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After the World Cup: what next for Qatar?

The throngs of cheering soccer followers have lengthy gone, however reminders of Qatar’s giddy second on the worldwide stage nonetheless dot Doha seven months on.

There are the spectacular stadiums that hosted final 12 months’s World Cup, most of that are ready to be both downsized or repurposed; one into a marriage complicated, others into mall and resort parks.

Alongside the corniche that was reworked right into a fan zone throughout the event, hoarding boards selling the soccer pageant stay in place. A Fifa World Cup 2022 sculpture sits within the bay, dhows moored on the tranquil Gulf waters offering its backdrop.

It’s as if Qatar is clinging to the final vestiges of the event because it ponders learn how to prime its success in changing into the primary Arab or Muslim state to host one of many planet’s greatest sporting occasions.

Qatar’s leaders insist there isn’t any hangover. They’re engaged on the following stage of the gas-rich state’s growth, they are saying, the wealth and ambition that helped safe the World Cup undimmed. They describe their need to create a “knowledge-based financial system” and carve out a job as an “worldwide downside solver”. There’s speak of a bid for the 2036 Olympics.

The Khalifa Worldwide Stadium in Doha — one of many spectacular venues that hosted final 12 months’s World Cup © David Ramos/Getty Photographs

However some already fret that there seems to have been too little thought as to precisely what comes subsequent. For 12 years, preparations for the World Cup sucked up a lot of the Gulf state’s focus. It spent greater than $200bn on infrastructure, whereas batting away an infinite stream of criticism over its therapy of migrant employees and contested allegations that it purchased the World Cup — in addition to surviving regional crises.

Doha turned a large constructing web site, bustling with exercise. At the moment, with a state-of-the-art metro, highways, accommodations and condominium towers accomplished, there are only a few pockets of development left. Lonely cranes grasp over these buildings ready for completion; the congestion that clogged roads has eased. Doha has a sleepy really feel whereas neighbouring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates take pleasure in petrodollar-fuelled booms.

“The final six months have been actually deflating, lots of people witnessed the excessive second, and it was at all times laborious to think about Doha being as thrilling for individuals, however so far as the outlook for the longer term, there’s no clear sense of path but,” says Tarik Yousef, senior fellow on the Qatar-based Center East Council on World Affairs. “What’s Qatar’s plan?”

Line chart of GDP per capita of Gulf states at purchasing power parity in constant 2017 $'000s showing Qatar has one of the highest levels of GDP per head in the world

How Qatar solutions that query will turn out to be a case examine in whether or not the World Cup will be transformative over the long term — as Qataris insist — and if Doha can use it to raise the Gulf state’s standing on the worldwide stage after a turbulent decade.

The problem, analysts say, is avoiding complacency and convincing overseas buyers that the state of 3mn individuals, simply 400,000 of whom are Qataris, must be an funding vacation spot of alternative. And the flexibility of the small nation, which has garnered a popularity as a each a maverick and a mediator through the years, to navigate the area’s fractious relationships may show vital to what occurs subsequent.

“The World Cup is a begin, not an finish,” says Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, who holds the twin roles of prime minister and overseas minister.

‘Every thing is in place’

Qatar has lengthy sought to punch above its weight on the world stage, however has spent a lot of the previous decade at odds with its bigger neighbours.

Years of friction culminated in 2017 with Saudi Arabia and the UAE accusing Qatar of supporting Islamists, being too near Iran and utilizing the Doha-based Al Jazeera satellite tv for pc TV community to amplify radical voices. They led a regional embargo, severing diplomatic and transport hyperlinks with Doha. Bahrain and Egypt adopted swimsuit.

After a interval of regional de-escalation, Qataris consider the nation has emerged stronger from the expertise, with Doha regaining its swagger, its confidence additional boosted by the World Cup success.

Constructing on that can relaxation on the shoulders of Sheikh Mohammed who the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, promoted to the premiership in March as a part of a reshuffle supposed to “inject new blood”, a senior official says.

With greater than 80 per cent of the native labour pressure employed within the public sector, and all Qataris benefiting from a beneficiant cradle-to-grave welfare system, the management is eager to protect towards lethargy and to foster productiveness, the official says.

“We have to construct on the success of the World Cup — that’s why you see the latest adjustments within the authorities,” he says. “The infrastructure is prepared, the roads, the port . . . every little thing is in place.”

Described because the “chief govt” to the “chairman” emir, Sheikh Mohammed, 42, is tasked with spearheading the following section of Qatar’s growth.

Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, left, and Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, prime minister and foreign minister
Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, left, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, prime minister and overseas minister. Sheikh Mohammed has been tasked with spearheading the following section of the nation’s growth © Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Photographs

He could have important sources at his disposal. As one of many world’s prime exporters of liquefied pure gasoline (LNG) and amongst its richest nations in per capita phrases, Doha has huge monetary means to throw behind its ambitions. Final 12 months, it posted a price range surplus of $24bn, its highest in years, regardless of spending closely on the World Cup.

Qatar’s gasoline revenues are more likely to swell additional. Gasoline is in growing demand since final 12 months’s vitality disaster, triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Doha is within the midst of an enormous $30bn growth of its home manufacturing capability.

Most of its surpluses are anticipated to be diverted to the Qatar Funding Authority, the estimated $450bn sovereign wealth fund that made a reputation for itself throughout and after the 2008/9 international monetary disaster, investing billions of {dollars} in western firms together with Credit score Suisse, Barclays and Sainsbury’s, whereas snapping up trophy belongings comparable to Harrods, the British division retailer.

Now the QIA is beefing up its sources to handle the following anticipated petrodollar windfall. Its workers numbers have swelled from about 350 5 years in the past to greater than 500, and it plans so as to add one other 200 by 2025.

Domestically, Sheikh Mohammed talks of leveraging Doha’s monetary firepower and the brand new infrastructure to develop area of interest areas in sectors comparable to healthcare, vitality, logistics and training.

The thought is to capitalise state entities, together with particular funding zones such because the Qatar Science and Expertise Park, and to lure overseas firms with guarantees of investing alongside them. Doha is already in discussions with Volkswagen, wherein the QIA holds a major stake, for the German automaker to fabricate new applied sciences, officers say.

“Our intention is to welcome increasingly more overseas firms by growing the incentives for them to return. Co-investing in partnerships is among the methods we’re doing this,” says Sheikh Mohammed. “That is the method we’re going via and the World Cup definitely helped us make our case to new companions.”

Line chart of Forecast impact of North Field project on Qatar’s LNG production (mn tonnes) showing Qatar is undertaking the largest single LNG expansion ever

Officers additionally hope the World Cup will enhance tourism — teams of Argentines now go to Doha to hint the steps of their victorious captain, Lionel Messi — because it seeks to turn out to be a magnet for family-oriented vacationers and people drawn to Qatar’s world-class museums.

But throughout the Gulf, earlier makes an attempt to diversify economies have typically floundered. Over the previous 20 years Qatar invested closely in training and tradition, however its plans to create a monetary centre struggled to achieve vital mass.

“The problem in organising a know-how park isn’t within the imaginative and prescient or dedication, however within the supply,” Yousef says. “The underlying growth conundrum of the final 30 years stays unresolved: how do you create real diversification when your main supply of earnings is a commodity-based export that accrues to the state?”

At the moment, Qatar is working in an more and more aggressive atmosphere as Saudi Arabia, which dwarfs Qatar, and the UAE, the area’s enterprise hub, pursue their very own formidable plans. Qatari officers say they won’t search to compete with the Gulf’s bigger powers.

“Now we have an analogous financial construction [as other Gulf states] however whenever you have a look at Qatar, the strategy is totally different — we are attempting to be very specialised and focused,” Sheikh Mohammed says.

Line chart of Forecast impact on annual growth in real GDP (%)  showing The North Field project will provide a large boost to growth

However there may be already a regional battle for expertise and overseas funding that’s heating up. Questions on simply how sustainable the latest detente can be linger.

Each Saudi Arabia and the UAE are led by assertive leaders — Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, respectively — who have been on the forefront of the embargo.

“The connection between Sheikh Tamim and Mohammed bin Salman appears very robust,” says Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a Gulf knowledgeable at Rice College’s Baker Institute for Public Coverage, citing a public, heat embrace between the pair on the World Cup. “However you may’t take something without any consideration, so how do you reside and plan with that in thoughts?”

Maintain your pals shut

Few are extra cognisant of the dangers of regional tumult than Sheikh Tamim, who ascended to the throne in 2013 after his father, Sheikh Hamad, made the shock choice to abdicate.

Inside weeks of taking on, aged 33, he was being warned by Kuwait that neighbours have been working towards him. The next 12 months, the primary diplomatic disaster erupted as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt withdrew their ambassadors from Doha.

Three years later, the quartet imposed their embargo. Initially they appeared to have the backing of then-US President Donald Trump, regardless of Doha being residence to the US’s greatest army base within the area, Al Udeid.

Relations have warmed for the reason that embargo was lifted in early 2021. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have additionally moved to normalise relations with their arch rival Iran, easing regional tensions. However in Doha, some officers are nonetheless not sure whether or not the detente with Iran is strategic or tactical. And the scars of their neighbours’ hostility stay uncooked.

“We’ve confronted many crises through the years in our area, there’s at all times a threat for a brand new disaster,” says the senior official. “Our intention is to make sure stability in our area and preserve these relations with our neighbours.”

Sheikh Hamad, who oversaw Qatar’s transition from desert backwater to gasoline powerhouse, drove an more and more assertive overseas coverage agenda that was typically deemed counter to the pursuits of different Gulf states.

Three ships are docked at a water inlet with industrial facilities in the distance
The Ras Laffan industrial metropolis, Qatar’s essential web site for the manufacturing of liquefied pure gasoline, about 50 miles north of Doha © Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Photographs

It was notably obvious following the 2011 Arab uprisings, when Doha sought to extend its affect and backed Islamist teams from Egypt to Syria — and confronted contested accusations of supporting radical teams within the latter’s civil warfare. By the point Sheikh Tamim ascended the throne, Qatar had few buddies within the neighbourhood and testy relations with Washington.

Qataris and analysts say the brand new emir is extra conservative than his flamboyant father and pivoted to a extra measured overseas coverage.

“He’s bought his personal individuals round him they usually seem to have centralised loads of the choice making within the royal court docket and they’re shifting ahead on their phrases,” Ulrichsen says.

Sheikh Tamim has centered on strengthening Qatar’s relationship with the US and Europe, notably the UK. He has additionally boosted Doha’s defences, with Qatar’s arms spending surging from $1.9bn in 2010 to $15.4bn final 12 months, in keeping with the Stockholm Worldwide Peace Analysis Institute. It has purchased fighter jets from the US, Britain and France and American air defences.

The technique, officers say, is to construct a home deterrent to threats whereas its roles as international LNG provider and mediator guarantee it stays related to extra highly effective companions.

Scaffolding surrounds an old stone tower in a Middle Eastern coastal area
The reconstruction of Qatar’s Grand Mosque in Doha in 1957. The nation has since transitioned from a desert backwater to a gasoline powerhouse © Getty Photographs

Officers speak of pursuing a balanced overseas coverage, one that’s anchored in its partnership with Washington. Doha expects to resume the US’s lease for Al Udeid base for an additional 10 years from 2024.

“The primary line of defence for Qatar as a small nation is their diplomacy and ensuring they’ve robust strategic partnerships with many international locations together with the US,” says an Arab official.

Shifting dynamics within the area seem to have performed to Qatar’s profit. The US’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 underlined Doha’s value as an American ally in a position to negotiate with its enemies after the Taliban seized energy. Qatar, which has hosted a Taliban workplace since 2013, was instrumental within the evacuation of Afghans who labored for the US and coalition entities, in addition to others susceptible to reprisals.

It has since turn out to be a hub for western officers overlaying Afghanistan, with many embassies relocating to Doha and Sheikh Mohammed performing as a conduit for Washington to have interaction with the Taliban.

Final 12 months, US president Joe Biden upgraded Qatar to a “main non-Nato ally”. And as one of many few international locations with good relations with the US and Iran, Doha performs a job relaying messages between the Biden administration and the Islamic regime.

But Qatar nonetheless hedges. In addition to sustaining its ties with Iran, it has shut relations with Turkey and industrial ties with Russia and China. It is usually keen to distinguish itself from a few of its neighbours: in addition to the Taliban, it hosts an workplace for Hamas, the Palestinian militant group; it has resisted the latest Saudi-led Arab re-engagement with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad; and doesn’t think about the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation.

Mehran Kamrava, professor of presidency at Georgetown College Qatar, says guaranteeing Qatar stays related to international powers “is a kind of survival technique”.

“The best way you emphasise your relevance is by having a world class airline; being a logistics and transport hub; being concerned in regional mediation efforts and getting a popularity as a peacemaker in a troubled space,” he says.

The nation’s gasoline riches, Kamrava provides, provides it the sources wanted “to make sure their relevance”.

They’ve additionally helped Qatar deepen relations from east to west, and in Doha there’s a palpable sense of vindication over its choice to broaden manufacturing from the North Discipline, the world’s largest pure gasfield which it shares with Iran, because the warfare in Ukraine ramped up demand for LNG.

It introduced the challenge in 2017, months earlier than the regional embargo and at a time when a lot of the world was shifting away from fossil fuels. The challenge will increase Qatar’s LNG annual manufacturing capability from 77mn tonnes to 126mn tonnes by 2027 — equal to nearly a 3rd of the full international LNG demand final 12 months.

China, Germany and Bangladesh have signed long-term agreements to safe LNG cargoes from new manufacturing when it comes on-line. Different European international locations have been slower to enroll, however Saad al-Kaabi, the vitality minister, says he’ll seal related offers with the UK, France and Italy this 12 months.

“You’ll by no means do away with gasoline,” Kaabi says. “Gasoline is a vacation spot gas [for the green transition], whether or not we prefer it or not.”

The IMF says that by 2027 the LNG growth is predicted to boost actual GDP by 5.7 per cent cumulatively, and add round 3.5 per cent of GDP in export receipts per 12 months. All of it feeds into the temper of confidence in Doha. The danger, nevertheless, is “they as soon as once more fall into the entice of overextending themselves past their capabilities,” says Kamrava.

“They’ve their swagger again. They mounted a really profitable World Cup, they got here via the blockade stronger and are much less reliant on their neighbours commercially,” he provides. “The query is, will this translate into hubris which is untenable in the long term?”

Information visualisation by Keith Fray