On February 13, 2019, after 2 years of the Saudi led air blockade of Qatar, the EU has finally spoken out. “The air blockade of Qatar was unthinkable to us,” said the director of Transport for the EU Commission. “We cannot tolerate countries using civil aviation for political moves like this.” These comments were the first time the EU has publicly taken a stance on the blockade. The countries in the EU are some of the Gulf’s largest foreign markets, and they champion free skies.
The EU is now trying to work out a deal that will boost market access for Qatar to a significantly higher level than any other gulf country. They are creating a “Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement [CATA] between the EU and State of Qatar.” The CATA will be the first agreement of its kind between the EU and a GCC state. It will allow Qatar airways to fly to cities located within 28 European countries without any of the prior restrictions that were imposed before. Negotiations are reaching the finalization stage with the agreement set to be signed later this year.
( Image Source: Politico )
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani emphasized that Qatar is willing to engage in a dialogue that will resolve the Gulf crisis. He went on to state that Qatar has continuously called on the blockading countries to engage in negotiations that aim to resolve the Gulf Crisis.
At the Munich Security Conference, Qatar’s Foreign Minister stressed that both Saudi and Emirati leaders should prioritize the Gulf issue as it is vital to the security of the greater region. The Foreign Minister suggested that the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) should be used as a platform for negotiations as it was originally established for regional cooperation.
He highlighted that regional states have been able to resolve conflicts in the past but that the current state of affairs poses a grave security risk to the region. He specifically stated “We have been through various conflicts and disagreements in the last 20 years, but we have never reached this level and reflect a shift in the position of the leadership of these countries.”
The Foreign Minister went on to state that Qatar was ready for dialogue during an upcoming summit in Kuwait but Qatar’s willingness to solve the dispute is not shared by the blockading states. He also addressed past criticism of ‘Qatar’s unwillingness’ that was leveled at the nation during the most recent Gulf Summit. The Foreign Minister stated that that since the invitation to Qatar was extended by the GCC Secretary-General rather than the host country’s leadership, they explained “that is why we participated with a lower representation.”
In regards to Washington’s efforts in resolving the Gulf crisis, the Foreign Minister praised the willingness of the United States in their attempts at resolving the dispute. He highlighted the rejection of the blockading states to US President Donald Trump’s proposal of holding a Gulf Summit. He also stressed that Qatar’s relations with the United States have never been affected by this crisis, stating: “Our strong alliance with them continues. We have the largest US airbase and there are 11 to 12 thousand US troops on our territory. The centre of the international coalition is in Qatar, and everything is going well.”
(Image Source: Munich Security Conference)
In an unusual move, the Emir of Qatar issued an Emiri decree in December of 2011 announcing the creation of a National Sports Day. Presently, Qatar’s National Sports Day acts as an important annual occasion (on the second Tuesday of every February) with the goal of engaging the local community in Qatar with sports activities and fostering the adoption of a healthy lifestyle.
The impetus behind the declaration of a National Sports Day also coincides with the launch of Qatar’s National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030). The National Vision serves as a framework for Qatar to achieve an advanced society providing a high standard of living for its residents by the year 2030. The vision has 4 main pillars, with Qatar National Sports Day, primarily aimed at the pillar of Human Development. The other three pillars of QNV 2030 are Economic Development, Environmental Development, and Social Development.
The Human Development pillar specifically states, “The prosperity of any country depends on the health of its people. Qatar aims to build a comprehensive world-class healthcare system that is effective, affordable and universally available to all citizens.” It is common knowledge that leading an active lifestyle with a diet rich in nutrients is vital to one’s health. Yet, urbanization and technical advancements in Gulf countries has resulted in increased obesity in major cities and towns.
Qatar’s National Sports Day also serves a dual purpose. Not only does it aim to supporting the pillar of Human Development, but it also serves to support the pillar of Economic Development. Qatar is increasingly serving as a hub for Sports tournaments in the Middle East. Most famously, the nation will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Qatar has also successfully staged the 2006 Asian Games, the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, and the Qatar ExxonMobil Tennis Open, among several others. Qatar’s aim of serving as a regional hub for sports will not only bring the nation name recognition but will also serve as a basis of a domestic and international sports market, supporting both local entrepreneurs and attracting foreign investment.
(Image Source: Flickr – Jadi)
Qatar reiterated its commitment to institutionalizing effective labor reform following the latest report released by Amnesty International. The report, titled “Reality Check,” concludes that the 2022 World Cup host needs to do more to combat labor abuse.
The Government Communications Office (GCO) of Qatar responded in a statement saying that:
“From the outset, we have said that we understood labor reform would be a journey and not an end in itself. We have publicly stated, and restate here, our commitment to labor reform so that Qatar would have a suitable labor system that is fair to employers and employees alike…Far from seeing time as running out, the government of the State of Qatar understands further change is needed and we remain committed to developing these changes as quickly as possible, while ensuring they are effective and appropriate for our labor market conditions.”
The GCO stressed that the State of Qatar will continue to engage and work with foreign governments, both international and multilateral organizations, and NGOs, to ensure that its labor code meets international standards.The Qatari government response also mentioned the extent to which labor laws and regulations were being enforced. In just the first half of 2018, there were nearly 12,000 companies that were either penalized or banned from operating in Qatar due to labor law violations.
Qatar has taken considerable measures to improve both labor rights legislation and the implementation of the legislation. Qatar signed an agreement with the United Nations, International Labor Organization (ILO) to mutually cooperate to both enforce and strengthen Qatar’s legal framework to best protect migrant workers. The ILO has now established a field office in Doha, Qatar’s Capital to assist the nation in administering the reforms. Other recent developments consist of the removal of the exit permit requirement, formally establishing a minimum wage for migrant workers, and the implementation of a Wage Protection System (WPS).
Prior to this change in the labor code, workers were required to obtain an exit permit to leave the country. Law No. 13 of 2018, amended provisions of Law No. 21 (2015) and Law No. 1 (2017) that regulated the entry and exit of foreign nationals. Previously, all migrant workers were required to obtain an exit permit from their employer in order to leave Qatar. This move was termed a “huge step” by the International Organization for Labour (ILO). According to the head of the ILO Project Office in Qatar, Houtan Homayounpour, great progress has been made with regards to labour reforms in the country but the work is far from finished.
(Image Source: Argaam)
2022 World Cup host Qatar has won its first ever regional tournament, the Asian Cup. Qatar defeated the four-time previous winner of the Asia Cup, Japan, with a final score of 3 (Qatar) – 1 (Japan). Qatar controlled the dynamic of the match from the onset with a twelfth minute bicycle kick goal by Almoiz Ali – his ninth goal of the tournament. 15 minutes later, Abdulaziz Hatem, scored again for Qatar doubling their lead. In the 69th minute, Japanese forward Takumi Minamino, brought Japan back into the game with 21 minutes left of the game. Qatari player Akram Afif was able to cinch its lead with a penalty kick goal that was awarded following an accidental handball by the Japanese defense.
Qatari goalkeeper Saad el-Sheeb and striker Almoez Ali both received awards for their performances through the tournament. El-Sheeb was awarded the best goalkeeper award and Almoez Ali was awarded both the top goalscorer award and MVP award.
Yet, the question remains, “What did Qatar do to pull off this stunning victory?” Over the years, the small peninsular nation has drastically overhauled and improved its soccer establishment as it prepares to take the field in 3 years for the World Cup. The Qatar national team coach, Felix Sanchez Bas, deserves considerable credit for this accomplishment. Bas, a Spanish football manager, has been intrinsically involved in the formation of the Qatari national team and has previously worked with the under-19, under-20, and under-23 teams. Rather than import players, Bas has chosen to focus on Qatari-born and raised players by working closely with Qatar’s Aspire Academy.
The academy, a state-of-the-art training facility for young athletes, was established in 2004 and later incorporated into a larger umbrella organization, the Aspire Zone Foundation. The academy has been successful in both building and refining Qatari talent producing the likes of Akram Afif (first Qatari to play in Spain’s La Liga) and Abdulkarim Hassan (AFC 2018 player of the year).
Felix Sanchez Bas has chosen to focus on a ‘slow and steady’ strategy so that Qatari players can learn how to perform well under intense pressure gradually. At the start of the tournament, Bas committed to “isolate” the Qatari team from any politics at the Asian Cup. Qatar is currently under an illegal diplomatic and economic blockade by Asia Cup host country, the UAE. Since taking on the head coach position in 2017, Bas has focused on playing friendly international games with middle weight countries like Switzerland and Iceland. He stated in a New York Times article that these teams can teach “what it is to play at a high level, how quickly mistakes are punished.”
However, the credit for Qatar’s maiden victory at the Asia Cup does not lie solely on Felix Sanchez Bas but also on the players that performed wonderfully through the tournament. Sudanese born – Qatari raised Almoez Ali held the limelight by scoring the most goals for a single player. The teams chemistry and strategy has paid off as they now look forward to playing in Brazil for the Copa America tournament. Qatar has several years left to prepare for the 2022 World Cup and has so far brought its game face to the pitch.
(Image Source: Twitter – FIFA)
QAI was excited to host Georgetown University alumni for our Food Festival tonight celebrating 230 years since Georgetown’s founding and ten years since the first class graduated from the university’s Qatar branch. The event featured the current and former Deans of Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.
The reception featured guests of honor Dr. Robert Gallucci, Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy and the former Dean of the School of Foreign Service and Dr. Joel Hellman, the current Dean of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. The two deans were joined by Georgetown University’s Regent Board member, Paul Horvath, who is also the Group Chief Executive Officer for Orchard Global Capital Group. Also in attendance was Patrick Theros, a former U.S. Ambassador to Qatar who, along with Dr. Gallucci, was instrumental in establishing Georgetown University in Qatar.
Dean Gallucci, within his remarks, recounted the story of how Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service came to have a branch campus in Qatar. He went on to stress the important relationship between Qatar and the United States, and Qatar’s progressive attitudes towards education and research.
Dr. Robert Gallucci, former dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service at @Georgetown University spoke at QAI’s Georgetown Alumni Food Festival on the origins of the @GUQatar campus in #Education City, Qatar. #QatarAmerica pic.twitter.com/RjjqMaRG3J
— Qatar-America Institute (@QatarAmerica) January 31, 2019
Following Dean Gallucci’s comments, the current dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Dr. Joel Hellman, commented on both the openness and uniqueness of the Qatar campus. He stressed the branch campus’ diversity and the way that the people of Qatar have made it their very own.
At last nights QAI’s Food Festival celebrating @Georgetown Alumni, the current dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service Dr. Joel Hellman (@joelhellman_SFS) comments on the university’s branch campus (@GUQatar) in Qatar. #QatarAmerica pic.twitter.com/7yIa5eFH1W
— Qatar-America Institute (@QatarAmerica) January 31, 2019
Guests of the event were able to enjoy delicious chocolate truffles provided by Washington’s Capital Candy Jar to celebrate the Chocolate, Tea, and Coffee Festival being held in Doha. Find an album of the event below.
Georgetown Alumni Food Festival – Album
On Sunday, America’s Islamic Heritage Museum in Washington, DC hosted a brunch for local Muslim leaders. The brunch featured a presentation by museum director Amir Muhammad overviewing the museum’s growth and its future development plans in the context of increasing investment in the Anacostia area.
QAI sponsored the brunch, organizing the catering for the event. In discussing the future of the museum, QAI and other participants considered possibilities for future programming, including cooperation between QAI and the museum.
(Image Source: MuslimsinAmerica)
On January 17, 2019, Qatar-America Institute Cultural Advisor Diana Untermeyer visited the Indiana Council on World Affairs (ICWA) in Indianapolis to discuss “Qatar and its Neighbors.” She joined Bill Clifford, president and CEO of the World Affairs Council of America and Melissa Beuc, executive board member of ICWA Board, both of whom recently traveled to Qatar.
In her talk, Ms. Untermeyer discussed the context for the blockade imposed on Qatar in June 2017 by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt; the resiliency with which Qatar has withstood and even thrived in the midst of the blockade; Qatar’s policy of engagement in the region and its focus on education, sports and culture.
Ms. Untermeyer spoke about her experience living in Qatar from 2004-2007 and attributed Qatar’s resilience to the strong foundation built by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani culminating in the peaceful transfer of power in June 2013 to his well-prepared son, His Highness Sheikh Tamim. In a region known for coups and octogenarians who cling to power, this unprecedented, planned succession sets Qatar apart.
Moreover, the fruits of His Highness Sheikh Hamad’s leadership — including the development of the massive LNG industry, the granting of equal rights to women, the promotion of modern educational and cultural institutions, the founding of Al Jazeera, and a commitment to transparent and inclusive foreign policy — both set the stage for the showdown with the blockading nations and provide the fortitude to withstand it.
The blockade has fast-tracked many endeavors including anti-terrorist money laundering agreements, social and labor reforms, free trade zones, and food security initiatives. It also has strengthened a sense of national pride and caused an outpouring of support for Sheikh Tamim. The iconic image “Tamim the Glorious” now festoons buildings and innumerable windshields.
National service was instituted before the Blockade; however in April 2018, the mandatory time for men was extended from a few months to a full year following graduation from high school. And, women are now allowed to volunteer as well. The decision is so much more important than one might think. Imagine: Women in the military in a traditional Muslim country; youth increasingly differentiated by degrees of wealth and education literally in the trenches together; and a shared sense of discipline should all add up to transformative national unity and individual growth.
In response to lively questioning from the audience about Qatar’s political alignment, Ms. Untermeyer explained that while Qatar remains committed to the GCC and looks forward to a resumption of a strong alliance, their policy has always been to maintain positive and constructive dialogue with all countries, including Iran. While Qatar has disagreements with Iran, they are also neighbors and share the massive gas field. The blockade led to closer ties with Iran. Iran opened their skies providing the sole access for Qatar’s commercial and civilian air traffic. Additionally, Iran provided immediate food relief.
Qatar hopes to normalize relationships with their neighbors but is moving forward with its own vision including the massive infrastructure build up for the 2022 World Cup. Overall, the attitude in Doha is optimistic and full speed ahead.
This week, Qatar Foundation CEO Her Excellency Sheikha Hind Al Thani gave an interview to Annmarie Hordern of Bloomberg and discussed the work of the Qatar Foundation and the empowerment of women in Qatar.
Qatar Foundation has always offered equal opportunities to men and women, according to Sheikha Hind. Citing that half of the student body at Texas A&M University at Qatar and the majority of computer science students at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar are female, she says that Qatar has simply had to offer the opportunities for women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the first place, rather than close a gender gap.
“Women are much more active in the workplace today than they were 20 years ago. Once you get the women involved in the conversation, you will see a societal impact and a societal change.” Sheikha Hind Al Thani
Sheikha Hind also discussed the impact that the illegal blockade has had on the students within the Qatar Foundation. While Qatar Foundation itself has not been meaningfully impacted by the blockade, many students had their exams and education disrupted as a result, and were forced to restart their degrees elsewhere or on the U.S. campuses of Education City’s university branches because they were no longer allowed to study in Doha.
Introduction: Moody’s is one of three major international credit rating agencies (CRAs) – the other two being S&P and Fitch – that evaluate the Sate of Qatar’s (SoQ) sovereign creditworthiness. These ratings are important for any government’s debt management exercises as they affect the country’s ability to access financing – for fiscal deficits and other external funding needs – through debt capital markets (DCM).
Government-related entities (GREs), such as Ooredoo (telecommunications) and Qatar National Bank (QNB), also benefit from the strength of the SoQ’s credit rating as private creditors use the sovereign’s borrowing spreads as a pricing benchmark for GREs looking to sell bonds.
In other words, rating upgrades or downgrades can lead to materially higher or lower costs of funding. On large multi-billion-dollar transactions – such as the jumbo bond issued by the SoQ in April 2018 – even marginally higher spreads can translate into accrued interest payments in the millions of dollars.
Moody’s uses the following criteria to assess any sovereign issuer’s ability to service its debt:
– Economic Strength – Wealth, size, diversification, and long-term potential;
– Institutional Strength – Governance, quality of institutions, and policy predictability;
– Fiscal Strength – Ability to deploy resources to face current and expected liabilities;
– Susceptibility to Event Risk – Risk of sudden risk migration
On 13 July 2018, Moody’s changed the outlook on Qatar’s sovereign issuer rating to stable from negative, citing that “Qatar can withstand the economic, financial and diplomatic boycott by the three neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Egypt in its current form for an extended period of time without a material deterioration in its credit profile.”
Key Highlights of Credit Opinion:
– Current SoQ rating: Aa3 (outlook: stable)
– Continued strength of fundamental credit metrics, underpinned by:
– Vast hydrocarbon reserves, fueling high export capacity and a dominant global LNG market share (28%);
– Exceptionally high per-capita incomes – with a nominal GDP per capita of $69,933 in 2018 (forecast) – allowing for significant shock-absorption capacity and reform flexibility for the government.
– Continued progress in the government’s debt reduction (de-leveraging) program is credit-positive. Government debt to GDP (debt/GDP%) has declined from 49% in 2017 to 42% in 2018 and is expected to fall further to 36% in 2019.
– The stable outlook is consistent with Moody’s expectation of a declining government debt burden under Moody’s baseline oil price assumption of $75/barrel in 2019 and $65/barrel in 2020.
– What could lead to a rating upgrade? Coupled with the government’s de-leveraging strategy, a sustained re-building of foreign exchange (FX) reserves – which were negatively impacted by the blockade – would prompt Moody’s to consider upgrading the rating. According to Qatar Central Bank (QCB) data, FX reserves have increased from $14.8 bn in December 2017 to $29.4 billion in November 2018, an increase of 99%.
– During the course of 2019, it will be worth monitoring how Moody’s rating sensitivity will correlate with Qatari policymakers’ steps to build up QCB reserves, strengthen its external position and continue to successfully manage the status quo of the blockade.
– Institutional Strength: The Credit Opinion states that “The government’s responses to the GCC boycott imposed in June 2017 demonstrate policy effectiveness and coordination between public sector entities, as well as a strong institutional capacity to manage crises.”
– Budget 2019 Highlights: The government is targeting a small budget surplus of QAR4.3 billion (0.6% of projected 2019 GDP), compared to a budgeted deficit of QAR28.1 billion (4% of estimated GDP) for 2018. This will be the first fiscal surplus in 3 years, reflecting higher oil prices. (Brent crude average in 2018 was $72/barrel, compared with $54/barrel in 2017).
– Major capital projects – public investments in infrastructure for the World Cup and the economy at large – will continue to account for the lion’s share (43%) of government expenditure. This flows both from the need to complete requirements for hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and from the Qatar National Vision 2030, which prioritizes investments in the building blocks of a modern competitive economy.
Qatar’s OPEC Exit: Moody’s does not expect Qatar’s decision “to have any credit implications for the sovereign. Qatar’s reliance on LNG means that OPEC’s decisions on oil supply and their implications for oil prices will continue to have an indirect impact on Qatar’s government and export revenue. For Qatar to no longer be part of these decisions will not change the sensitivity of its credit metrics to oil price fluctuations and will not have material impact on the country’s hydrocarbon production and growth dynamics.”
 Moody’s, “Moody’s changes Qatar’s rating outlook to stable, affirms Aa3 rating,” 13 July, 2018
 Moody’s, Government of Qatar: Financials
 Moody’s Credit Opinion, “Regular Update: Government of Qatar”, pp.2
 QCB Monthly Monetary Bulletin – November 2018 – Table 11, “Total Official Reserves”
 Ibid., pp. 3
 Ministry of Finance – Qatar
 Moody’s Credit Opinion, “Regular Update: Government of Qatar”, pp.6