Category: Human Rights & Civil Society

Creativity & Power: The Intersection of Art & Politics in the Arab World

Founder of the Institute of Arab & Islamic Art comes to QAI:


The Qatar-America Institute (QAI) hosted the founder of The Institute of Arab & Islamic Art, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al-Thani. The lecture was moderated by QAI’s Cultural Advisor, Diana Untermeyer. Ms. Untermeyer shared her views on art and the importance of the institute in crossing cultural boundaries.



During his lecture, Sheikh Mohammad, addressed the foundations of his institute, his views on art, and the aims his institution is striving to achieve.




Sheikh Mohammad also discussed the concept of cultural exchange and the impact that it has had on the development of art within various Islamic societies.




After Sheikh Mohammad’s lecture, Ms. Untermeyer moderated a Q&A session with members of the audience.  Discussion focused on topics ranging from trends in the history of Islamic art, to the challenges of creating an independent non-profit organization, and ways of expanding discussion about Islamic art into the non-Islamic world.



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Qatar’s Foreign Minister Addresses UN Human Rights Council

Qatar’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, addressed the 37th regular session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva addressing the blockade imposed on Qatar and human rights violations in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta.

He called, “upon the Human Rights Council and all its mechanism bodies to take up their responsibilities and stop the unilateral measures taken by some states against the population of Qatar and put an end to this racist course of action.”

The dispute between Qatar and regional states began in June of last year over unfounded allegations of supporting “terrorism.”  In November 2017, the UNHCR released a report addressing the human cost of the blockade. The report concluded that the blockade violates human rights.

The FM stated that, “Victims must be compensated and perpetrators be held accountable.”

FM Sheikh Mohammed also called on the international community to end the violence and killing of civilians in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta. As of Feb. 18, the day bombardment began, 550 civilians have been killed so far.

The FM specifically stated that, “There is a legal and moral responsibility of the international community to find a solution of the Syrian conflict based on the UN resolutions.”






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Upholding Diplomacy in the Face of Regional Conflict

Munich Security Conference 2018 – HH The Emir of Qatar’s Opening Statement

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, addressed a distinguished audience of global leaders and organizations in Munich. At the Munich Security Conference, the Emir addressed several issues that have the potential to threaten both regional security in the Middle East and international security as a whole:

He stressed that although the battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is coming to an end, “the real battle, laying the foundation for peaceful coexistence, has yet to begin.”

Sheikh Tamim praised the model of conflict resolution pursued by European nations through the European Union:

He specifically stated that, “We can mirror efforts of the European Union, its ability to find common ground to rebuild and prosper.” The emir stressed the need for a regional organization in the Middle East that has the capacity to work through fundamental differences in order to alleviate the suffering of peoples that currently exists in countries such as Yemen and Syria.

The emir specifically stressed that extremist ideologies are not specific to the Middle East or any one particular religion. He stated that a continued pattern of state failures has perpetuated the injustices and suffering of peoples in the region. This, the Emir stated, has laid the groundwork for extremism in the region and has allowed it to flourish.

Additionally, the emir praised his nation’s resilience in the face of “a futile crisis manufactured by [regional] neighbors, some of whom are major regional players, once believed to be stabilizing factors on the world stage.”

He added that, “by diffusing the impact of the illegal and aggressive measures imposed on [his] people, Qatar preserved its sovereignty.” He stressed that even small states, employing diplomacy and economic planning, can counter external pressures from larger states.

The Emir stressed that in the face of regional tensions with neighboring GCC countries, Qatar has maintained its initial stance of pursuing diplomacy rather than pursuing reactionary counter measures. He stated that despite the intensity of regional pressure and a complete naval, air, and land blockade the state of Qatar has not missed one shipment of its primary export, Liquefied Natural Gas.



“Fact Sheet: Ceasing The Illegal Blockade”

“Fact Sheet: Combatting Extremism At Its Source”


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Remarks by Qatar’s Gaza Reconstruction Committee Chairman

In an AP interview released February 8, 2018, Mohammed E. Al-Emadi, chairman of Qatar’s Gaza Reconstruction Committee (GRC), announced the committee’s plan to increase financing for its Gaza reconstruction efforts.  He also commented on the GRC’s close relationship with Israel in its mission to promote peace in the region explaining that the GRC works “very closely with Israel…to prevent any more escalation and war,” and that a main goal is to achieve “peace in the region and to help the people.” He further appealed to other donor nations to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza urging “we have to fund as soon as possible.”


Jason Greenblatt – the Trump Administration’s advisor on Israel and Special Representative for International Negotiations – later thanked Qatar and the UAE for their help in providing such vital funding in a series of tweets on February 8 and 9th stating “Qatar partnering with Israel can bring real relief to the people of Gaza” and “Some good news for Gaza—regional support for vital humanitarian assistance is mobilizing. Thanks to UAE @OFMUAE and Qatar @MBA_AlThani for these badly needed contributions.”





QAI hosted Al-Emadi on January 10th for a high-level dinner discussion on the GRC’s efforts in the Gaza strip.  Between 2012 and 2018 the committee has spent upwards of $400mm in completing and undergoing several projects including the Bin Khalifa residential City which encompasses 116 buildings, and more than 2,000 apartments, the Palace of Justice, several sports facilities and stadiums, a reservoir, more than 40km of roadway, a hospital and rehabilitation center and several other housing complexes.  The GRC works in tandem with other multilateral and international reconstruction groups.  All projects are fully financed through bank transfers in USD allowing them to be fully monitored by the US banking system.  All projects also go through a rigorous planning and approval process with the Israeli government.


Discussion points mainly focused on the challenges to operating a construction project in the Gaza strip and possibilities for future improvement in the reconstruction effort.  The efficiency and effectiveness with which the GRC has been able to complete its projects thus far is largely due to good faith cooperation between Qatar and the Israeli government resulting in on-time material arrivals and border crossing efficiencies. Challenges to working in the Gaza strip include uncertainty around electricity supply and obstacles to making reconstruction efforts a Palestinian-owned process.  Unreliable electricity streams are available only 3-8 hours a day, which makes planning difficult and results in higher costs for reliable per-kw coverage.


General discussion focused on the opportunity for further collaboration between various Palestinian and Israeli groups to bring people of the Gaza strip what they need to transform their economy into a high-tech economy and inspire innovation. The talk encouraged collaboration on this and several fronts and ended in a positive commitment to the betterment of Gaza’s people.  Al-Emadi reiterated the importance of providing hope to the Palestinian people through development and reconstruction financing and the importance of such funding to the prevention of the spread of radicalism and further violence.


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U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue Bolsters Bilateral Ties – Remarks at the High-Level Opening Session of the Inaugural U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue

The inaugural U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue opened at the State Department in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, 30 January 2018 with remarks by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, and Qatari Defense Minister Khalid bin Muhammad al-Atiyah:

Three bilateral memorandums were signed at the high-level dialogue, aimed at strengthening the U.S.-Qatar relationship:

The first is a memorandum of understanding that establishes the convention for this U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue on an annual basis going forward, so that we can continue to build on the close partnership between our two countries.

The second document is a joint declaration outlining the United States cooperation with Qatar on matters of shared regional and security interests.

The third document is a memorandum of understanding that creates a framework for the cooperation between the United States and Qatar to combat human trafficking.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson praised the close relationship between the U.S. and Qatar, and outlined the topics of discussion for the dialogue:

Qatar is a strong partner and a longtime friend of the United States. We value the U.S.-Qatar relationship and hope the talks today deepen our strategic ties. In today’s Strategic Dialogue sessions, we will discuss important areas of cooperation, including trade and investment, security, counterterrorism, energy, and aviation. The United States believes enhanced trade will contribute positively to both our countries’ economic development, and create jobs for the American people and Qatari citizens while furthering the region’s security and stability.

Mr. Tillerson condemned the ongoing Gulf crisis as harmful to U.S. and regional security interests:

As the Gulf dispute nears the eight-month mark, the United States remains as concerned today as we were at its outset. This dispute has had direct negative consequences economically and militarily for those involved, as well as the United States. We are concerned by the rhetoric and propaganda employed in the region, playing out daily in Arab mainstream and social media.

It is critical that all parties minimize rhetoric, exercise restraint to avoid further escalation, and work toward a resolution. A united GCC bolsters our effectiveness on many fronts, particularly on counterterror – countering terrorism, defeating ISIS, and countering the spread of Iran’s malign influence.

The Secretary of State recounted the progress achieved under a July 2017 bilateral anti-terrorism finance MoU:

As a result of the memorandum of understanding our countries signed in July, the United States and Qatar have increased information sharing on terrorists and terrorist financiers. We have participated in counterterrorism technical training and taken steps to improve aviation security. We look forward to building on this foundation and implementing next steps.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis reaffirmed the U.S.-Qatar relationship in strong terms:

A strong and valued military partner, Qatar is a longtime friend in the region. Even in the midst of its own current challenges, Qatar and the United States maintain excellent military-to-military relations, hosting Al Udeid Air Base, home to our Combined Air Operations Center, the United States Air Force Central Command Forward Headquarters, and U.S. Central Command’s Forward Headquarters, providing critical counterterrorism support to the Defeat ISIS/Defeat Daesh coalition and President Trump’s South Asia strategy.

The Secretary of Defense thanked Qatar for its regional security efforts, and called for a reunified GCC:

We are grateful to Qatar for their longstanding support of America’s present and continuing commitment to regional security, a commitment that includes information sharing and counterterrorism training.

As Secretary Tillerson stated, a united Gulf Cooperation Council bolsters our effectiveness on many fronts, particularly on countering terrorism, defeating ISIS/Daesh, and countering the spread of Iran’s malign influence. It is thus critical that the GCC recovers its cohesion as the proud Gulf nations return to mutual support through a peaceful resolution that provides for enhanced regional stability and prosperity.

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani noted the increasingly close relationship among U.S. and Qatari leadership:

Holding this immensely significant first session of Qatar-U.S. Strategic Dialogue come as an expression and a celebration of the enduring and the close affiliation between our two countries. In a recent January phone call between the President of United States Donald Trump and His Highness the Emir of Qatar, there – they have emphasized their mutual determination to strengthen the bilateral relation. A number of major agreements will be signed today covering defense, trade, investment, and energy – all area where Qatar is committed to investing in America’s economy.

Foreign Minister al-Thani touted the successful investment relationship between the two nations; from infrastructure to education:

Qatar is already investing more than $100 billion in the U.S. economy, including $10 billion earmarked for infrastructure. Qatar and U.S. private sector have devoted substantial resources to the other, U.S. companies doing business in Qatar within construction, energy, and services industry. Qatari companies are investing in the U.S. financial services, health care, and technology markets.

From Qatar hosting six prominent U.S. universities in our education city, to Qatar investment in the LNG Golden Pass in Texas, our countries have shared interests – interests that translate into job opportunities for the American and Qatari people. To make all these investments flourish, regional security is essential. So today we will also discuss a range of security issues, including shared threats and further opportunities of regional cooperation.

Qatari Defense Minister Khalid bin Muhammad al-Atiyah reaffirmed the U.S.-Qatar alliance:

The state of Qatar has never waived its commitment to stand with friends and allies, especially when the – when they needed us the most. When other in the region were no longer able to accommodate U.S. present of their soil, Qatar eased restriction and expedited its offer to host its ally. Al Udeid airbase, which currently hosts 11,000 of your brave men and women, has been at the epicenter of the global fight against terrorism. Qatar has spared no effort in increasing the readiness and efficiency of Al Udeid operation by investing billions of dollar in the direct infrastructure and maintenance of the strategic airbase.

The Minister of State for Defense Affairs reported that his country values the United States as a trusted ally in security cooperation:

We are looking toward the future of our military partnership with the United States as we plan for the year ahead. Qatar and its trusted ally have reaffirmed their commitment toward the stability and prosperity of both nation. The recent purchased of the F-15s fighter jets signal a new era of cooperation. This strategic bird will assure our readiness to protect our own border and aid our allies further in our collective fight toward peace and stability. Creation of tens of thousand of jobs directs – new jobs, and ten of thousand more of indirect creation job.






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Qatar: Year of Crisis Spurred Rights Reforms


(Beirut) – Qatar announced a range of significant human rights reforms during 2017 that if carried out would usher in some of the most progressive human rights standards in the gulf region, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018.

The reforms include legislation that can dramatically improve labor standards for migrant workers, including a migrant domestic workers law, and to grant permanent residency to children born to Qatari mothers and foreign fathers and to some foreign residents living in the country.

“Qatar could have retrenched into authoritarianism in the face of a political crisis but instead has responded to a breakdown in neighborly relations by raising the bar on human rights standards in the Gulf,” said Belkis Wille, senior Qatar researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Implementing its commitments to respecting the rights of Qatari women, millions of migrant workers, and vulnerable refugees in the country will be the real measure of its success in 2018.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic relations with Qatar citing political grievances and demands. The crisis precipitated a range of human rights violationsagainst people living in Qatar, infringing on their right to free expression, separating families, and interrupting medical care and education.

On August 3, the Qatari cabinet moved to protect the legal status of foreign nationals in Qatar, approving a draft law that would allow permanent residence for children of Qatari women married to non-Qataris, as well as expatriates who “provide outstanding services to Qatar.” While the law falls short of granting women the same rights as Qatari men to pass citizenship to their children, it would help children of Qatari women secure resident status in Qatar even if they do not have valid passports from another country. The law could also help Emirati, Egyptian, Bahraini, and Saudi nationals who otherwise have no rights to legal residence in the country but who remain there for family or work reasons or because they fear persecution in their home countries.

The government’s most significant reform commitments came in protections for the nearly 2 million migrant workers in the country who make up 95 percent of the country’s workforce but are barred from unionizing or collective action. The government passed a new law to protect migrant domestic workers and pledged to end the sponsorship system of labor employment and to implement a minimum wage.

On August 22, the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, ratified Law No.15 on service workers in the home. The law grants labor protections for the first time to Qatar’s 173,742 domestic workers. The new law guarantees domestic workers a maximum 10-hour workday, a weekly rest day, three weeks of annual leave, an end-of-service payment, and healthcare benefits. However, the new law is still weaker than the country’s general Labor Law and does not fully conform to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention, the global treaty on domestic workers’ rights.

On October 26, Qatar committed to extensive reforms of its kafala (sponsorship) system, which ties workers to individual sponsors for their visa and employment, replacing it with a system of government-sponsored employment. It also promised to institute a nondiscriminatory minimum wage, improve the payment of wages, end passport confiscation, enhance labor inspections and occupational safety and health, including with a heat mitigation strategy, and improve labor recruitment procedures.

Qatar also unblocked local access to the Doha News website, the country’s only independent news website, which authorities had ordered Qatar’s two internet service providers, Vodafone and Ooredoo, to block on November 30, 2016.

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Tiny, Wealthy Qatar Goes Its Own Way, and Pays for It

NY Times – Tiny, Wealthy Qatar Goes Its Own Way, and Pays for It

This New York Times article, published this morning, by Declan Walsh presents a snapshot of the Gulf crisis from perspectives not necessarily endorsed by Qatar-America Institute. QAI encourages the reader to do their own research on this topic, including with the links at the end of this post.

HH the Emir proclaimed Qatar’s independent foreign policy as the true explanation for an ongoing blockade that cut off his country from its Gulf neighbors:

“They don’t like our independence,” he said in an interview in New York in September. “They see it as a threat.”

Qatar’s foes accuse it of financing terrorism, cozying up to Iran and harboring fugitive dissidents. They detest Al Jazeera, Qatar’s rambunctious and highly influential satellite network. And — although few say it openly — they appear intent on ousting Qatar’s young leader, Tamim, from his throne.

Tamim denies the accusations, and chalks up the animosity to simple jealousy.

The blockade turned out to be the first strike of a sweeping campaign that has electrified the Middle East:

[Saudi Arabia] has shaped the Trump administration’s approach to the Middle East and his endeavors could have far-reaching consequences, potentially driving up energy prices, upending Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and raising the chances of war with Iran.

The Qatar dispute is perhaps the least understood piece of the action, but it has a particularly nasty edge.

Sheikh Tamim’s young, steadfast rule is markedly different than that of his Gulf neighbors:

His rise to power in 2013, at the age of 33, offered a stark contrast with the gerontocracy of Saudi Arabia, where rulers clung to their thrones till reaching their deathbeds. And his easy manner belies a stubborn streak that his neighbors see as the mark of a dangerous gadfly.

Qatari society has been a boon for transformative changes in the region:

While Saudi women will finally be allowed to drive in June, Qatari women have been driving for decades. In Qatar, there are cinemas, bars and even female race jockeys. Christians can worship openly.

Tamim lauds his country’s democratic values. In 50 years, he recently predicted, Al Jazeera will be seen to have “changed the whole idea of free speech in the region.” In many respects, it already has.

In the Middle East, though, Qatar’s rulers have deployed their wealth to assert their independence from their larger neighbors:

For decades, Saudi Arabia, which is 186 times as large, treated Qatar as a virtual vassal state. In the 1940s, Saudi rulers took a slice of Qatar’s modest oil revenues; later they nibbled at Qatar’s territory and dictated its foreign and defense policy.

Tamim’s father, Hamad, accused the Saudis of trying to oust him in a failed coup in 1996 — a bitter episode that has framed the decades of simmering rivalry ever since.

Striking out on their own, the Qataris at first played the role of regional peacemaker, turning Doha into a sort of Geneva-on-the-Gulf where protagonists from wars in Sudan, Somalia and Lebanon could hash out their differences in five-star hotels. They embraced America, hosting a vast air base since 2003, the year of the Iraq war, and won popular influence through Al Jazeera, whose provocative style irked just about every Arab government.

U.S. officials determined the Qatar News Agency hack, a precursor to the June 2017 blockade, originated from the one of the blockading nations:

American intelligence officials determined that the planting of the fake news story had been orchestrated by the Emirates, which had been quietly pushing for a boycott of Qatar since 2016, a United States official told The New York Times.

Qatar has responded to the blockade with unprecedented ingenuity and resourcefulness, as well as a renewed national patriotism:

[Sheikh Tamim’s] ministers, making a virtue of necessity, are developing new trade and transportation links. To make up for lost Saudi milk, they created a new dairy industry from scratch in the desert. In a surreal tableau one day in July, German cows toddled down the ramp of a Qatar Airways Airbus at the Doha airport, the first arrivals of around 4,000 cattle flown in from Europe, Australia and California.

The Emir’s image adorns billboards draped off skyscrapers, and he is lionized in saccharine songs hailing his steely leadership. “He’s the embodiment of the philosopher king,” said Dana al-Fardan, one such balladeer.

Is Qatar soft on terrorism? Some of the charges are red herrings, American officials say:

Tamim cut funding to most extremist militias in Syria and Islamist groups in Libya in 2015, at the urging of the Obama administration.

Fact Sheet: Qatar Combatting Extremism at its Source

Report: Qatar Takes Aggressive Action Against Terrorism Finance


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UN Report Condemns Human Rights Violations During Siege

“The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights released a Report On the Impact of the Gulf Crisis on Human Rights detailing human rights violations stemming from the diplomatic siege against Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain (the “Quartet”).

Report On the Impact of the Gulf Crisis on Human Rights

The Report On the Impact of the Gulf Crisis on Human Rights follows up on the High Commissioner’s statement on June 14, 2017 urging all parties involved in the crisis to act quickly to solve the dispute and refrain from actions that could run counter to international human rights law. The report identifies four categories of victims in the diplomatic crisis:

  1. Qataris living or studying in the Quartet countries who were forced to leave
  2. Quartet nationals who lived in Qatar and were forced to leave
  3. Migrant workers in Qatar who lost their jobs and face new economic pressure
  4. The citizens of Qatar and the Quartet in general

Several human rights violations are noted in the report, including:

Media instrumentalization and speech restrictions: state media sources in the quartet countries have been leveraged to promote anti-Qatar messaging across media formats and governments have implemented new criminal restrictions on expressions of sympathy towards Qatar.

  • Restriction of communications and freedom of movement: both Qatari and Quartet nationals have suffered sweeping new restrictions on their freedom of movement and communications. Family bonds were disrupted, students’ studies were interrupted, and workers’ employment was forcibly suspended.
  • Separation of families based on nationality and residence: the diplomatic crisis has put thousands of Qatari and Quartet citizens in mixed marriages in a precarious legal position, with many being forcibly separated from families or risking loss of citizenship and even statelessness.
  • Economic and property rights: Qataris with business in the Quartet countries lost access to their businesses and, with all financial transactions suspended, were left unable to provide salaries, pensions, rents, bill payments, and more.
  • Health rights: Qatar’s Ministry of Health has tracked over a hundred cases of Qataris previously seeking healthcare treatment in Quartet countries whose care was interrupted as a result of the diplomatic crisis and who were forced to seek care elsewhere. Despite this, Qatar has continued treating Quartet country residents in Qatar without discrimination with respect to nationality.
  • Education rights: Qatar’s Ministry of Education estimates over 200 cases of Qatari students studying in Quartet countries whose studies were effectively suspended as a result of the crisis. While Qatar University and the Ministry of Education have succeeded in placing many students in corresponding programs in Qatar, many students lack access to the necessary paperwork, were enrolled in differently credited classes, or were simply studying areas that are not yet available in Qatar.

The High Commissioner found that the non-targeted nature of the diplomatic siege, which fails to differentiate between the government of Qatar and its citizens, constitutes the definition of unilateral coercive measures to a degree. While the Qatari National Human Rights Committee has worked diligently to solve human rights problems arising from the crisis on a case-by-case basis, most cases remain unresolved and are expected to have a long term effect on the victims.

Read the Report On the Impact of the Gulf Crisis on Human Rights


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