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Opinion: Qatar Again! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Skyscrapers tower along the Corniche in the Qatari capital Doha, on September 22, 2013. (AFP Photo/Al-Watan/ Karim Jaafar)

My first visit to the Qatari capital of Doha was in 1989. At the time, it was—like a number of Gulf states—going through a financial crisis due to a dramatic plunge in oil prices in world markets. As a result, the general revenues of these countries deteriorated in a manner that made ministries of finance cancel, delay and postpone payments to contractors, corporations and projects. Consequently, this—along with an undeniable negligence—led to the collapse of a wide segment of contractors, creating a gap between the public and private sectors for a considerable time. The roads of Doha, not to mention its famous corniche, appeared to be deserted. Equipment was left unused. Everyone was in an abnormal state of anticipation and anxiety.

Today, Doha is a massive workshop. The said corniche has been greatly extended, but the country became a prisoner of stifling traffic jams. Construction projects have gone beyond the capacity of the country’s contractors. This prompted foreign media, particularly the British Guardian newspaper, to heatedly investigate foreign labor in the country, immediately urging the Qatari media, government and business owners to go on the defensive. The issue of the maltreatment of foreign workers was then linked with the issue of Qatar hosting the World Cup in 2022.

It has been argued that the country’s hot weather would be an obstacle for the soccer players and their fans. I actually find this suspicious, as though the weather in Qatar has become too hot only recently, much to the surprise of the FIFA Executive Committee. And the temperatures in Qatar are not so different from those in some parts of Mexico, for example, which has hosted the event twice.

There is somehow a general mood in Qatar, which can be captured when talking to people living there. Qatar today appears to be reordering its priorities. It has been less rushed when making foreign investments. Qatar has decided to move towards advancing and developing its economic icons, such as Qatar Airways, Qtel, Qatari Diar, Barwa Real Estates, Qatar Petroleum and Qatargas. What is more, it aims to improve its status in sports and culture, as well as its health and medical sectors.

However, Qatar’s revisionism in politics remains to be debated—particularly Doha’s attitude towards Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood, which it has supported through the media. In fact, Qatar has become a support center for the group in exile. That will doubtlessly create a long-term rift between Doha and Cairo, as was the case in the era of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Qatar thinks it is bidding on the public’s choice in Egypt, refusing to admit that the Egyptians chose to rid themselves of Mohamed Mursi for reasons that have become well known and do not need to be cited here. By acting this way, Qatar is following a path that runs in complete opposition to the stances of its allies and partners in the Gulf Council Cooperation, which clearly announced their support of the Egyptians’ new choice.

Qatar now is entirely engrossed in its domestic affairs, aiming to undertake complete administrative reforms in its ministries and administrations as well as develop tools for the enforcement accountability laws within a developed and transparent governance system.

The new steps will also include finalizing the infrastructure of the new airport, roads, bridges, metro network, railways, port, hospitals and schools. With this very ambitious plan, the country’s revenues will be directed mainly at the local sphere. It is not known for sure how all of this will affect Qatar’s interesting foreign policy. Moreover, it seems that Qatar will extend its influence to China, Japan, South Korea and Russia, because Doha has a great appetite for promoting its gas in these markets. On the other hand, Qatar is closely and carefully eyeing African and Latin American markets. Major changes are occurring in Qatar, but ambiguity still surrounds some of the country’s stances, which we need to consider more closely in order to understand them before passing our judgment.