SPIEGEL Interview with the Emir of Qatar 'We Are Coming to Invest'

In a SPIEGEL interview, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, discusses the global financial crisis as an opportunity for strategic investments, how it is changing the balance of economic powers and his country's role in fostering peace in the tinderbox Middle East and Gulf region.


New construction in Doha: After years of spending domestically, Qatar is now considering foreign investments as the crisis drives down the value of blue-chip firms in Europe.
REUTERS

New construction in Doha: After years of spending domestically, Qatar is now considering foreign investments as the crisis drives down the value of blue-chip firms in Europe.

SPIEGEL: Your Highness, Qatar's economy may grow another 13 percent in 2009, and your people, with a per capita income of €72,000 Euros, are one of the richest in the world. Are people in Qatar even noticing the fact we are currently experiencing a worldwide economic crisis?

Hamad: Of course we feel this. Within one year the price of oil fell from almost $150 per barrel to less than $50. This limits our ambitions. But I expected the price of oil to go down one day because we already suffered from this after 1973. When the oil price went up we became so rich. People bought a lot of things and they travelled every summer. Then the oil price went down and everything shrank. Since then, I have sought to avoid letting this happen again.

SPIEGEL: The Gulf countries have accumulated enormous wealth over the past years. How do you plan to invest it?

Hamad: Up until now, we have spent most of this money domestically, on infrastructure, on factories, hospitals and universities. But two years ago we started to invest outside the country. With the current crisis, many countries prefer to keep their money instead of investing it abroad. For us, though, this is an opportunity that will not be repeated in the next 20 years. We have, for example, acquired 16 percent of shares in Barclays bank (in Britain) and 10 percent of Credit Suisse. We are going ahead.

SPIEGEL: Kuwait and, just a week ago, Abu Dhabi have invested in the Daimler group. What plans do you have in Germany?

Hamad: Germany is a very important industrial country. We know that the Germans are hard workers, we know that they will fight for their economy. We also discussed Daimler. To invest in such companies is a first rate opportunity. Of course we are coming to invest in Germany -- that is certain. Most airplanes in the fleet of Qatar Airways are from Airbus. We went for Boeing last year for once because you were not able to produce your airplanes in time.

SPIEGEL: Your Highness, have you heard of a car manufacturer named Opel?

Hamad: Yes.

SPIEGEL: Could you imagine investing in Opel or any other German car manufacturer?

Hamad: In most of the Gulf countries German cars are used. German trucks are the most important in the world and they have been used heavily here in our region. For sure we will invest in the car manufacturers in Germany. But we will have to find the right time and the right price. We are also trying to bring high tech to our country, which we want to make a place of science and technology.

SPIEGEL: Abu Dhabi and Daimler want to build electric cars together.

Hamad: Such industrial projects require countries with thousands of laborers. We are a small country so we will not ask carmakers to come and open a branch here for production. We do care about ecological engineering and solar energy. But this is part of our domestic investment, it is of interest for our science park.

SPIEGEL: So far you have brought mainly American universities on board to educate Arab students.

Hamad: We are open to any country. The Germans should be more engaged about approaching us.

SPIEGEL: You think the Germans aren't active enough?

Hamad: They are not active enough and with (a country such as) Qatar they have to bring something which fits us. To invest in a carmaker is good because automobiles are not only sold in a small country, but rather all over the world. In fact, in the 1960s, our ruler Sheikh Ahmad was the first Gulf leader to visit Daimler. We were rich before oil because we exported pearls. Then the Japanese came with the artificial pearl and we became poor again. All things change, and this is often on my mind.

SPIEGEL: Are you interested in having German universities in your science park as well?

Hamad: They are welcome. But are they ready? The same question applies to the British: We have had relations with them for a long time, but they have only started to talk to us (about this issue) recently. I really don't want you to think of Qatar as a hydrocarbon country alone. We know that hydrocarbons will come and go. But education will stay. It is the most important thing for us.

SPIEGEL: How do you believe oil prices will develop now?

Hamad: I think the oil price should continue (to stay) in the $40 range for at least one or two more years.

SPIEGEL: Why so modest?

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, the emir of Qatar.
AP

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, the emir of Qatar.

Hamad: Because this way we can help the world out of this crisis. If the world economy recovers, it will be good for us, too. Automatically, the price of oil will go up again. I don't see why OPEC countries should continue to cut production just to keep the price of oil high. This will not affect the industrial countries alone, it will also hit poor countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Who will look after them?

SPIEGEL: That's not the kind of argument you often hear when talking to oil producers.

Hamad: Yes, but I believe this battle is a battle for the whole world. Everybody should be helping each other for the next two years.

SPIEGEL: The United States and many European countries have been hit hard by the crisis. Do you think they will rebound?

Hamad: We hope so. Because when the Americans recover from their depression, the world will recover. I don't think Europe is going to suffer as badly as America -- the United Kingdom perhaps and possibly Spain, but I don't think the rest of Europe will.

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