Qatar caught between anti-Israeli and anti-globalization crossfire
Qatar, the small, conservative Gulf emirate set to play host to a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in November, is caught in the sights of those opposing the likely presence of Israelis and that of anti-globalization demonstrators.
"Qatar wants to foster dialogue," Shaikh Abdullah Bin Ahmad Al-Thani, information chief on Qatar's WTO organizing committee, told AFP. However, regional challenges have been voiced ― from Lebanon's fundamentalist Hizbullah movement to Yemen and Kuwait, decrying the planned presence of of Israel, albeit one of the WTO's 142 members.
Qatar announced earlier this month that Israel, which is widely criticized in the Arab world for its repression of the Palestinian intifada, would be attending the ministerial conference of the WTO, planned for November 9-13 in Doha.
"All WTO member states, including Israel, will take part in the Doha conference," insisted Shaikh Hamad Bin Faisal Al-Thani, head of the Qatari organizing committee. "Qatar is not empowered to say who is and who is not taking part in the conference. The issue of participation is dealt with by the WTO," Shaikh Hamad said earlier this month.
"I hope the conference will not be politicized because it is an economic forum," he said, stressing that Qatar "adopts an automatic position in favor of the Palestinian cause."
Qatar has frozen ties with Israel, whose trade office in Doha was closed last November on the eve of an Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) summit amid criticism from other Arab and Islamic countries.
But Shaikh Hamad said Qatar had received no objection from any Arab or Islamic country to Israel's presence at the upcoming conference. Qatar, however, will also have to deal with the increasingly violent anti-globalization protestors campaigning for a version of world development that is fairer and more transparent, causing less harm to people and the environment.
Many anti-globalization demonstrators rampaged through the streets of the US city of Seattle during the last WTO ministerial conference in November 1999, seriously disrupting the meeting.
The protests shocked the authorities and helped to ignite a worldwide movement against economic globalization. It has continued to grow, culminating in the lethal shooting by police of an anti-globalization protestor at this month's Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations summit in the Italian city of Genoa.
Qatar, whose laws generally restrict freedom of assembly and forbid political demonstrations, has vowed that peaceful demonstrations will be allowed. "Those who want to protest peacefully and in a civilized manner are welcome," Shaikh Abdullah said.
But that has done little to appease human rights groups which have argued that the conservative Gulf state would have no qualms about cracking down on protesters during the conference, and whose members will have to apply for an entry visa to Qatar via the WTO offices in Geneva.
"In coordination with the WTO, we will make sure all participants, who will number 4,500 maximum, can enter and stay," Shaikh Abdullah said. Normally, a foreigner wishing to get an entry visa to Qatar must have a local sponsor.
The logistics of hosting such a conference are also set to tax the limited means of Qatar, which is home to only 600,000 people on 11,400 square kilometers (4,560 square miles) of land.
With only a dozen or so hotels, the biggest of which will host the conference and a press center, Qatari authorities will have to lodge some participants in villas and reserve the Qatar Exhibitions Center for the non-governmental organizations, according to organizers.
Lips remain sealed on law and order and the conference's budget. "We are seeing good organization," Shaikh Abdullah said, adding that the WTO and participating governments will contribute to the cost of staging the meeting. ― (AFP, Doha)
by Dima Khatib
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)