Increasing prosperity and security across the Middle East is going to mean having patience, allowing people a chance to voice their dissent and giving youth more opportunities.
That’s the message top diplomats stressed as they convened in Qatar for the annual Doha Forum this weekend.
The event opened at the Sheraton Grand hotel last night with several keynote addresses, including speeches by Qatar’s foreign minister, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who hailed Qatar’s diplomatic efforts.
“(We are) counting on your continuing involvement and leadership,” Ban said to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who was in the audience.
The Doha Forum is an annual event that symbolizes Qatar’s role as an international conciliator who encourages various – and occasionally disparate – countries and factions to talk.
Last night, FM Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani stressed that Qatar’s approach to political affairs involves avoiding conflict if possible:
“We uphold the need for the settlement of disputes by peaceful means, in particular through mediation, which is a priority of our foreign policy,” he told delegates.
While already well-known in diplomatic circles, Qatar’s reputation as a mediator who can bridge gaps between conflicting governments and organizations has started to creep into pop culture.
For example, in the most recent episode of Veep – a satirical TV series about American politics – a Qatari ambassador shares a message from China with the US president.
When she expresses confusion about Qatar’s involvement in the matter, her advisors tell her that the Gulf country likes to play the role of mediator.
Though Qatar has yet to actually do any China-related crisis mediation, it is frequently called upon to assist in negotiations with regional militant groups.
The country has built up a complicated network of allies that allows it to relay messages and, occasionally call in favors through various channels.
For example, this year, Qatar has been credited with helping to free three Spanish journalists believed to have been held by the al-Nusra Front in Syria, as well as a Canadian abducted by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Qatar has also attempted to broker peace talks in Doha between the Taliban and representatives close to the Afghan government, and agreed nearly two years ago to host five former Taliban prisoners freed by the US in exchange for an American soldier.
One of the common threads between the speeches delivered last night was the argument that economic and social development can improve security in unstable countries.
“Poverty and inequality feed terrorism,” argued Niger’s Issoufou, before making a pitch for Qatari investors to consider opportunities in his country.
The UN’s Ban presented a similar message, suggesting that governments should resist the urge to view dissent in their countries solely as a security threat:
“We must avoid short-sighted policies and heavy-handed approaches that only exacerbate the problem and give terrorists their best recruitment tool,” he said.
“Young people are seen too often today as a potential threat. We must empower them to realize their potential as peace-builders.”
Qatar’s Sheikh Mohammed also touched on the same themes, but devoted a significant part of his address to calling for action on two ongoing conflicts in the region.
He was especially critical of world powers for not forcing Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territory.
“We are not in the era of geographical discoveries and genocide,” he said. “The solution (to) the Palestinian cause is so long overdue that (Arabs have) started to count their ages by the number of uprisings and wars.”
The FM also condemned the “reluctance” of some countries “to put an end to the crimes committed against humanity” in Syria.
Qatar has been a strong supporter of the rebel forces fighting the Syrian government, supplying them with weapons, cash and diplomatic support.
Sheikh Mohammed stopped short of explicitly calling for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a long-held demand of other Qatar leaders.
However, he said history will not be kind to those countries that allow “bombing, expulsion and torture” to continue by failing to intervene.
“We are confident that the day when the civilized world will hold itself accountable for keeping silent about this crime is not far away,” he said.
The Doha Forum, which is not open to the public, runs through tomorrow.