Arabian Days and Nights in the Twenty-first Century
Ann Kerr reports on the opening of Education City and the RAND-Qatar Policy Institute in Doha, Qatar.
Published: Tuesday, November 18, 2003
In a jam packed two days of inaugurations and celebrations, a modern Arab fairy tale princess oversaw the launching of Qatar's Education City, a complex of branches of several prominent American universities and the newly founded RAND-Qatar Policy Institute. The beautiful and imaginative second wife of Qatar's Emir, Her Royal Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, chairperson of the Qatar Foundation, the umbrella organization for Education City founded in 1995, was the moving force behind this project. Qatar, one of the emirates on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula, is a few years behind some of its neighbors in development but is moving ahead quickly under the progressive leadership of Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who strives to be a loyal member of the Arab League while at the same time opening his country to western style education, American troops, and global enterprise. Vast resources of natural gas give Qatar the income to implement their goals, but good planning and insight have focused those goals in remarkable directions, particularly in the areas of education -- and also communication with the launching of the al-Jazeera television station several years ago.
I had the pleasure of being a guest at the opening ceremonies of Education City on October 12 -13 as a member of the Advisory Board of the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy. The Ritz Carlton Hotel on the outskirts of the capital Doha, was the gathering place for representatives of all the institutions opening branches there: Virginia Commonwealth University specializing in technical skills for women; the Weil Cornell Medical Center, which will train doctors and nurses; Texas A&M for chemical, electrical, mechanical and petroleum engineering; and the RAND Corporation which is assisting with the development of improved K-12 education to build a well-qualified applicant pool for the new universities. The RAND-Qatar Policy Institute will engage in research and planning projects throughout the region.
The lobby of the Ritz Carlton appeared to be the business hub of Qatar with people of all nationalities huddled in small groups, sipping coffee and deeply immersed in conversation. But for those two days they were joined by what looked like an off-season meeting of MESA, the Middle Eastern Studies Association of North America. It was a grand reunion of academics, policy makers, and diplomats who have spent many years of their lives working on Middle East matters and whose discouragement with the current state of politics in the region was temporarily put aside in the pride of witnessing Arab respect for American education and the accomplishment of this new Qatari-American partnership.
At each of the inaugurations in state-of-the art new campuses and offices, Sheikha Mouza gave a thoughtful address, which would have been inspiring enough had it been spoken by any one of her fellow citizens, but was all the more so coming from this dazzlingly beautiful woman. She stood almost six feet tall in her four-inch heels and charmingly draped black head scarf and full length robe. Her seven children are all being educated to be enlightened leaders of their country. From the initial planning stages of Education City, Sheikha Mouza as head of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development, has been at the helm, meeting with university deans and presidents to set up the kind of educational programs that are most needed in Qatar. Everyone I met who had been in direct meetings with her spoke of her impressive vision and organizing skills. And most seemed more than a little star struck by her beauty and charm. What better ambassador could there be for westerners to learn to appreciate the importance of Arabs moving into the twenty-first century on their own terms and within their own cultural context.