Interview with Italian Newspaper Corriere della Serra
Italy, 03 June 2016
1. What is the purpose of your visit to Italy?
During my visit to Rome this week I will have the privilege of meeting with both His Holiness Pope Francis and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. As you know, the focus of my work over more than 20 years has been to provide and protect quality education in Qatar and across the world, and I look forward to discussing various education projects in these two meetings - in particular the pressing issue of providing education to refugees.
Italy is, of course, at the forefront in facing the challenges of the refugee crisis in Europe, and its people continue to act with great compassion. And just as significant, His Holiness has been outspoken in his support and commitment to refugees. The Pope's leadership, through both his words and actions, has inspired people across the world, and I believe that his message of unity and hand of friendship to all peoples and faiths are more important now than ever.
My country, Qatar, has enjoyed a longstanding and close relationship with Italy, and I hope my visit will be a chance to build further links between our nations.
2. How would you describe Qatar's development over the last two decades? Do you think that oil will be as important as it has been for the wealth of the country or is it important to focus on other resources?
Our development over the last two decades has been dramatic.
This testifies to the vision of my husband, Sheikh Hamad. It is a vision that is upheld by the current Emir, who is now leading the government through the next phase of Qatar’s development.
Qatar National Vision 2030 challenges the country to transition from an oil-based economy to one that is knowledge-based. It is for this reason we have invested so heavily in all levels of education and research. We see our natural resources as a blessing that allow us to invest wisely in a secure and dynamic future for our country. I am convinced that the best resource any country can have is educated and innovative youth.
3. You have supported important initiatives for Syrian refugees’ education. Do you think that they will be able to return to the country while Assad is in power? Governments and private citizens in the Gulf have financed rebel groups: is this an integral part of guaranteeing the return of refugees? Or is this becoming part of the problem?
I am not a minister or government official, so I do not want to comment on political issues. However, what is clear is that we must create a safe and peaceful Syria, with representative government, so that the Syrian people can rebuild their lives, return to their homes and put their children in schools.
Education is incredibly important for refugees. When refugee communities are asked what their priorities are, education is always at the top of the list. It provides hope and opportunity and enables individuals and communities to overcome trauma and rebuild lives.
But education is under attack – some 6,000 schools have been destroyed in Syria and teachers have been murdered. And it is not just in Syria. Since 2009, schools, universities, students and teachers have been deliberately attacked in at least 30 countries.
I believe this is a global crisis and that these attacks are not just “accidents” of war. They are deliberate - our schools have become a battlefield.
It is time to fight back. We must hold the perpetrators of these crimes responsible through existing international law and UN resolutions. It is only when they are shamed and punished that we can deter others from attacking education.
Providing quality primary education is what we do at my Education Above All foundation every day. The investments we have already made provide primary education to almost 7 million out-of-school children, and we are on track to reach 10 million by the end of the year. And this will include over 1 million Syrian refugees.
But without protecting these children before they are displaced and preventing these attacks, what we spend years building can be destroyed in minutes. This is not a sustainable solution. We must defend our schools, our teachers, and our students.
4. How does Her Highness see her role as the mother of the Emir of Qatar?
I am extremely proud of my son and of the progress he has made in the three years since he became Emir. He showed his visionary leadership through the development of Qatar National Vision 2030 when he was Crown Prince and I am certain he will continue to strengthen our country and ensure a prosperous future for our people through his leadership.
5. Is a young ruler important since the population of the region is mostly young? Some observers said that the foreign affairs priorities of Qatar have changed with the new emir, and that his policies are now more concerned with internal affairs. Is this true?
Our region’s young people are its greatest asset. More than half of the Middle East’s population will be under 25 by 2022, so the question is how you tap the talents of these young men and women to drive development in a world that grows more interconnected by the day.
The Emir has deep experience in this area, cultivated over many years as Crown Prince and now as Emir. This is what makes him such a gifted leader for Qatar, both domestically and on the international stage. He understands the desires and ambitions of our country’s youth, and he is determined to provide them with the tools they need to succeed.
6. Have your life and the international relations of Qatar been affected by the negative publicity that has surrounded Qatar due to the World Cup, because of the treatment of migrant workers, and the FIFA scandal? Qatar's Foreign Ministry said that those accusations and investigations were "racist". Does Her Highness share these views?
When we set out to host the 2022 World Cup, we knew it would not be an easy path. But we put together the best, most innovative, and most diverse bid.
As I said when I presented to FIFA, football’s impact goes far beyond the playing field. We are determined to use the World Cup as an opportunity to showcase Qatar to the world and help further develop our country over the long-term.
At Qatar Foundation, for example, we have helped lead the way by setting Mandatory Standards, in line with international best practices, to which we hold all contractors. We also are leading the way on enforcement – our Welfare Team monitors existing suppliers and audits contractors, and we also provide training to the Government’s labour inspectors as part of our efforts to boost Qatar’s welfare standards.
7. Both your daughters Sheikha Mayassa and Sheikha Hind have a public role. How are their generation of Qatari women different from your generation and your mother¹s generation?
I am incredibly proud of Mayassa and Hind. They are making a real difference through their work – Mayassa leading Qatar Museums and Hind as CEO of Qatar Foundation – and their success demonstrates to young women in Qatar and across the region what they can aspire to achieve.
The history of this region is full of stories of powerful and dynamic women. It is my hope as a mother that my daughters will continue to lead and inspire women in the same way.
8. You grew up in Egypt and are said to know Libya quite well: what is your impression of the threat of extremism in Libya today and the situation of human rights in Egypt (that has affected Italy as well with the Regeni case)?
Both Egypt and Libya have extraordinary histories. I am confident that the extremism we see today – which threatens the whole of the Middle East – is but a passing shadow on the rich cultures and traditions we have built over time.
Again, I should note that I am not a minister or government official, so I do not wish to comment on political issues. But what is clear is that we must provide safety and security for everyone in our region. This is the only way for peace to be achieved. And peace, in turn, will allow our region’s children to return to school and continue to receive an education, which is critical for the Middle East’s long-term health and prosperity.
9. Does Her Highness believe that the values of freedom of speech, of religion and of the press should be applied in the Middle East as they are intended in the West? Is it possible to find a balance between modernity and respect for traditional values?
This question implies there is contradiction between modernity and tradition. I don’t believe this is true.
As my country is showing, it is possible to have a modern, successful, and dynamic country in which people of all cultures and religions can thrive and prosper while embracing our strong roots. And again, I think education is the key factor. If you are educated, you can understand where the values of different cultures are in harmony and where they are not.
We have deeply held beliefs in Qatar – these are the foundations of our society and we embrace them. But we also respect the values and traditions of the many cultures and religions that have been brought to our country over the years.
Let me give you an example. Since His Highness Sheikh Hamad and I founded Qatar Foundation in 1995, QF has been providing world-class education in Doha, through its branch campuses of American, British and French universities. At the same time, the foundation houses a home-grown university - Hamad bin Khalifa University, which offers postgraduate courses in subjects central to the culture and economy of our country and region.
Today, our flagship campus, Education City, covers 15 million square metres. Each day it welcomes 5000 students of 90 nationalities, from pre-schoolers to MBAs and postgraduates. Together they study subjects ranging from medicine to Islamic law, from business to the archaeology of the Arab world.
The foundation also endeavours to preserve and promote our heritage for future generations by encouraging the study of subjects as diverse as traditional Arabian architecture and equestrian studies.
It has not always been the smoothest path, but the results we see now are incredible. This is a legacy we can be proud to have fostered.
10. Isis tends to legitimize itself using religion. Some say that the extremism of Isis should make us reflect on the need for reform within in Islam. What do you think?
We do not need to reform Islam; we need to reform ourselves so that we live our lives according to the central tenets of Islam, which demand justice, tolerance and compassion.
Extremism is fuelled by hopelessness, and hopelessness is often the product of chaos – whether it is chaos caused by failed military interventions or attempts to supress youth movements.
Don’t forget that extremism is not confined to the Middle East. It exists across the world, including parts of Africa and Asia. It is a global responsibility and we must all play our part.
That is why I am so passionate about education, and education in conflict zones in particular. Education is the best means to counter extremism, to take on and defeat extremist ideology. If we fail to do this now – to rise to the challenge of the situation – I fear that we will see the situation get even worse.
12. Is there an inevitable clash of civilization between Islam and Europe?
Absolutely not. This is a tired – and I think discredited – argument. In fact, our cultures have a long history of peace, friendship, and collaboration.
Europe has multicultural roots, and I believe that each culture that makes up the European identity should nurture its roots so that our strong bonds, forged over thousands of years, do not fall apart.
After all, we share intellectual roots through the preservation of Greek and Roman philosophy, science, and literature. The merging of European and Islamic styles in Sicily created some of the most beautiful architecture the world has ever seen. And to cite a contemporary example, let’s not forget that every day Christians and Muslims are coming together to provide support for refugees displaced from their homes.
What this describes is not a “clash of civilizations” but a rich and enduring partnership.
13. Why does Qatar buy so many international artworks?
I can’t possibly provide a definitive answer on this as I am not involved in investment decisions.
But speaking for myself I know that I, like many of my fellow citizens, am a great lover of art. There is a reason we travel to cities like Rome and Florence and Paris and London. These are all cities of culture, where the greatest artists lived and worked.
14. Does Qatar's acquisition of Valentino mean that she has a predilection for Italian fashion?
There is a great deal of beautiful fashion coming from Italy. I am equally proud of the designers we have in Arab world. Qatar has a growing fashion scene – many of the young designers we see graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar create beautiful fusions of traditional Arabic fashion with more modern designs.
I should note that though I am not involved in investment decisions, I greatly admire Italian fashion!