Interview: Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani
To what degree will Qatar’s agenda continue to focus on regional diplomacy and security?
SHEIKH ABDULLAH BIN NASSER BIN KHALIFA AL THANI: Qatar’s relationships with its neighbours have traditionally been a priority and they continue to be under Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, emir of Qatar. While it is true that Qatar and various GCC members have not always seen eye-to-eye on every issue, disagreements have received disproportionate attention. Like all families, we have disagreements, but our relationships are enduring. We will continue to participate in regional diplomacy wherever we can be helpful, but to be clear, we will not interfere in the affairs of any state. Governance is a choice to be made in each state and Qatar does not pretend to know what is best for others. We do know that when populations are displaced, threatened or treated with cruelty, we have a duty to speak out and join other nations in finding solutions. That remains our policy.
The emir is developing the Qatar of the future. He is also the youngest leader in the Middle East and he is determined to preserve a strong, stable and secure nation. One key to that future will be an economy that is not overly dependent on the extraction of fossil fuels. Oil and natural gas have made our nation wealthy, but they are finite resources, so we must diversify our economy and our investments if we are to make our current prosperity sustainable. For that reason, the emir has embraced a plan, outlined in the Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030), to transform the country from a carbon-based to a knowledge-based economy, and has made economic diversification and education key components of that plan. To some, this appears to be a shift in policy, but it represents a focus on the future.
How do regional conflicts affect the stability of GCC economies? How can they be resolved?
SHEIKH ABDULLAH: Like all sovereign states, our first duty to our people is assuring their safety and security. We have made significant investments in Qatar’s defence and security capabilities and we will continue to do so. In Qatar we are committed to working with our neighbours and our allies to bring peace and stability to our troubled region, but we are convinced that differences are better resolved through negotiations. For this reason, we have kept our door open to the various political and national interest groups in our region. We have provided a platform for dialogue, where adversaries can exchange their views in a neutral setting – and they are welcome as our guests, as long as they confine their activities in Qatar to peaceful dialogue. This has not always made us popular, but we believe this is a useful contribution Qatar can make to help resolve the regional conflicts that threaten us all.
Currently, there is violence and instability in Yemen and Libya, and ISIS is threatening Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians continues. To the adversaries in these disputes, military force is often seen as the answer. In Qatar, we believe that military solutions too often sow the seeds of future conflict. The more difficult choice, but the better one, is addressing the root causes of these conflicts and then determining the extent of the action to be taken. We believe that this approach diminishes the likelihood of error and misjudgment.
How can the government ensure market confidence and pursue new strategies for development?
SHEIKH ABDULLAH: We believe that the increased attention being paid to Qatar presents both a challenge and an opportunity, and we are focused as much on the latter as on the former. While the world is paying attention to us, we want to demonstrate our character and principles. Unfortunately, there is significant misinformation being communicated about Qatar. Others are free to decide for themselves whether they agree or disagree with our positions, but we want these judgments to be based on accurate information. We know we need to do a better job of explaining our positions and making our case to sceptical audiences in the West and in our own region. We firmly believe Qatar is a force for good and we want to use our moment in the spotlight to demonstrate this. To be honest, we have not done as much as we could to tell our story. We have been reluctant to explain our positions on the issues, or to defend ourselves when criticised. “Reticence” has been the default setting for our communications, but the emir has set a new direction for the government, and we are increasing our engagement with the media and key stakeholders. We are doing a better job of telling the Qatar story, and we believe that communicating the facts is the best strategy for building and maintaining confidence in Qatar’s economy.
How is economic policy being further developed to prioritise diversification under the new cabinet?
SHEIKH ABDULLAH: We are taking a multi-pronged approach to economic diversification and business development. One need look no further than our new airport, Hamad International Airport, for evidence of our commitment to making Doha a regional business centre. We are also proud the airport won the 2015 Skytrax Best Airport in the Middle East award.
We have also increased our investments in health care, which include the Weill Cornell Medical School, to establish Qatar as a regional centre of excellence in the industry. The medical school is part of our larger education enterprise, the Education City super campus in Doha. The nine universities that comprise Education City are serving as a catalyst for the development of innovation-based businesses. The Qatar Investment Authority has investments in a wide variety of businesses and commercial real estate ventures around the globe. Most recently, we have made several new investments in the US, expanding our portfolio there, and we continue to make investments in the UK and throughout Europe.
We have also been working with the private sector on the development of major projects, including iconic real estate ventures like The Pearl, a man-made island that features residences, office space and entertainment facilities. Lusail City, another major development project, demonstrates the strength of Qatar’s public-private investment strategy. The government invested in Lusail’s infrastructure and the private sector funded the project development. During the past two years our government has encouraged the involvement of the private sector in other major projects, and we will continue to do so to support a stronger private sector.
What measures in the QNV 2030 are being used to ease foreign direct investment?
SHEIKH ABDULLAH: We are aware that businesses looking to invest in Qatar want to know that we have the infrastructure to support their enterprises, and it is true that economic development has put pressure on the government to develop infrastructure at a commensurate pace. Under the emir’s leadership we have prioritised investment in roads, mass transit, schools and medical facilities. These investments represent opportunities for foreign partners. In fact, foreign investors have already made significant investments in different sectors, including real estate, construction, technology, telecommunication and education.
What is the government doing to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of public institutions?
SHEIKH ABDULLAH: Qatar prioritises economic growth and infrastructure development. The management of budgetary surpluses has allowed us to develop to a high standard in a relatively short period. We understand the need to promote institutional efficiency and we are looking carefully at every aspect of our economy and the public sector to achieve that objective. Under the emir’s leadership we are introducing efficiencies into government that will allow us to work more effectively. I am happy to report that in 2014 we modified numerous laws and modernised several different government procedures in order to provide better service for our citizens. By doing this, we believe that we are building a stronger economy and, therefore, a stronger society for our citizens today and for generations to come.
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