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Qatar and its emir
He'll do it his way
With much of the Arab world rattled by the global economic turmoil and stuck in moribund politics, tiny Qatar and its punchy emir are bucking the trend May 27th 2010 | DOHA
THE economy of the Gulf emirate of Qatar is making even China’s look sluggish. This year it is set, by one estimate, to swell by more than 23%. Last year it grew by 10%, the year before by 13%. The IMF reckons the country’s GDP per head rose last year to nearly $84,000 at purchasing-power parity, the world’s highest figure, far above the United States’ $46,000 and Britain’s $35,000 and easily topping the rich-list of the 22-country Arab League, with Kuwait trailing on $38,000 and Saudi Arabia well behind on $23,000. Congo and Zimbabwe, by contrast, come bottom of the IMF’s table, at $332 and $355 per head. Behind these figures the government of this little promontory that sticks into the Gulf off the east coast of Saudi Arabia is being careful not to let the bonanza go to its head—as happened down the coast in the overreaching emirate of Dubai. With fewer than 300,000 Qatari citizens among its 1.7m inhabitants, Qatar is unarguably a success. In almost every respect it is managing, as the diplomatic jargon goes, to punch far above its bantam weight. The reason for this happy state of affairs is fourfold. First, it is the largest producer and exporter of liquefied natural gas in the world, yet is dramatically expanding output. Second, its emir, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, may be the most dynamic of the Arab world’s leaders, and in Sheikha Mozah has the feistiest of wives. Third, it has an unusually independent foreign policy, which has turned the emirate into a diplomatic hub. And fourth, it is the home of Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s most influential television channel (see article). The emir, now 58, ousted his father in 1995 in a coup. Since then he has consolidated his rule, spread his country’s vast wealth across the realm, and made his influence felt far afield, in Washington, London and beyond. This year it is reported that the country’s sovereign-wealth fund, under the aegis of the Qatar Investment Authority, may invest some $30 billion abroad. It is set to increase its 17% share in Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest carmaker. Areva, the French nuclear group, is another candidate for investment. The authority already owns 7% of Barclays, a British bank, a quarter of J Sainsbury, Britain’s third-biggest supermarket chain, and a chunk of London’s Canary Wharf. This month it bought Harrods, London’s most famous shop. No less spectacularly, Sheikha Mozah’s Qatar Foundation, which is bent on bringing world-class education and culture to the state, has spent billions of dollars to lure a bunch of the best American universities to Qatar, including Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Georgetown, Northwestern and Texas A & M. Sheikha Mozah has been the driving spirit behind such spectacular schemes as the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by a Chinese-American architect, I.M. Pei. Every cultural project is emphatically cosmopolitan. The emir, a keen sports fan, has also brought an array of big-prize competitions to his state, including football, golf and tennis, that tempt the world’s top players. Now Qatar is bidding to host the football World Cup in 2022. With temperatures above 40º Celsius when the tournament would be held, the bid’s chief promoter says the latest technology would be harnessed to blow cool air into the stadiums to reduce the heat to the mid-20s. Forget the expense. But the emir’s most striking achievement is diplomatic. The Americans are still his closest ally, shoving the slower-moving British, the Gulf’s former imperial power, into second place. A huge American base is a forward headquarters of America’s Central Command, which oversees Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the emir keeps on good terms with Iran, exchanging cordial visits with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Earlier this year the two signed a defence pact,...
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