Qatari ambassador to France: We have never been to the suburbs; we are not financing ANY groups in the Arab world, just Biz
A truly incredible interview with the Qatari ambassador to France…. The most trusted name in Arab diplomacy here.
Al-Monitor: Qatar recently set up a fund to help France’s disenfranchised regions, among them France’s marginalized suburbs. What is the business logic behind that?
Mohamed Al Kuwari: There is a misunderstanding regarding this issue. We never announced that Qatar is going to invest in the suburbs.
Al-Monitor: And where’s the business logic?
Mohamed Al Kuwari: There is a logic, of course. In our economic cooperation with France, there are some areas we haven’t covered yet, which are small and medium enterprises. We need this type of businesses because you know that Qatar is buying everything. So it is important to create factories in Qatar, and especially small and medium enterprises, instead of importing goods. Down the line we hope to sell our goods in the Gulf.
Al-Monitor: The French government said the fund will target marginalized regions, why?
Mohamed Al Kuwari: We never said we would do that […] The French government will propose the projects and then we will choose. We won’t choose the areas. It can be anywhere: in the suburbs, cities, towns, villages or mountains …
Al-Monitor: Some French politicians, journalists and civil-society activists have denounced this fund as nothing short of an intrusion in French politics. Some even accused Qatar of trying to propagate its own brand of orthodox Islam or Wahhabism in the disenfranchised and largely Muslim suburbs. What do you have to say to them?
Mohamed Al Kuwari: The government of France knows perfectly if the ambassador has contacts with certain groups, if the ambassador was in the suburbs trying to recruit and talk to people. We have never been there! If there is any proof that Qatar is interfering in the suburbs of France, let them give us proof, we are ready to discuss. Qatar is dealing directly with the government of France and that is it. If there are other things [going on], I am the ambassador to France and I don’t know, and I’d really like to know.
Al-Monitor: Maybe there is this perception among French observers that Qatar could interfere with Islam in France because you are supporting Islamists in the Arab world, especially after the Arab Spring?
Mohamed Al Kuwari: I tell you: We are not financing any groups in the Arab world. We are speaking and engaged in a dialogue, yes, because Qatar speaks with everybody in the region and in the world. We have to speak to these groups, to the new political groups. We have to direct them a bit. But we only finance business investments in the Arab Spring countries.
Al-Monitor: Does Qatar welcome the election of Islamist parties at the helm in both Tunisia and Egypt?
Mohamed Al Kuwari: We think [the Arab Spring] is very positive. People are free but it’s not the end of things. They have to struggle more, improve the political process, the economy. But it takes time.
Al-Monitor: How about Qatar, a conservative sheikhdom — are you also trying to bring about more democracy?
Mohamed Al Kuwari: We will have a parliamentary election next year. We have a free press, freedom of speech, we have no political prisoners. […] For almost 10 years we have had municipal elections. The parliament will have full powers. It can even dissolve the government under certain circumstances.
Al-Monitor: Why did it take so long to have a parliamentary election?
Mohamed Al Kuwari: The decision came actually from the Emir; it was not a demand of the people […] because democracy will help socio-economic development. The Emir is correct to let things come gradually because of our conservative, tribal society. Thank God our economic situation is stable, and that will help us a lot to get the process going gradually.
Al-Monitor: Al-Jazeera openly supported the Arab revolutions. Is the channel the foreign-policy arm of the Qatari government, which, incidentally, funds the channel?
Mohamed Al Kuwari: I am not the ambassador of Al-Jazeera. When we created Al-Jazeera, we gave an independent status to the channel. They choose their editorial policy and have nothing to do with the official policy of Qatar. It is an independent channel whether in English, Arabic and hopefully in French soon.
Al-Monitor: How can you be independent when you get all your money from a government?
Mohamed Al Kuwari: People believe the BBC is independent but they don’t expect Al-Jazeera to be, why? At least, consider Al-Jazeera the same way you consider the BBC.
Al-Monitor: Are you helping the rebellion militarily in Syria?
Mohamed Al Kuwari: We are helping in a humanitarian way, yes.