By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
The Saudi-led economic blockade of Qatar may still be in force, but that didn’t stop the Arabian Peninsula state’s ambassador to Mexico, Mohammed bin Jassim M.A. al-Kuwari, from celebrating his country’s national day with a lavish diplomatic reception at Mexico City’s Four Seasons Hotel on Thursday, Dec. 13.
“Qatar today is recognized worldwide for the fruit of the vision of Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Khalifa al-Thani, who worked arduously, along with the current emir, Tamin (bin Hamad) al-Thani, to modernize the emirate and promote a more active foreign policy, independent of surrounding countries, based on the principle of the fostering of peace and cooperation with peaceloving nations,” Al-Kuwari said at the start of the event, which commemorated the country’s 1878 unification.
“Our desire to maintain a policy independent from the rest of the Arab Gulf states has caused tensions with them, culminating in the current blockade by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, which has been in place since June 5, 2017.”
Al-Kuwari said that the punitive air, sea and land embargo against Qatar, which has exacted a high economic price on the little oil- and gas-rich nation ,not only represents a “violation of international treaties and agreements,” but is a threat to Qatar’s national sovereignty.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain claim they cut diplomatic ties with Doha and imposed the blockade because it was allegedly “supporting terrorism” and opposition political movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
Qatar denies these accusations, noting that the embargo is instead linked to Doha’s economic and political rapprochement with Tehran, Riyadh’s archrival.
“Nevertheless, the blockade has made us firmer in our commitment to negotiate unconditionally (with other nations) … because in Qatar, we have a diverse, self-sufficient economy that is based on rapid and sustainable development,” Al-Kuwari said.
Qatar, which earlier this month announced its withdrawal from the Saudi-dominated Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as of January, will not give in to the pressures of external powers nor relinquish its national independence, Al-Kuwari said.
The ambassador then abruptly changed the subject to Qatar’s bilateral relations with Mexico, with which Doha has maintained diplomatic ties since 1975 and with which combined two-way trade amounts to about $60 million annually.
Al-Kuwari noted that Qatar Petroleum International just a few days earlier had signed a deal with Italy’s Eni to acquire a 35 percent stake in three Mexican offshore oilfields.
He also spoke about Qatar’s progressive development, saying that in his country, women play a significant role in government, diplomacy and business.
Al-Kuwari likewise pointed out that the Qatari foundation “Teach a Child” has helped to educate more than 10 million children worldwide.
Al-Kuwari reminded his guests that next year Qatar will host the 17th edition of the World Athletics Championships, as well as the FIFA World Soccer Cup in 2022.
The envoy concluded his speech by offering his thanks to former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and wishes for success to current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who took office on Dec. 1.
“I want to reiterate our country’s disposition to strengthen relations both with the people and government of Mexico on all levels,” Al-Kuwari said.
The Al-Thani family has ruled Qatar since the mid-1800s.
On Dec. 18, 1878, Jassim bin Mohammed al-Thani succeeded his father Mohammed bin Thani as head of the Qatari Peninsula.
He is credited with having unified all the local tribes by combating external forces, such as the Ottomans.
He also earned a considerable degree of autonomy for the tribes of the peninsula.
After its independence from Great Britain in 1971, Qatar underwent a dramatic transformation from a poor British protectorate noted mainly for pearling into a rich state with significant oil and natural gas revenues.
But during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Qatari economy was crippled by a continuous siphoning off of petroleum revenues by the emir, who had ruled the country since 1972.
His son, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, overthrew the father in a bloodless coup in 1995.
The more progressive Hamad oversaw the creation of the pan-Arab satellite news network Al-Jazeera and Qatar’s pursuit of a leadership role in mediating regional conflicts.
As of 2007, oil and natural gas revenues had enabled Qatar to attain the highest per capita income in the world.
In mid-2013, Hamad transferred power to his 33 year-old son, Tamim bin Hamad in a peaceful abdication.
Tamim, who paid a state visit to Mexico in November 2015, has prioritized improving the domestic welfare of Qataris, including establishing advanced healthcare and education systems and expanding the country’s infrastructure.
Unlike many other other Near Eastern and North African countries, Qatar has not experienced domestic unrest or violence as a result of the so-called Arab Spring, due in large part to its immense wealth.