Debating Global Affairs in Doha

Qatar is much in the news, as the small Persian Gulf sheikdom attempts to extend its influence. It promoted revolution in Libya and is doing the same in Syria. Of course, the ruling family is less enthused with Iranian revolutionaries and looks askance at Shia democracy protestors in Bahrain. (So does the U.S., of course, which is threatening to bomb the regime in Tehran and has said little about Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy as it busily represses the country’s Shia majority.)

However, Qatar also engages in more mundane activities, such as hosting the annual Doha Forum, which brings together world leaders to discuss important international topics. Qatar takes the event seriously. Explains the official website: “Held in the presence of His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, who will preside over the opening ceremony on May 20th, the forum will commence with an address by His Excellency Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.”

Lesser personages also participate, which explains why I’ve been invited to attend. I will be flying over this weekend. The conference begins on Monday and sessions will cover international politics and the global economy, Arabs and the changing world, global economic development, challenges facing new Arab democracies, international cooperation, human rights, and digital media.

I’m looking forward to the event and, frankly, even more to discussions outside of the formal sessions. It has been several years since I’ve been to Qatar, so it will be interesting to see how the country is adjusting to the Arab Spring. It also will be illuminating to compare Qatar to Dubai, another small but ambitious Gulf state, which I visited last week.

The Persian Gulf remains the fulcrum of important world events and potential American military intervention. In fact, my nephew has been deployed there in recent weeks, though hopefully will be returning home soon. Although travel to the region doesn’t turn one into an instant expert, it does help give a practical feel to events which too often are viewed primarily through the skewed prism of Washington.