Qatar: Conciliators, Regional Superpower, or Simply Another Wealthy Arab Nation?

sheikh tamim bin hamad al-thani amir of qatar e-u. high representative for foreign and security policy and Vice president of the european commission catherine ashton in doha, qatar

sheikh tamim bin hamad al-thani amir of qatar e-u. high representative for foreign and security policy and Vice president of the european commission catherine ashton in doha, qatar

DOHA, Qatar - An internationally renowned nation which was once known only for its pearl-fishing has become a major global player. Pumping out nearly 2.3 millions of barrels of natural gas a day which gets shipped around the globe as LNG, it is in the top 25 producers of oil and gas. (Source: Forbes) 

Unfortunately, it is also currently at the center of the FIFA scandal that is reverberating around the world, yet this is not the topic of discussion here.

In the 1940s the nascent country’s oil and gas industry was developed by Western nations as they continued to implement colonization strategies that included primary control of natural resources. This all changed in the 1990s when Qatar exercised greater control of the profits from its oil and gas industry thus transforming it into one of richest countries in the Emirates.

The government recognizes that shifting from a major global supplier of oil and gas will be a long and somewhat protracted process. But, the proactive open-market policies being instituted by the government is helping Qatar to become both a major financial hub in additional to a luxury tourist destination. At the start of 2015, Qatar’s economy was ranked a score of 70.8 according to the data tracked, which means that it is the 32nd most investor friendly economies in the world. With this type of recognition comes the ability to not only exert influence, but also encourages criticism as in the case of allegations of impropriety with the award to host the 2022 World Cup soccer games to Qatar.

Owing to economic diversification, investors from different parts of the world have taken a keen interest in doing business with the country as well as establishing corporate headquarters. The ramping up of foreign investments in infrastructure, finance and banking, products and services, etc. being delivered by these foreign corporations prognosticates some excellent job opportunities in Qatar, and is one of the main reasons that it was chosen as a host country for the games.

Qatar is often regarded as a study in contradictions and is known to be significantly more liberal than many of its neighbors. Apart from Saudi Arabia, the state of Qatar is the only Middle Eastern nation to adopt Wahhabism as its official state religion. The religious demographics in Qatar seem to support both the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the militant Hamas movement, and the internecine conflict between the two is quite complex and sometimes terrifying. At the moment the ‘tug of war’ raging inside the Muslim world consists of two sides. The Salafi jihadis―or hardcore Wahhabis, who are financed and supported by Saudi Arabia versus the Muslim Brotherhood who are supported by Qatar on the other.

For years Qatar has been supporting and propagating the Muslim Brotherhood's agenda in different parts of the Middle East and North Africa through its Al Jazeera television network. Though this may seem partisan at first glance, history reveals a more nuanced story, one in which Qatar has maintained a very diplomatic approach towards an increasingly global religious dilemma. Qatar's ability to act as arbiter and play the role of conciliator was demonstrated in its role in achieving the 2008 ceasefire in Lebanon according to the online news site Asharq Al-Awsat.

Unfortunately, the world’s eyes are trained upon Syria and the tragedies that are occurring within its borders, and though Qataris are working behind the political scene to help support Syrians to establish a post-Bashar Hafez al-Assad governance, these efforts toward stabilization are not obviously visible. As with much that occurs in negotiations, what is seen in the public eye is rarely what occurs behind the scenes, and in this context Qatar always positions itself to ensure that its interests are preserved. One of the main motives and interest in facilitating peace in Syria is the hope that a more moderate form of Islam will prevail in a new Syria, and if successful, may help to garner a bigger seat at the table of powerful Arab nations.

The initiatives taken thus far reflect Qatar’s desire to continue in its role as conciliator in the global economic and religious amphitheater. Qatar hopes that by making greater strides with this goal through an open job market, flexibility in accepting the customs of foreigners within limits of decorum, and negotiating for an air of tolerance, balance, and acceptance will ultimately serve to change external perceptions. From the highest levels of government to the ordinary Qataris, there exists a desire to be counted amongst the most developed and advanced countries in the world, and thus the nation hopes to break the stigma of mistrust and judgment that plagues almost every Muslim nation today.

Middle East Correspondent:  @Vinita Tiwari

Pressures on the System Threaten the Wealthy's Income Stream

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ROBERT REICH WEARS many hats. He is a professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. He brought his economic expertise to Republican Gerald Ford and Democrat Jimmy Carter's administrations. As Secretary of Labor during Bill Clinton's first stint in the White House, Reich oversaw an increase in the minimum wage and was an outspoken advocate of everyday Americans.

Reich is the focal point of the 2013 documentary 'Inequality For All.' His central assertion in the film is that while inequality drives the free market, severe wealth inequality makes the market stagnant. When the gap between the haves and have-nots is such that the bottom 47% of Americans have no wealth (and likely have significant debt), and 400 billionaires at the top have capital comparable to 80 million families, everyone loses out.

While I felt aligned with Reich's agenda from the beginning of the film, I did wonder how he would substantiate the claim that massive wealth inequality is bad for the very rich. I hoped that his rationale would go beyond some sort of moral-ethical dilemma of the one-percenters. As the film progressed, I got the quantitative documentation I was looking for.

During 'Inequality,' we follow a number of people, some billionaires, some struggling to keep enough food on the table for a family of four. The most telling interview came from the successful, thoughtful billionaire named Nick Hanauer. When asked about his yearly salary, he responds "anywhere from 10 million to 30 million." He acknowledges this is an absurd amount of money for one person to collect.

Hanauer describes how the gulf between ordinary Americans and a small circle of billionaires is actually bad for his business, and for the free market in general. As it turns out, billionaires only need a few pairs of blue jeans a year; they only purchase one or two pillows when necessary.

According to Hanauer, if his money was more evenly allocated throughout working class Americans, more consumers would be able to afford a new pair of jeans, and he would move more pillows. Sales would increase. Despite incredible capital and his position on the top of the economic ladder, Hanauer's bank account is hurt by inequality. The wealth disparity limits the free market system and each agent, rich or poor.

The documentary is not short on ways to address the widening wealth gap in the United States. Each facet of Reich's plan is rooted in years of economic research, not in dogma or partisan ideology. Some suggestions are a no-brainer. Decades ago, Japan showed the world that investing in education can be profitable for everyone. As Japan developed, officials prioritized training the workforce and made trade schooling widely available. Now, Japan is one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Other calls for action are a thorough reform of Wall Street, more equitable tax policies, and greater oversight in the power of amassed wealth in the political system. Whether campaign contributions come from a multi-millionaire or a multi-national corporation, a small number of oligarchs are assuming the arms of democracy and monopolizing the ears of politicians, as per the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United.

While the challenge is great, Reich wants his viewers to feel empowered. Empowered to demand change, to refashion 'equality' from a buzzword to a basic requisite of the American way, to make sure that every person's voice is heard in their political system, regardless of the number of zeros and commas in his or her paycheck.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

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President Obama Hosts Ramadan Iftar Dinner

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:22 PM EDT, 10 August 2012

White House Table Setting, Photo by Luigi CrespoTonight President Barak Obama is hosting his fourth Iftar dinner at the White House to honor Muslims celebrating Ramadan. It is a tradition begun under President Bill Clinton and maintained by President George Bush during his eight-year presidency.

The dinner will be presented in the State Dining Room to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. This ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar is universally observed by over one billion Muslims who fast from sunup to sundown.

Ramadan is the third "pillar" or religious obligation of Islam. During this holiday adherents learn self-control through fasting which some describe as an emptying of attachments to the physical and thus empowers their spiritual nature to grow closer to God.  In addition to prayer and study, Muslims also engage in giving charity, purifying behavior, and doing good deeds.

According to the White House, the invited guests for the evening “include elected officials, religious and grassroots leaders in the Muslim American community, and leaders of diverse faiths and members of the diplomatic corps.” (Source: CNN)

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Ascendancy of the Yuan, Signals Dollars Decline

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:15 PM EDT, 1 June 2012

US Dollar Burning, Photo by Images of MoneyWASHINGTON, DC - For decades the American public was warned of the impending crash of the U.S. dollar. Economist sounded the alarm far in advance of the 2007–2012 global financial crises, which was the result of a confluence of complex financial events. However, to simplify the catastrophic cascade of financial market collapses, the root causes were high-levels of global debt, risky and speculative investment practices, and unchecked avarice.

High-net worth individuals will be able to weather the storm of the impending diminution of the dollar’s value, but people of moderate to impecunious means will suffer levels of hardship not witnessed since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In 2004, then Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan prognosticated, “Foreigners will eventually sour on U.S. bonds and the dollar because of America's bulging trade and budget deficits, posing significant risks to the nation's economy.

Greenspan told a banking conference in Frankfurt, Germany, that international investors were likely to either unload their dollar-denominated investments or demand higher interest rates. Either scenario would present problems for an economy that is heavily dependent on foreign capital to fuel its free-spending ways.” (Source: LA Times)

Eight years later, billionaire market movers such as Warren Buffet are more insistent and vociferous in warning Americans of the real possibility of the removal of the dollar as the global reserve currency. Unfortunately, most Americans have little bandwidth to digest or calculate the exact impact a change of this magnitude will have on their lives. The average American in recent years has been focused on how to pay for gas, put food on their table, and cover the cost of every day needs with less money.

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Published: 1 June 2012 (Page 2 of 3)

During this U.S. election season, politicians bandy about well-worn slogans that make it seem as if the decline of the U.S. dollar is a partisan issue. However, the $15.7 trillion deficit that plagues America is not a partisan issue, though the Republicans, Democrats, and Independent candidates who campaign on this platform would have you believe otherwise. In sonorous speeches to preselected audiences, these politicians deliver performances worthy of the man behind the mirror in the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ but this is no laughing matter.

What is truly behind the curtain is the reality that America’s debt is almost wholly owned by foreign nations with China owning the lion share. How China effectively waged and is winning this quiet war is best described by the Chinese proverb, “When the enemy is too strong to be attacked directly, and then attack something he holds dear. Know that he cannot be superior in all things. Somewhere there is a gap in the armor a weakness that can be attacked instead.”

In 1956, Chairman Mao Zedong stated, “If the U.S. monopoly capitalist groups persist in pushing their policies of aggression and war, the day is bound to come when they will be hanged by the people of the whole world,” a statement that makes the overthrow of the dollar anything but accidental.

In 2005, Herbert Franz Schurmann, noted historian, emeritus professor of history and sociology at U.C. Berkeley, wrote an in-depth, historical article for New America Media in which he outlines the ascendancy of the yuan as the new reserve currency.

"Never in the history of our republic have we ever financed a military conflict by borrowing money from somewhere else," Former President Bill Clinton said. He pointed out that the Chinese keep loaning us money "for Iraq, Afghanistan, and Katrina."

As a result, the Chinese yuan is silently beginning to look like a universal currency. It plentifully delivers everyday economic values without devaluation. It has enough money to finance capital anywhere and anytime. And it is a "safest currency" or a "safe haven."

Not so long ago, Hong Kong banks did not handle yuan. Now they handle not only mainland China yuan but most of the Indian Ocean countries' currencies. Even Kuwait, which houses a major American base also deals in yuan. Russia and former Soviet republics have for some time welcomed the yuan.

China and Japan have started direct currency trading as Beijing marked another stage on its journey to foster the Yuan's use internationally. "Yuan-yen direct trading is just a small step toward making the yuan a reserve currency.” (New American Media)

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Published: 1 June 2012 (Page 3 of 3)

The Federal Reserve estimates that the majority of the U.S. cash in circulation today is outside the United States, (Source: New York Fed) and since the 2008 global financial crisis, China, the largest holder of U.S. debt has divested $238bn of those holdings in currency swap agreements with dozens of countries. As of 2010, Japan held $800bn which makes the news of the two countries bilateral agreement to engage in direct yuan yen trading, an ominous portent of further economic upheaval for American citizens.

What does this mean for the average American? Many witnessed the rapid depreciation of their stock market investments during the crash; I personally lost 50% of the value of my modest portfolio. Others lost the total value of their largest asset, their homes, as the housing market sunk into a morass of foreclosures.

Though it seems as if the worst is over, the growing chatter about the replacement of the U.S. dollar by the Chinese yuan as the global reserve currency signals even deeper, more prolonged economic difficulties for Americans and those individuals and countries heavily invested in the dollar.

However, for the Forbes 400 whose portfolios and holding are incredibly diversified, a switch from the dollar to the yuan may be slightly inconvenient, but may have relatively little impact on the total value of their assets.

For average Americans, the choices are more limited but not insurmountable. These include but are not limited to buying precious metal coins which are easily transportable and transferable, and the second is to start a business.

Alan Uke has written a practical guide to help readers bring this seemingly gargantuan problem into perspective and he outlines tangible, actionable steps toward preventing the national tragedy that is looming on the horizon.

Aptly titled, “Buying America Back: A Real-Deal Blueprint for Restoring American Prosperity,” it is educational and inspirational, because as Betty Williams said, “There's no use talking about the problem unless you talk about the solution.”

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Haiti Rocked by Political Earthquake

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:01 PM EDT, 24 February 2012

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitian Prime Minister Garry Conille abruptly resigned Friday after less than five months. He didn’t provide an explanation for his departure when he submitted his letter of resignation to President Michel Martelly.

According to the Associated Press, “Conille, a physician who previously served as an aide to Bill Clinton in the former U.S. president's role as U.N. envoy to Haiti, was ratified by the opposition-dominated Parliament in October after Martelly's two previous picks for prime minister failed to win support from lawmakers, delaying the formation of a government by about five months.”

In a statement Conille said, "I feel obliged to present to you my resignation as Prime Minister of the Government of the Republic of Haiti. Please accept, Mr. President of the Republic, the assurance of my patriotic sentiments."

Some people suspect that Conille's resignation may be the result of escalating disagreements with Martelly and his inner circle as well as other Parliamentary officials. Conille’s resignation is another blow to a nation still recovering from devastating earthquakes that rocked the country in January of 2010. The catastrophic effects of the quake exacerbated the preexisting and endemic problems of poverty and instability.

This latest crisis, which is viewed by many Haitian experts as another case of self-sabotage, will cripple the ability of the Haitian government to overcome the enormous challenges it faces in trying to rebuild the infrastructure of the country.

After the 2010 earthquake, people from around the world pledged in excess of $4.5 billion in aid but only half of this amount has been released. Because the new Haitian government has been preoccupied with one crisis after another, it hasn’t had the opportunity to focus on the management of reconstruction efforts.

With the departure of the prime minister and the uncertainty of when President Martelly will appoint a new official or how long it will take the person to be confirmed; existing donors may be reticent to honor their pledges, which would further hamper reconstruction efforts.

One of the donors, the World Bank-run Haiti Reconstruction Fund, has more than $100 million on hold pending the government's approval of projects to be carried out in a transparent and coordinated manner.

Many, including the head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, Mariano Fernandez, said in a statement issued on Friday that Conille’s departure signifies to the world that a rift has occurred in Haiti government that is to the detriment of the country.

After years of brutal dictatorships and political instability, it was hoped that the democratically elected Martelly would be able to lead Haiti into a new era of economic growth, self-sufficiency, and political stability.

Unless this situation is resolved quickly, it will affect legislative and local elections which fall under the purview of the Prime Minister who is responsible for scheduling these elections. The terms of 10 senators, or one of third of the Upper Body, are slated to expire this year.