Qatar: Energizing the world

With meager oil resources relative to its neighbors, Sheikh Hamad embarked on an ambitious plan to become one of the world’s dominant natural gas players. Qatar is home to the world’ third largest reserves of natural gas and its partnerships with Exxon and other multi-national companies has allowed it to evolve into an LNG exporter with 77 million tons of capacity.  As a result, today Qatar is literally energizing the world with its LNG exports which feed into electricity grids from England to Japan and China.

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Sheikh Hamad’s positive and constructive energy policy is in sharp contrast with the world’s top two countries in terms of natural gas reserves; namely, Russia and Iran. While President Putin and Ayatollah Khamenei continue to use their natural gas as political tools, global energy markets are lucky to have Sheikh Hamad has their partner.

The Amir is not alone in his quest to transform his country and the region. Together with his visionary wife Sheikha Mozah and able Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim, Sheikh Hamad has crafted a domestic and foreign policy that is the envy of its larger neighbors. For the Amir of Qatar good governance is the ultimate goal of statecraft. And the three main pillars of good governance are education reform, religious tolerance, and political pluralism. All three believe that these principles can take root in the Middle East.

As head of the Qatar Foundation, Sheikha Mozah overseas a vast non-profit organization whose overarching goal is the democratization of science and education. The nerve center of Qatar Foundation is Education City, a 24,000 acre multi-institutional campus, which is home to leading American institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University and Georgetown University. The rationale behind Sheikha Mozah’s philosophy is simple: education is an anchor of good governance because it encourages free thinking and tolerance of other cultures and ideas.

As America struggles to contain the scrooge of Islamic extremism, wresting control of education from the domain of the clergy in places like Najaf, Qom or Cairo is critical. Qatar’s model of pushing openness through education is something Washington should follow closely. 

Another impulse that drives Sheikha Mozah and her husband is philanthropy; whether towards Iraqis to rebuild their country or inner-city youth in Washington, D.C. Through a grant from the Qatar Foundation, the Urban Alliance, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit organization has been able to provide a number of internships to worthy high-school seniors. Members of Congress should take note of this instinct for charity by the Amir and his wife by supporting their vision to democratize health care and creating game-changing cures to multiple sclerosis or cancer. This support can start with  partnerships between America’s leading research facilities like Johns Hopkins and Qatar Foundation.

Washington, D.C. has also been affected by the Amir’s other reform-oriented partner; namely, his astute and hard-working Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem. As Head of the Qatar Investment Authority, in April of 2011, he directed Qatari Diar (the real estate arm of QIA) to invest $700 million into a mixed use real estate project called Washington City Center. With over $100 billion in assets the Washington D.C. area should welcome such robust partnerships with Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem.

American foreign policy has also benefited from Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem’s dogged determination to resolve regional conflicts such as those in Sudan, Lebanon, Afghanistan or Syria. His shuttle diplomacy reminds one of Henry Kissinger but with a better success rate. One can argue that without Qatar’s bold and robust involvement in supporting the Libyan people, Colonel Qaddafi would still be around to torment his own people and destabilize the region. In short, the United States should welcome and appreciate the fact that Qatar is filing a space and playing a role that is not being taken by other countries.

Qatar’s soft power is exercised through its satellite TV station Al-Jazeera.  When it was launched in 1996 Al Jazeera created the first “free-press zone” in the Arab world. And while some in Washington may object to its editorial slant, there is no denying that this Qatar-owned satellite TV station is equally responsible for the blossoming of the Arab Spring by bringing uncensored news to millions within the Arab world.

Whether the partnership is in resolving regional conflicts, perpetuating a free press zone in the Middle East, global energy security, promoting educational excellence or capital investments in American infrastructure, an alliance between the U.S. – Qatar is well worth deepening and strengthening. The framework of such a permanent and lasting strategic arrangement can be spelled out when the U.S. Congress invites Sheikh Hamad to address a joint session of Congress.