Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and thank you very much, Your Excellency, for that very kind introduction.
It is truly a great honor to be here in Singapore, and to address such a prominent audience. I am most grateful to the Middle East Institute, and to its Director, Professor Ho, and also to Professor Tan Eng Chye, the Deputy President of the National University of Singapore – the finest university in Asia – for inviting me to this unique event.
This is the first MEI lecture since the recent passing of His Excellency Mr. S.R. Nathan, the former president of the Republic of Singapore, and on behalf of the government of Qatar I wish to express my heartfelt condolences to the government and the people of Singapore on the occasion of his passing. May his soul rest in peace.
This is, in fact, my first visit to Singapore as Qatar’s Foreign Minister, but I should note that my visit was preceded by His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, who came here last March to personally convey his condolences after the passing of the great Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founder and first Prime Minister. His Highness the Emir considered Mr. Lee to be one of the great pioneers and visionaries of the modern world, and wanted to pay his personal respects.
I was especially pleased to get an invitation to speak at the Middle East Institute today because it offered me an opportunity to meet government and business leaders, and to discuss some key policy issues that are crucial to our two nations.
But selfishly, I was also pleased to have an opportunity to spend more time in Singapore. It’s no secret that many of us in the Gulf share a deep admiration for what you in Singapore have achieved. What you have accomplished, against all odds, is, indeed, a model for our young and growing nations in the Arabian Peninsula, and for developing nations throughout the world.
As most of you may know, Qatar and Singapore have had a long and friendly relationship. Your port, the largest in the ASEAN region, has become a strategically important hub for Qatar’s LNG exports, and Qatar is now the third-largest trading partner for Singapore in the Middle East.
I am also proud of the fact that Qatari companies are well represented here in Singapore. Doha Bank has had a branch here since 2006, and Qatar National Bank since 2008. Ooredoo, our national phone carrier, holds shares in StarHub, and Qatar Airways now operates three flights daily between Hamad International and Changi Airport.
And Qatar Investment Authority, our sovereign wealth fund, is also active in Singapore. QIA is making long-term investments designed to provide a secure income for our citizens for generations to come. These investments are also the “glue” that binds our two nations as long-term business partners.
But Qatar and Singapore have more in common than business. We are both young nations that are geographically small. Like Singapore, Qatar understands that the future of our nation depends upon two key factors: good governance, and the development of our most precious resource: human capital.
As Mr. Lee Kuan Yew once said, “A nation is not great by size alone. It is the will, the cohesion, the stamina, the discipline of its people, and the quality of their leaders which ensures it an honorable place in history.”
So like you, we have pursued policies that make our government accountable to our people, and transparent in its decision-making. Yes, we are a monarchy, and proud of it, but we have evolved into a consultative form of government that is responsive to the needs of our people, and which enjoys a level of support and legitimacy that most governments could only aspire to.
We have promoted gender equality, and I am proud to say that women now occupy senior leadership and executive positions in our government and in the private industry. And yes, women in Qatar do drive – I’m asked that question a lot!
Significantly, there has also been a dramatic increase in university admissions for women – the girls now outnumber the boys – which bodes well for gender equality in the future.
Education is, in fact, a key driver in Qatar’s development of human capital. We know that our carbon-based economy will not last forever, and that we must move to a knowledge-based economy to provide a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren. Without advanced and high-quality education, no progress can be achieved. We in Qatar realize this and we have made education a priority
What you have done here at Singapore’s National University, we have done at Education City in Doha. There, major universities from around the world share an extraordinary “mega campus” that allows students to study everything from political science to hard science, from archaeology to architecture. And yes – another question I’m often asked – our students enjoy the same opportunities for free speech and open inquiry that they would have at the “home” campuses of these universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, or France.
We are following this path because we want to educate our children to be citizens in an interconnected world, where cities like Doha and Singapore will continue to attract leadership and talent from around the world, and offer unparalleled opportunities for cultural and economic synergy. That’s what being a “hub” will mean in the 21st century.
We have even embedded human development into our foreign policy, by providing aid and developmental assistance – and even offering our mediation services – as proactive measures to help avert future conflicts.
I found it interesting to read on MEI's website that you describe Singapore as a “crossroads of the world,” much as we describe Qatar. As an aside, I was also somewhat amused to see that your mission statement refers to the Middle East as “West Asia,” which – perhaps unsurprisingly? – puts Singapore right at the heart of Asia! I’m sure that every nation and every culture thinks of itself as being at the center of the world. And I suppose that we, in Qatar, are no exception.
But over in “West Asia,” we have learned that engaging with the world requires tolerance for diversity and respect for minority cultures… so, we are an Arab, Muslim country that welcomes people of all faiths and ethnicities. This, in turn, has allowed us to engage with the many nations of Asia… who have become our trading partners, our political allies, and our friends.
We have also worked to maintain our friendships and our partnerships with our neighbors throughout the Arabian Peninsula.
But these, of course, are difficult times. I know many of you are following developments in the Middle East closely, so I would now like to turn to a discussion of some of the challenges we’re facing – including, of course, the ongoing crisis in Syria.
But before I do, I think it might be helpful to outline the principles and goals of Qatar’s foreign policy in broad strokes.
In general terms, we seek:
- To advance international peace and security by encouraging the peaceful resolution of international disputes.
- (This is supported by our “Open Door” policy, which I’ll discuss further in a moment)
- To support the right to self-determination.
(This clearly applies to Palestine, but is also relevant to our views on the Arab Spring and on the counter-revolutions that have followed)
- To refrain from interference in the domestic affairs of other states.
(If we expect others to respect our sovereignty, we must respect the sovereignty of others).
- And to cooperate with all nations that seek peace.
Since Qatar took up a two-year rotating seat at the UN Security Council in 2006, our nation has been an active mediator in cross border and intranational conflicts in the Middle East, North Africa, and East Africa. As always, our objective has been to maintain global peace and security and to promote natural relations with all state and non-state actors.
In all of our mediation efforts, we feel that we were able to achieve success largely because we always keep our doors open to all parties in every dispute. And today, Doha has earned a reputation as “neutral territory” … a place where Fatah can talk to Hamas; where the US can negotiate with the Taliban; and where rival factions can reconcile their differences.
But there is no denying the fact that the Arab Spring and the counter-revolutions that followed have turned the Middle East upside down. In fact, the events of the past five years have resulted in the most significant changes to the political and geographical landscape of the Middle East since the Sykes-Picot agreement.
In our view, the counter-revolutions in many Arab states have, unfortunately, reversed the initial gains of freedom and liberty achieved by the people in the early years of the movement. Far worse, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, along with the hopes and dreams of an entire generation. Meanwhile, Bashar Al-Assad is holding the international community hostage to his desire to remain in power at any human cost.
And nowhere is that more apparent than in Aleppo, which has been mercilessly besieged by the Al-Assad regime for months on end. Qatar was forced to close its health center there this past weekend after our facility was repeatedly struck by bombs. Two patients were killed and eight wounded, and half of the clinic was destroyed in what Dr. Hashem Darwish from Qatar Red Crescent described as a “war crime.”
The news on the diplomatic front is equally bad. As I’m sure you are all aware, talks between the United States and Russia that were meant to deliver a ceasefire in Aleppo have now broken down, leaving hundreds of thousands of civilians in mortal jeopardy.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The conscience of humanity is deeply shocked by such merciless and inhumane violence. The international community must intervene and bring the fighting in Syria to an end. And we must bring war criminals like Bashar Al-Assad, who are conducting these mass murders, to justice. If the great global powers are unable – or unwilling – to bring the violence to an end, then we believe that the UN Security Council, under the authority of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, must intervene. Geopolitics and sectarian divisions cannot stand in the way of peace.
For this we do know: the longer the fighting, the greater the sacrifice of human capital, and the more likely that desperate, hopeless young men and women will be radicalized and lured into the extremist camp.
As we have seen, the disease of terrorism knows no borders. Inspired by the radicals in the Middle East, young men and women in Europe, North America, Africa, the subcontinent, and, yes, in the Far East, have taken up the extremist cause. These extremists are a threat to us in Doha, and to you here in Singapore.
There are certainly battles that we will have to fight in the short-term. The so-called Islamic State may be struggling, but it is not yet defeated. And despots like Bashar Al-Assad are still in power in Syria.
But in the long term, we feel that our focus on good governance and the development of human capital will triumph in the end. As we reinforce the foundations of responsive and transparent government, and strengthen our commitment to the rule of law, we will meet the needs of our citizens. And as we create more opportunities for our people to reach their full potential, we will undermine the rationale for the extremists.
Qatar and Singapore share this commitment to good governance and the development of human capital. These are shared values, and they form the bedrock of our friendship, and our partnership.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for the opportunity to address this prestigious gathering, and thank you, again, for giving me this opportunity to spend more time in Singapore. I hope this will be the first of many visits I will make here as a representative of my country.
And now, I hope we will have time for some of your questions…