It’s about commercial interests, not ‘terrorism financing’

 13 Jul 2017 - 12:20

It often happens that when a country intends to punish another for not complying with its diktats, or dares to stand firm against attacks on its sovereignty, the predatory nation sets up a smoke-screen and cooks-up some official narratives for media consumption which suits to the international community at large. For instance, in the case of Iraq, when George W Bush and Tony Blair hell bent to topple Saddam Hussein, they used the pretext of the so-called ‘Weapon of Mass Destruction’ (WMD) to justify their illegal invasion on Iraq—a country which dared to undermine interests of the US and UK, such as trading oil in euro challenging the hegemony of the US dollar.

Now the Saudi Arabia and its allies are blaming Qatar for allegedly “destabilising” the region through “terrorists funding”— an accusation Qatar strongly denies. The international community is also not able to comprehend the accusations for the fact, it is coming from a country like Saudi Arabia, given its history of aiding extremist ideologies around the world. Analysts say that how can a country, which is home to 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 attacks in New York, take such a high moral ground to preach on combating terrorism. Most believe that it should be the last country to lecture anyone on the subject of terrorism.

Qatar has emerged as a strong economic power with significant diplomatic influence. It champions human rights at home and abroad, including the rights of Palestinian people who are forced to live in open jails in Gaza and West Bank with sub-human conditions, by the world’s biggest terrorist state—Israel. Qatar, which pursues its independent foreign policy following all international laws, perhaps doesn’t match with the interests of some countries in the region.

Instead of feeling jealousy about Qatar for its extraordinary progress and development, they should learn lessons from this tiny Gulf state. They should also try to imitate Qatar, at least some of the good things it does, for the welfare of the people in their respective countries. They should also use the energy revenues and the huge wealth for nation building. But instead of doing that, they are busy in fighting court battles against super-models in the US and UK and paying multi-million dollar compensations and settling law suits to secure divorce.

Over the last 20 years, Qatar has emerged as one of the most vibrant economies in the Middle East, in all aspect, as a result of strategic investments of energy revenues with great economic and political wisdom under the wise leadership. Be its media, civil aviation, telecommunications, health, education, insurance, transportation, sports, environment, science & technology, research & development, diplomacy and foreign policy, exchange of trade and investment, environment, cultural, charity and other philanthropic activities. You name it, Qatar has made unparalleled success in all these areas. The Gulf state, all these year, strived to achieve a remarkable success by strategically investing its sovereign wealth to have a well diversified investment portfolio, both at home and abroad, for the sustainable development of the economy. Under the Qatar National Vision 2030, it aims to transform the economy into well-diversified knowledge-based society.

As a result, today, Qatari entities, both state-owned corporations, NGOs as well as private companies, are competing and rub-shouldering with regional and international giants. Some of the Qatari firms have operations in dozens of countries. Several of them have grown big enough to claim that they are “one of the biggest” in the Middle East and North Africa region. Many of them are now aspiring to be one of the biggest in the world.

The list of such multi-billion dollar companies and entities are exhaustive. Each of them deserves at least no less than separate column to capture the extent and vastness of their operations, which is beyond the scope of this article! However, some of them that often hog headlines in Qatar and beyond, including Qatar Petroleum, Qatar Airways, QatarGas, Rasgas, Industries Qatar, the iconic Hamad International Airport, the multi-billion dollar Hamad Port, Qatar Investment Authority (QIA - it is one of the largest in the world with sovereign assets of about $350bn); Qatar National Bank with total assets of QR768bn (about $211bn, 2016), Ooredoo Group with an annual revenue of over $9bn, boasting a customer base of about 140 million across a dozen countries. Qatar Insurance Company, whose shareholders’ equity stood at $2.26bn, and still growing very fast.

Similarly there are many others, which often remain in news in Qatar and abroad for their ever growing business operations and expansions, such as; Qatar General Insurance and Reinsuance company, Milaha, Nakilat, Qatari Diar, Barwa Real Estate Company, United Development Company; Ezdan Holding Group, Katara Hospitality (manages several dozens of luxury hotels and resorts around the world), Hassad Food Company (a QIA subsidiary that produces food for Qatar in several countries, including Pakistan, Oman and Australia), Qatar Foundation (given the vastness of its operations, it can be dubbed as a country within the country), Manateq (responsible for developing special economic zones, warehousing complexes and new industrial parks), Qatar Rail, Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (the overseas the preparations for 2022 FIFA World Cup) and efforts of economic diversification and SMEs development under the supervision of Qatar Development Bank.

Other regional economic powers and commercial giants that traditionally enjoyed their supremacy and market dominance for decades are now no longer comfortable with the growing competition posed by Qatari companies. Therefore, they are now resorting to take any measures to hinder the growth and expansion of Qatari firms, regionally and internationally. The blockading countries, not only intended to create chaos by stopping supplies of essentials during the holy month of Ramadan, but, probably, also aimed to sabotage the ongoing massive infrastructure development programme across Qatar, by suddenly interrupting the supplies of primary materials, which are critical to finish these ambitious projects in time, as some of the mega projects are also part of the preparations for hosting the 2022 FIFA Chmpionship.

As far as the availability of primary materials are concerned, Qatar is self-sufficient in terms of cement and steel. In fact, it has surplus production capacity, which is often exported to other countries. As far gabbro, limestone and other materials are concerned, Qatar, according to the Minister of Economy and Commerce, H E Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, maintains a strategic reserve for more than one year, which can meet the requirements of all the public and private projects, including FIFA projects.
The other primary materials, which were traditionally been imported through sea routes, are to be imported from alternative destinations direct to the Hamad Port, which is now working in full potential.

Most of the heads of private and government organisations, almost in one voice, echoed that challenges create opportunities. The logistic landscape in Qatar and its neighbourhood, is witnessing sea changes. Direct sea-lines have been established to import goods to the huge Hamad Port, to end the monopoly of Jabel Ali Port of the UAE. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, traditionally the two dominant members of the GCC council, are also not able to digest the reality that once a small and not so vibrant GCC member, like Qatar, outshining them almost in every walks of life. Leaders of the blockading countries, perhaps, do not like a small GCC state expressing its disagreements with regard to their self-serving decisions and interests.

On the one hand Saudi and its allies have cut all its connections with Qatar, but in contrary Qatar, respecting its contract agreements and international laws, has decided not to cut gas supplies to the UAE. If it does, nearly 40 percent of the households in the UAE will be forced to resort to diesel-fueled generators, facing power outage for hours in this scorching summer.

Some analysts suggest that the false news (which appeared in a section of the Indian media recently) about the Indian Airlines deploying additional aircraft to ‘airlift’, or ‘evacuate’, its citizens from Qatar, was part of the plan to create panic among the over 700,000 Indian expatriates. A significant number of expatriates are working in these projects. However, every attempt to embolden the impact of the blockade proved to be a futile exercise. Thanks to the Indian government which reiterated to clarify its position that the additional flights were to fill serve the peak seasonal demand.

The writer is a Doha-based journalist.