WTO host Qatar begins feeling the heat

Published May 20th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

The decision in January by the World Trade Organization (WTO) to hold its fourth ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001, has sparked controversy. Many politically active organizations believe that the WTO chose the Gulf state as the conference venue in order to avoid a repeat of the violent demonstrations by anti-globalization protestors witnessed in Seattle in 2000.  


Opposition to the Doha venue has recently been intensifying. Among the groups protesting the location is a coalition of US-based human rights, religious, environmental, consumer, labor and family farm organizations, including, among others, the Sierra Club, the United Methodist Church, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Auto Workers and the United Steelworkers of America.  


These groups have issued a joint statement declaring: “Indeed, the WTO's consideration of Qatar for its next Ministerial Summit signals that instead of addressing protesters' concerns, the WTO will seek to silence any criticism…the Government of Qatar's record on freedom of association is notorious.”  


There is a certain irony to this, inasmuch as Qatar is home to what in the past several years has arguably constituted the most significant development in the Arabic-language mass media—namely the Al-Jazeera satellite channel.  


Al-Jazeera, which claims the title of the freest TV news service in the Arab World, has been stealing audience share with its selection of uncensored news, open debates and online polling. It has also drawn flack from a variety of governments in the region, some of which have tried to shut it down. Thus far they have been unsuccessful.  


But now Qatar is beginning to learn that the knife cuts both ways. In other words, if you can dish it out, you have to be prepared to get some back in return.  


Writing in the May 14 edition of the respected Forbes magazine, Michael Maiello, a columnist, said: “According to the US State Department, the Qatari government ‘does not allow . . . international professional organizations critical of the government or any other Arab government… During the protests in Seattle, Washington, Michael Moore, then the WTO director, gave a talk on human rights, free trade and democracy. His words may not mean much to the average Qatari, if the State Department's 2000 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices is correct.”  


It would be reasonable to assume that a not insignificant a number of Arab World leaders quietly applauded the Forbes criticism, and others like it. To date, it is they who have borne the brunt of the comment, and from a television station operated by the Qatari government.  


The Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar, will be held November 9-13. The conference is the highest decision-making body of the WTO, and is required to meet at least every two years. ― (MENA Report)

© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)

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