x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Candid chat with Qatari royal who gives his take on the big issues

Sheikh Mohamed bin Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, a former minister, is these days a well-travelled author and speaker.

I met up recently with Sheikh Mohamed bin Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, the Qatari royal who has spent a good part of his career at the heart of what the Gulf island state does best – energy and business.

He was a leader of the energy business in the early phase of his career, then served as minister of economy and commerce for three years until 2006.

Now he is more or less a full time author, travelling speaker and thought leader. With two books under his belt, he is working on a third, the subject of which I can reveal exclusively … a little later.

He was in Dubai speaking at a business conference, but took an hour from his busy schedule to take some coffee and elucidate his views on some of the big issues facing the world today.

Some of his views were given “off the record”, so I cannot tell you what he thinks of Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who led Britain to war in Iraq. Nor can I reveal his innermost thoughts on the state of Qatari politics, for the very good reason that he is not directly involved in the government any more.

But he speaks with the authority of an Al Thani, so his views are worth recording. “I think the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan led eventually to the Arab Spring. Iraq was a stable country, but when the government there was removed it left the field open to outside influence. The same happened in Afghanistan,” he said.

He elaborated: “If Iraq was still at the centre of the Arab world it would have stood with Egypt, and maybe we would have avoided some of the chaos. Don’t mistake me, I think it was a good thing for Egyptians to have got rid of Mubarak, but Iraq and Egypt were the most stable countries in the region and with them gone it left others less stable. I believe Iraq could have eased the way to a solution in Syria.”

On the role of America in the region, his views are equally candid. “I believe the US is in the process of disengaging from the region, but it will take perhaps 20 years for them to do so completely. The economics don’t work for them any more. They haven’t imported oil and gas from the Middle East for a long time, but equally they don’t want to see control of energy supplies slip out of their hands, even if the oil is going elsewhere to premium buyers.”

He believed changes in the region heralded by the Arab Spring are a good thing. “Diversity is the way of the future, it is good for the economy and for society. Of course it would take a long time to develop a pure western model of democracy, but I believe we in the Gulf are heading towards a system that is more modern, but which also includes religion, the tribal groupings of the Gulf and other parts of society.”

He did talk “on the record” about Qatar’s success in winning the Fifa World Cup: “I think the western media, especially the British newspaper The Guardian, has been leading an attack on Qatar with no justification. In nine years’ time we will stage the best World Cup people can possibly imagine, but I think it will be held in the winter months.”

What is he working on now? After two books, one on Qatar history, the other on the Arab Spring, he is now researching a study of Islam and its role in the political systems of the region. “It is about how to get inspiration from Islam, and how Islam can help organise a society.”