Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Qatar’

UNCTAD Comes to Doha

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th April, 2012

Next week, the futuristic Qatar National Convention Centre will be hosting the 13th quadrennial gathering of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development — the first time such an UNCTAD event has ever taken place in an Arab country. The theme of the conference is “Development-centred Globalisation: Towards Sustainable and Inclusive Development” and a Civil Society forum, bringing together non-governmental organisations of all kinds from around the world, will run in parallel, as has recently been the practice at such international conventions. Qatar has the honour of having the highest per capita GDP of any country on earth: now breaking the US$100,000 per annum barrier. Thanks to its wealth, despite its small population the Gulf state has been able to punch way above its weight. Moreover, under Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatar has pursued a unique path in global diplomacy, sponsoring all sorts of international initiatives, unafraid to align itself with some of the Arab Spring movements in North Africa and the Middle East (including in Syria), while at the same time positioning itself as a global venue for events and conferences. It is currently following up its successful football World Cup bid with an ambitious campaign to try to get the 2020 Olympics sited in Doha, though if the Olympics & Paralympics bid is successful these would be held in October/November 2020, rather than during summer, for important climate considerations. Attracting UNCTAD, meanwhile, is a definite coup and is likely to help forge new relationships between Qatar (and the wider Gulf) and emerging economies in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The world is a significantly different place from that when UNCTAD was set up in 1964. It’s not just that the East-West divide betwen Communist and capitalist states has evapourated, the North-South divide betwen rich and poor countries is no longer so clear-cut, with even many sub-Saharan African countries now enjoying bouyant economic growth. Of course, UNCTAD XIII in Doha will have to take into acount some of the fallout of the global economic crisis. But it won’t only be the host Qatar that will be feeling in a much more optimistic mood than is evident in most of Europe and North America. Moreover, of all the UN institutions, UNCTAD remains one of the most idealistic, as reflected in a comment from its Special Advisor, Kobsak Chutkul, reported in today’s Qatari Press, “Qatar is bringing everyone, from all sectors of society, from all countries around the world, under one roof, under one big tent of humanity!”

Advertisements

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Engage with Iran, Don’t Isolate It

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th April, 2012

Iran has said it supports the UN special envoy Kofi Annan’s Peace Plan for Syria, which is a welcome development and highlights the fact that any workable settlement may only be possible with Iran’s active diplomatic engagement. Tehran has long been Bashar al-Assad’s closest ally and one of the reasons it was able to endorse the Annan Plan was that that does not call for the removal of Assad, even if that is what many Syrians and Western countries, including Turkey, would prefer. So far, the Assad regime has remained deaf to pleas to end the assaults that have cost thouands of civilian lives as well as fuelling an inevitable armed opposition. But if Assad will listen to anyone, it would be the Iranians. And there is a wider point at stake here. Iran historically was a major regional power, indeed once the centre of a great empire. Recently, it has been trying to reassert its influence, not only in Iraq, which now has a Shiite-led government, but more widely. However, the policy of Washington and the EU — not to mention Israel — has been to isolate Iran and indeed subject it to punitive sanctions, because of the country’s nuclear programme, which may or may not be working towards the production of a nuclear weapons capability, according to who you believe. Certainly Iran’s Gulf neighbours don’t want to see a nuclear-armed Iran and two of them — Bahrain and Qatar — play host to US military forces. However, most of the Arab states in the Gulf are nonetheless engaging with Tehran, as they recognise that whatever differences they may have with the current government there, engagement is more likely to produce a modus vivendi than belligerency. This is a lesson the West could usefully learn. Of course there are many aspects of the Islamic Republic which leave Western governments uncomfortable, not least regarding human rights and President Ahmadinejad’s comments about the Holocaust, but that should not blind people to the fact that through engagement it is possible to work with countries which have totally different political systems or religious beliefs towards achieving common aims.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Doha: Town Centre Versus City Center

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd April, 2012

Since Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani acceded as Emir of Qatar in 1995 the face of the country’s capital, Doha, has been transformed. Several of the souks around the old town centre have been renovated or reproduced and some traditional streets lined with cafes and restaurants have been pedestrianised, notably around the Souq Waqif. But all the high-rise building has been concentrated much further round the bay at what’s now referred to as the City Center — the suitably Americanised name of a huge shopping mall located there, which houses an ice-skating rink under its tallest atrium. A cluster of tower blocks — some really distinguished architecturally, others less so — have been erected in the area, but not in a depressingly straight line as along Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road. There are curving avenues and short streets running betwen Doha’s skyscrapers, just as the main road along the corniche is an elegant arc. The Corniche used to be quite narrow when I first came to Doha 20-odd years ago, but is now an 8-lane highway. But people still jog or walk along the seaside paths. The Sheraton Hotel, which opened in the 1980s, was the emirate’s only building of real note at the time, but now has been joined by other remarkable edifices, not least the Museum of Islamic Arts, designed by I M Pei. Between the town centre, with its deliberate Old World charm, and the brasher modernity of the City Center lie a series of parks and government buildings, including the massive Emiri Diwan housing the Ruler’s offices. Outside of the unbearably hot summer months, walking around Doha is far more pleasant than in several other Gulf cities and the contrast of its two poles — what one might call a tale of two cities in one — adds to the attraction.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Turned Away from Bahrain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 2nd April, 2012

Over the past 20 years or so, Bahrain has been one of my favourite ports of call. When I was working in Kuwait for extended periods in 2004-2006, in particular, I often used to pop down for the weekend, as Manama was so friendly and relaxed. But alas things have changed somewhat since the events of early last year. This morning I flew in, hoping for a couple of days of winding down before doing some work elsewhere in the Gulf only to find that nowdays even those of us with European passports don’t just hand over 5 dinars and get a visa in 30 seconds. A significant number of people coming in on my flight (and those following) were taken aside while their documents were consulted against the Immigration Department’s records. My passport was held for almost four hours before a senior officer came out, bearing documents from my file, including printouts of tweets I published last year experssing dismay at the crackdown on demonstrations at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout and the security forces’ intervention in a major hospital where some of the wounded were being treated. Politely but firmly the officer said I would not be allowed into the country, adding that “no-one has been killed in Bahrain” and that “the doctors who were taken away were revolutionaries who were trying to overthrow the King.” Doubtless one day objective history will set the record straight; at least I hope so. Anyway, I had some hasty rearranging to do and moved on to Doha in Qatar. Apparently I have now joined (Lord) Eric Avebury and others who have campaigned on human rights issues relating to Bahrain in becoming persona non grata there. It’s a shame, because I still consider myself to be a true friend of Bahrain and of the Bahraini people. I can now only look forward to a time when it might once again become a more open society. And in the meantime, Qatar — home to Al Jazeera, amongst other things — will now become my default Gulf destination of choice.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Doha Declaration on Jerusalem

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 28th February, 2012

The Jerusalem conference which ended in Doha, capital of Qatar, last night produced a Declaration which referenced at least some of the issues raised in the conference’s four working groups: (1) History of Jerusalem, (2) Jerusalem and International Law, (3) Israeli violations in Jerusalem, and (4) the role of civil society organisations in the defence and protection of Jerusalem. I attended the last-mentioned (along with many other Christians and Muslims and a small number of anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews), for which I had produced a paper on the role of NGOs in Britiain in raising awareness of issues relating to Jerusalem. A lot of the discussion in that group focussed on house demolitions, the difficulty Arabs have at getting building permits in East Jerusalem and the way Palestinians in the West Bank have had access to Jerusalem hampered or even blocked by both the Security Wall and the lack of necessary papers issued by the Israeli occupatin authorities. Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani financed the conference, as well as opening it, so it is not surprising that he figured prominently in the final Declaration, the English version of which was published by the Gulf Times newspaper today as follows:

The International Conference for the defence of Jerusalem was hosted by Doha, the capital of the State of Qatar, from 26 to 27 February, 2012, in implementation of the resolution no. 503 of the 22nd Arab Summit held in Sirte on 28 March 2010.

The conference was held under the slogan “Support the Steadfastness of Jerusalem”, under the auspices and attendance of HH the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, in the presence of the President of the State of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas, Arab League Secretary General Dr Nabil al-Arabi, Arab Foreign Ministers, heads of international and regional organisations an bodies, organisations and federations advocating human rights, clerics, as well as intellectuals, legal, political and historical figures who gathered in a historic global mobilisation to express solidarity with the Palestinian people in the city of Jerusalem and their legitimate rights.

The Declaration welcomes the invitation of HH the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani to use Jerusalem’s freedom as a fulcrum of all Palestinians and an incentive for achieving reconciliation and ending division. The Declaration appreciates and supports the proposal of HH the Emir to go to the Security Council to adopt a Resolution for the formation of an international commission to investigate all Israeli actions taken since the 1967 occupation of Jerusalem with a viuw to erase its Arab and Islamic features. It also welcomes HH the Emir’s invitation to prepare a comprehensive strategy for the various sectors and projects that Jerusalem needs, and Qatar’s willingness to participate with all its capacities in accomplishing this strategy and putting it into practice. It emphasizes that Israel breaches International Law to forcefully displace the people of Jerusalem through Judaisation schemes, the denial of justice, obscuring history and heritage, land alienation and property confiscation. It expresses deep concern about the ongoing Israeli works including excavations in Al-Aqsa Mosque and around the Old City, which seriously affect the distinctive character of the city at the religious, cultural, historical and demographic levels, and are contradictory with the decisions of the decisions of UNESCO and UN resolutions related to the city’s territory and the rules of International Law and especially the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property of 1954.

The Declaration calls on international powers who remain silent towards Israeli violations to assume their responsiblity and compel Israel to implement all UN resolutions relevant to Jerusalem. The Doha Declaration calls on the UN and its relevant institutions to shoulder their responsiblities towards Jerusalem and its people; to ensure that they enjoy all their civil, economic and social rights in their city; and to preserve the city’s sacred sites, historical monuments and human heritage.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Qatar the Trailblazer

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 28th February, 2012

The Gulf state of Qatar may be one of the smallest countries in the world population-wise, but since Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani became Emir in June 1995, it has not only rocketed to regional prominence but has also claimed a place on the international stage. When I first started coming here 20 years ago, in the wake of the 1990-1991 Gulf War, the capital Doha was a sleepy backwater whose most remarkable features were the Corniche that ran alongside the central bay and the Sheraton Hotel — shaped like a decapitated Egyptian pyramid — at one end. Both of those landmarks still exist, though extensively refurbished, and the Corniche road is now a 6-lane highway. Roughly half way along is the striking Islamic Art Museum with its exquisite collection of pieces from across the predominantly Muslim world. Through its huge main windows one gets a good view of the skyscrapers that have sprung up over the past decade further round the bay. But it is not just the beautiful architecture and the rapid rate of growth that have put Qatar on the map. The Qatar Foundation, celebrating 15 years in operation and headed by the Ruler’s second wife, Sheikha Mozah, has funded many significant projects in the Arts and Sciences as well as community development. Sheikh Hamad meanwhile has not only overseen Qatar’s transformation into the most intellectually stimulating of the Gulf States — housing Al Jazeera TV, notably, as well as several overseas campuses of American universities and even a branch of Sherborne School — but has also blazed a trail in international diplomacy. Qatar predictably espoused the cause of the Palestinians, but far less predictably has become pro-active in encouraging the departure of dictatorial regimes in the movement dubbed the Arab Spring, the latest example of that being urging Syria”s Bashar al-Assad to step aside. Doha has become a major conference centre — I have been attended one on Jerusalem this weekend — and of course now rivals Dubai as a regional airline hub. Qatar Airways has grown from a very modest affair into a premier global airline. Having vast revenues from oil and particularly gas, as well as  small population, has given Qatar an opportunity other countries can only envy. But what is interesting is the way that this has often been used constructively. Moreover, with both the Middle East and the Gulf in a state of high tension, we can expect Qatar increasingly to play a mediating role.

Links: http://www.qf.org.qa and http://www.qatarvisitor.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Doha Conference on Jerusalem

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th February, 2012

Jerusalem is known as the City of Peace, yet for so long over the past two millennia it has been the focus of strife. The three monotheistic religions all claim a crucial stake in Jerusalem’s spiritual heritage and two peoples — Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab — see the city as their natural capital. The ideal solution would be to share the place equitably, of course, but prospects for that look as bleak now as at any time since the 1967 War, when the Arab defeat led to the occupation by Israeli forces of East Jerusalem and the West Bank (and more). Since then, as has been underlined by several speakers at the high-level International Conference on Jerusalem which opened in Doha, Qatar, today, the Israelis have acquired increasing amounts of land in and around Arab East Jerusalem, through purchase, confiscation or other means. The (justified) complaint of the Palestinians is that East Jerusalem has effectively been cut off from the West Bank, by a mixture of illegal Jewish settlements and the so-called Security Wall. And the judification of the city continues apace, as the pressure on Arabs — both Christian and Muslim — to move out grows. The entire Arab world stands in solidarity with the Palestinians in their plight, but as the Emir Of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad, declared bluntly this morning, this has failed to resolve the situation. Israeli violations of International Law are manifold, yet Israel seems to get away with this with impunity. As several speakers today pointed out, so long as the United States continue to give Israel carte blanche it is difficult to see an early solution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), in his contribution, emphasized that there will be no new summit-level negotiations with Israel so long as it keeps on expanding settlements, and if things go on in the same way much longer I fear there will be no viable two-state solution possible. We may already have passed the point of no return. But as Afif Safiah, Palestinian global diplomat, said this afternoon, echoing Gramschi: ‘We need to overcome the pessimism of the mind with the optimism of the will.’

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hackney Stunelled

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th January, 2012

Though Europe is often cited as the most contentious issue between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government partners, another important area of divergence is multiculturalism. David Cameron famously used a speech in Germany to suggest that multiculturalism in Britain has failed, by stressing people’s differences rather than what unites them. But that prompted Nick Clegg to speak up for multiculturalism while on a visit to Luton. One thing the two governing parties are agreed on, however, is that the previous Labour administration’s ‘Prevent’ programme was deeply flawed. I said as much when it was introduced; not just because the name was itself was so negative, but also because it risked stigmatising the entire Muslim community in Britain by false association, i.e. the most likely sources of terrorism in Britain are those communities with the highest proportions of Muslim population. Andrew Stunell, junior Minister within the Department of Local Government and Communities, with special responsiblity for race relations and community cohesion, helpfully defined his own views on the matter at a Pizza and Politics event put on by Hackney Liberal Democrats in Shoreditch this evening. He acknowledged that his own home area of Stockport in Greater Manchester — one of the least racially diverse areas of the North West — had received a grant under Prevent, but the money was usefully spent on an adventure playground. Far more diverse Bradford, over the Pennines, interestingly refused to have anything to do with the programme. Anyway, under the new government, matters have been finessed and it was very helpful to have additional insights from local Hackney Councillor Dawood Akhoon (a Muslim who represents his LibDem ward alongside two Orthodox Jews), Akeela Ahmed, who has been involved with a helpline for young Muslims having diffiulties dealing with personal issues within their own community, and Jamie Bartlett from Demos. The danger was acknowledged of blithely referring to ‘Islamic terrorism’ (as so often is the case in the media), but a valid point was also made by Councillor Farooq Qureshi from Waltham Forest that it is wrong to denounce all Wahabis as extremists. I know that peronally, having encountered all types of Wahabis, from the most conservative in Saudi Arabia to distinctly open-minded in Qatar. The evening’s discussion was rich, including far more than can be encompassed in a short blog post. So I was really pleased to see that the whole event was being live-streamed by video so that people who were not physically present could actually follow the discussion — an example which could usefully be followed by other LibDem Pizza and Politics evenings and their equivalents.

Link: www.hackneylibdems.org.uk

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Gaddafi: The End of an Era

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 20th October, 2011

The capture and fatal shooting of Libya’s long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi brings to an end over four decades of the country’s Green Revolution. It is hard to remember now that when he first came to power there was widespread jubilation in Libya. But like many rulers who stay in office too long, he got more ruthless and despotic as the years went by, and he failed to ensure that the people benefitted from the country’s oil wealth. Gaddafi and his henchmen liked to pretend that Libya was run by people’s committees, and that he had no direct control himself. But everyone in Libya knew that was a lie and that even the hint of opposition could land one in jail, where torture was endemic and where hundreds, maybe thousands, of people were executed. I visited Libya many times over the past 20 years, travelling from west to east and north to south, much of it in a four-wheel drive. I was well aware how deeply the people of Benghazi in particular hated Gaddafi, but I also knew he had his supporters in Tripoli, Sirte and elsewhere. It is a remarkable tribute to the NTC forces (‘the rebels’, who must now be called the government) than they managed to topple the regime, albeit with assistance from NATO, Qatar and the UAE. Now comes the difficult task of reconstruction and reconciliation; one can only hope that the journey ahead is smoother than that being experienced next door in Egypt. For today, though, the mood amongst most, though not all, Libyans is one of celebration. The man who could have ordered their death on a whim has been dragged out of the pipe in which he was hiding and shot. Of course, those of us in the liberal West would have preferred to see him captured alive and brought to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, to be tried on charges of crimes against humanity. But many Libyans are just glad the nightmare is over and that Gaddafi perished inside the country he plundered for 42 years.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera and the Arab Spring

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 6th October, 2011

The Arab Awakening has been an emotional experience for many people in North Africa and the Middle East; I confess I too wept on 11 February when the announcement finally came in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that Hosni Mubarak had stepped down and a great roar went up from the crowd, who were just finishing their prayers. All this seen live on Al Jazeera, of course, the Qatar-based channel that streamed the Egyptian Revolution. This evening, at City University in London, the recently retired (or evicted?) Director General of Al Jazeera, the Palestinian-born Wadah Khanfar, admitted while giving his largely unscripted James Cameron Memorial Lecture that he too had wept twice during the events of the recent months. Once was when his car ran into a celebrating crowd on the Corniche in Doha on 11 February and people who recognised him entered his car and kissed him to thank him for the contribution to the Arab Spring (if one must call it that) of freedom and democracy by his channel. The second time was when an Al Jazeera reporter who had been arrested and tortured in Libya by Gaddafi’s thug apparatus came back to Doha after his release and presented Wadah Khanfar with an apple, which had been given to him by one of his jailors, who had brought it from his garden and who apologised for his treatment, thanked him for what Al Jazeera was doing and said that he and the other officers had only done what they had done because the regime was holding their wives and children hostage.

After the lecture, I asked Wadah if the fact that he had been replaced as Director General by a member of Qatar’s ruling family might signal a change in editorial policy. He said no, and I would like to believe him. But there is no doubt that several rulers in the Gulf were very angry about Al Jazeera’s initial reporting of the crackdown against demonstrators in Bahrain. And I fear that if the Arab Awakening does eventually sweep through the GCC states, Al Jazeera might be emasculated and then die.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »