The Doha Conference: A SUCCESS STORY [Archives:1997/47/Law & Diplomacy]

November 24 1997

If there is one thing that the recently held economic conference of the Middle East and North Africa proves, it is that ‘scare tactics’ work in the Arab World. Many Arab officials alleged that the conference was nothing short of a plot. Its goal, they said was to enable Israel to control and dominate the Arab economies. Unfortunately, the scare tactic worked as Arab leaders, which lack adequate self-confidence, either stayed away from the conference or sent junior representatives. The glaring exception is that wise man, the King of Jordan. I defied a lot of pressure to attend the conference. Yemen Times fully paid for my travel, room and board expenses. I did not find any Israeli dominance, and I did not find any Americans pushing anybody anywhere. What I found was lots of business people just too happy to be left alone by the politicians who stayed away. The business people worked on deals, some of which were consummated during the conference, and others are in varying stages of negotiations. Let me speak about three countries in specific terms, as follows:
1. QATAR: The State of Qatar has a bold and strong ruler. He has a clear vision and he goes for it. Thus, he is not the type of person to be intimidated. Qatar carried out its obligation to the region and the world community. The Emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifah Al Thani, in his speech, at the inauguration ceremony charted a clear course. Nobody will intimidate Qatar into abandoning the conference, and Netanyahu’s Israel will not have a smooth ride. On both counts, he gained my respect. For all practical purposes, Qatar has shown the world it is a reliable partner.
2. JORDAN: The Kingdom of Jordan played a major role in the conference. The Jordanian team included a Vice Prime Minister, two ministers and a lot of senior officials. They came with lots of information and proposals for joint projects and other investments. Under the leadership of King Hussain, Jordan is clearly a country that is claiming for itself a place among the future-oriented nations.
3. YEMEN: Yemen decided to participate in the conference. I am happy with the decision. Unfortunately, Yemen’s participation was with a medium-level two-person official delegation. Its mandate was, as the delegates themselves pitifully acknowledged, to do nothing.
If Yemen had come to the conference with a senior delegation, it would have easily capitalized on side-meetings with many senior officials officials from the USA, Canada, Russia, Germany, UK, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Japan, Korea, etc. It would have linked with the business people and media personalities. We have many things to tell the world about our internal and regional concerns. We have many things to ask of our international partners. The conference was a foreign policy mistake, as we missed a golden opportunity. After all, given the absence of the heavy-weight Arab countries, Yemen could have stolen the show had it played its cards right.
The conference was successful. In terms of the number of participants, some 2017 delegates attended. In terms of the total value of contracts signed, the amount was above US$ 15 billion. In my opinion however, the conference was successful because business people had a free hand to go about their deals with the least political interference, as politicians from many Arab countries decided to boycott the meetings.
By: Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf, Yemen Times.