Innovation/Global Crisis Blog

Qatar is a Star!

By Shlomo Maital  

     Not many people track Qatar,   a peninsula in the Persian Gulf,   smaller than Connecticut, bordering Saudi Arabia, rich in oil and natural gas. Its population is only about 900,000,  living on 11,000 sq. kms., ruled as a monarchy by the al-Thani family, a majority of its residents are non-Arabs, non-citizens from India and Pakistan. Qatar is   home to the TV channel Al Jazeera. It will host soccer’s World Cup and it was an important player in Libya.  Qatar is not a democracy.  I have met Qataris; they are very well educated and very very pragmatic.

   Here is what tiny Qatar has accomplished in recent months:

● An expert at Brookings’ Doha Center, on National Public Radio:  “We had about five Qatari fighter jets in Libya… we helped train and arm Libyan rebels. And Qatar also played an important role in developing an Arab League support through the military intervention in Libya, which this Arab League support actually has provided the umbrella for the NATO intervention and for the military intervention and provided the legitimacy that, for example, was missing in Iraq.”  Qatar’s supplies of money and arms for the Libyan rebels was, according to many experts, crucial.

●  Qatar has invested heavily in Greek banks, through Paramount Services, controlled by a wealthy Qatari family. Yesterday, Qatar fostered a key merger between two troubled Greek banks, lubricating the deal with a 500 m. euro convertible bond.  Greek’s stock market rose by 14 percent, as a result.

● Qatar won the right to stage the World Cup (soccer) in 2022.

●  Qatar was successful in the mediating an agreement between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels.  Prevented a civil war almost in Lebanon, brokered peace agreements between the Palestinians, Fatah and Hamas, and also intervened successfully in Sudan.  

 ●  Qatar hosts the World Trade Organization negotiations in Doha, crucial for lowering trade barriers on agricultural products.   

  Qatar was a British protectorate until 1971, when it declared its independence. It has over 15 % of the world’s proven gas reserves, and has a futuristic plant to convert natural gas into gasoline.  Once a poor pearl-diving center, it is now exceptionally wealthy.  Qatar is, according to the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook, the 8th most competitive economy in the world (!), has GDP per capita of $88,000 (!), highest in the world; GDP growth of  16% in 2010 (highest in the world), and has no unemployment at all.  It attracted inward direct foreign investment of 9 per cent of its GDP in 2009.

   If I were Libya, Syria, Israel, Egypt, America, China, EU and Iceland, I would benchmark this tiny speck on the map, to learn what they do, how they do it and why.  No country comes close to Qatar’s record of success.  Other countries have oil and gas wealth. Few if any leverage it as cleverly as Qatar does. 

     And as for democracy?  As with Singapore, the whole fragile system might come apart if, Qataris say, everyone had the right to protest, demonstrate and vote.  There are brutal murderous dictators like Qaddafi and Assad. And then, there are benevolent monarchs like al-Thani.  Why is al-Thani so unique?  Why is his model not widely copied?