Why does Qatar concentrate so much on the aviation industry?
Al Nesef: We have to import many things from abroad. Our former airport was too small and we needed to become more competitive. Now, many people, especially from Asia, find Qatar airport to be quite comfortable.
ARAB FORUM: Which kind of tourism would you like to attract for Qatar?
Al Nesef: We have a wonderfully old and rich culture and we focus on that to show tourists our traditional customs. We do not want to change our tradition. We present ourselves as we are to our guests visiting Qatar – how we eat, how we dress, how we live. We can show them authentic, ancient castles, not artificial things. Mass tourism is no option, in my opinion.
ARAB FORUM: 62 % of Qatar’s GNP consists of oil and gas. 52 % of the exports are oil and 35 % of gas. To cut it short, Qatar is one of the world’s biggest producers and the resources are sufficient for decades to come. But are there any other industries that Qatar is looking into for the future?
Al Nesef: Since His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani came to power, he has had his mind on diversifying the economy. That’s why we concentrate on tourism and small industries, for example. Here we have sought assistance from German companies. It is also most important for the future to educate our youth and send them to the university and that the country be directed and governed by younger, educated people.
For that purpose we have established Education City. Instead of having to go abroad to study and to avoid visa problems, we prefer to help our people stay in the region. This is cheaper for the families, by the way.
ARAB FORUM: Gas and oil have made Qatar very wealthy. How does the average Qatar citizen benefit from this wealth and an annual growth rate of 10 %?
Al Nesef: Our government policy is to offer such benefits as good infrastructures in many sectors, education and medical care to our citizens. And we have one of the biggest per capital incomes in the world. The people are part of the state and its future, and we are thinking about the future. This is most important. We know that gas and oil will no longer be there one day. We have to invest in the people.
ARAB FORUM: Qatari citizens are a minority of about 20 % in the total population of Qatar. What about those people from abroad who work in Qatar?
Al Nesef: When your country is small and you want to build it up, you need the help of others. Most of the foreigners now in Qatar are from Asia. They bring their education with them. We concentrate on educating our people and offering them more job opportunities. But, as a minority in our own country, we also need our neighbours. A long time ago, we did not have enough doctors graduating from the universities. But now we have.
ARAB FORUM: Qatar has good relations with all countries, not only within the Arabian community, but also with the Western world, especially the United States of America and countries of the Far East. There is even an Israeli trade office in Doha. Is Qatar’s foreign policy that of balance and mediator?
Al Nesef: We want Qatar to take this role of balance. Concerning the Israel trade office in Doha, we wanted to help the Israeli and the Arab side to meet with each other and to talk about the peace process. The initiative came from Qatar to seek a balance in the region. But later on there were differences of opinion between Arab countries and Israel. The Israel office in Doha is very important in getting something done because nobody is really addressing this conflict.
We also have good relationship with the U.S. and European countries. We want to bring our relations forward. Qatar is one of the founders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and wants to enhance its relations to the EU. Europe is a close supporter of ours.
ARAB FORUM:Closely connected to Qatar is Al Jazeera, the main international Arab TV station that adheres to the principles of the free press.
Al Nesef: …my favourite, just now on the TV screen.
ARAB FORUM:What encouraged Qatar to sponsor Al Jazeera? Was it the conviction that everybody needs access to a free press or was it the desire to have a station that presents the Arab point of view?
Al Nesef:Before Al Jazeera was established, most of the media in the Arab world belonged to the governments and were not free. TV and newspapers said only what their governments wanted them to. Ten years ago, His Highness became convinced of the value of the free press and that is why he gave Al Jazeera more freedom. Al Jazeera is not told what to do and what to say. That’s why we have gotten in trouble with some of our neighbours. They are not used to hearing things they don’t like. We should upgrade our knowledge, our information. Before Al Jazeera, people did not know what was really going on and now, in every house, on every corner, you will find Al Jazeera, not only in Qatar but in the Arab Gulf region and in Europe as well.
ARAB FORUM: How important is Germany for Qatar? Can we conclude from your very splendid embassy building in Berlin that Germany is an important partner or is it only to show that Qatar is a very wealthy country?
Al Nesef:Germany was one of the first countries in Europe that Qatar started up relationships with. Concentrating just on the economic sector, Germany has many things to offer. The major companies are represented in Qatar. The GTZ is doing a lot for education and vocational training.
ARAB FORUM: Among other things, medicine plays a big role in the Qatar-German relations. Why do so many Qataris prefer to come to Germany for medical care and for medical education?
Al Nesef: Medicine is admittedly an important field in Qatar-German relations. The medical treatment and education in Germany is better than in the Arab countries. We have a traditional preference to come to Germany for medical reasons.
ARAB FORUM: You personally have a close relationship with Germany. You have been here as Ambassador for nearly six years. You started your diplomatic career as First Secretary in Bonn in the seventies. What is your impression of Germany when you compare your former stay with today, thirty years later?
Al Nesef: At that time the Ministry for Foreign Affairs was new. Nobody was an expert. We needed young people from university. It was an interesting time for me.
Nowadays, I’m very happy about the unification. The Germans are working very hard for their country. What I feel very sorry about, and you find it everywhere, not only in Germany, is that the older generation is more active and feels more responsibility and more honesty in their jobs than the young generation. They first ask how much they’ll get before they start. But this is a universal problem.
ARAB FORUM: Excellency, thank you for the interview.