Interview with Paris Match Magazine

Paris , 08 March 2018

Sheikha Moza

She looks like a fashion icon, but her true passion, it is in education. Sheikha Moza bint Nasser Al Missned is a committed woman. Since 1995, when the Qatar Foundation was created, she has been working for the education of youths in her country and other developing countries. Her husband, former Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, of whom she is the second wife, passed over the reigns to one of their sons, Tamim, in 2013, and yet she remains one of the most influential women on the international stage, according to “Forbes”. In regions ravaged by war, such as Yemen or Syria, where children are dying, she wants to make sanctuaries out of schools.

Her struggle for education

During her visit to Paris for the UNESCO, we met the mother of Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim

“Two thirds of out of school children live in conflict zones”

Paris Match. Was yesterday your first encounter with Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron?

Sheikha Moza. Yes. I first met with Brigitte Macron. We spent an hour and a half together at the Elysée Palace. We share a lot in common, especially in our vision for education. President Macron then came to greet me.

The UNESCO has just revealed that 63 million children do not receive any form of education. What does this figure tell us about the state of the world?

This figure is deplorable. And unfortunately, it is increasing each year. Before coming to Paris, I had been informed that the figure was 61 millions.  Now, it reached 63 million. As a personal goal, I pledged to educate 10 million out of school children in six years. And in a month, we’ll be there. But the problem is that, in general, education is not the priority for many leaders. Two thirds of these children live in conflict zones. As long as we do not take drastic measures to protect education, to protect schools, this number will be increasing. This is my fight, which I have begun long ago. I want schools to be considered as sanctuaries, places that cannot, in any way, be targeted by warring parties.

Thanks to the development model of “Education Above All,” which Sheikha Moza founded, 10 million children are able to go to school.

Since 2012, when you founded Educate A Child Program, do you think things have gotten better or worse?

Today, we have 82 partners in this project. On our part, we have achieved our goals. But what we are building, other people are destroying. This means that if we fail to impose strict rules, the problem is likely to be endless.

Every day, we see that children are being recruited as soldiers. Some, with ISIS, are being brainwashed. Others are crushed under bombs from airstrikes. Who can do something? International institutions? Certain Countries? Or NGOs?

At our scale, we work in numerous countries. I’ll give you two examples. First in Bangladesh, in areas hit by natural disasters like floods, children are unable go to school. We have, therefore, put into place a boat system to bring school to them. I was struck by the strength of these children and their determination to pursue their studies. For instance, you see children sitting on the floors using straws as pencils with charcoal, done at home by their mothers. In Yemen, we have a program for education and another for employment. We train young entrepreneurs and seek to place them in the labor market. Unfortunately, the coalition has started an offensive that is supposed to help the country, but, in reality, it is preventing it from going forward. Those who commit such acts must be held accountable. It is necessary that, as an international community, we take the issue of education seriously.

In Yemen or in Syria, is it possible to aid children on both sides of a conflict?

Our programs help all Yemenis, but today they are undermined by this conflict. We were working in Yemen before the change of regime and it worked quite well. When the regime changed, we kept supporting the country. Yemen is a civilized country, which, in the end, must be capable of managing itself. The Yemenis could have settled their affairs by themselves, but because of foreign intervention, the country is divided. It is chaos.

In front of the UNESCO, you have announced that you were planning to help 335,000 children across 11 countries by 2021. Is this realistic?

This concerns our partnerships with French NGOs and government. We will succeed. Trust me. It is a realistic objective. In Africa, development can be achieved through education. President Macron knows that. He has granted 200 million euros. It is enormous. I would like to see others get involved as much as him.

Who in the world supports you the most?

I have 82 partners. UNESCO is really working with us a lot, providing us with the technical help and support. I would like it, of course, if there were more.

At first glance, the place of women in the world has declined particularly with the emergence of radical Islam…

I’m not sure. I have no statistics in this regard. I travel a lot and I meet women everywhere and in Qatar as well. I seems to me that, on the contrary, they are more present. I think they've never had so much power as they do today. They are more aware of their rights and they have more confidence in themselves. Yesterday at the UNESCO, I met a young Qatari volunteer who was speaking about her experience. Ten years ago, it was unimaginable to see a young 18-year old girl, like her, expressing herself before an audience with such confidence. Women are no longer silent. Now, if you are talking about people under the control of gangs, cartels or radical ideologues, it is, of course, not the same thing. But again, it is the lack of education that is partly responsible for these phenomena. Women in these situations have no other choices. So, we must develop their critical sense and give them the means to protect themselves.

Humanity therefore functions at two rates…

It is not just women. Children and all vulnerable people are affected. We need to completely rethink our humanity and go back to our shared principles and values. It is not enough to talk. The world is tired of all this rhetoric. We need something concrete. People have to see results. They want to be able to go home without fearing that their children will be kidnapped on their way to school.

Saudi Arabia has cut off its relations and is imposing a blockade on Qatar. How do you feel about the accusations of supporting terrorism directed at your country?

They are baseless. They are just recycling lies. This is enough. When my children were young, I would tell them, and they still remember it: “Never lie, because a lie never lasts long.” One day or another, the truth will come out.

As with Saudi Arabia, we have a long, shared history together. There have been many marriages between us. Our region is based on tribes that are often nomadic. At some point, we did not even have borders. Members of our families live in Saudi Arabia, in Bahrain and in the Emirates. You can not get rid of these relations overnight. Even if they impose a blockade on us, they cannot erase our genes. I know many people in these countries who are infuriated by what happened. Yesterday, I saw a survey study done by Qatar University saying 78 percent of Qataris felt that their families have been affected as a result of this blockade, and the same figures, more or less, for the Emiratis.They tried to separate us, but they have not succeeded. This crisis has made us stronger. It has made us look inwards and question who we are. Qatar is more united than ever under the leadership of Sheikh Tamim, whose popularity doubled.

The same thing happened in Lebanon…

Exactly. However, there were tensions before, they were fewer. This crisis has brought out the best qualities from our leaders. And people are grateful to them. Today opens a new chapter in our history. Sheikh Tamim is at a big juncture now in his political life.

For his part, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman claims to liberate women: they now can drive, enter stadiums. Do you think there will ever be a common ground with him?

We will see. Time will tell us.