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.Foto: REUTERS
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?
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?
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.
'China, India and Russia Are Coming'
SPIEGEL: Who will be the world's economic superpower after this crisis?
Hamad: China is coming, India is coming and Russia is on its way, too, although they are suffering because the price of oil has come down. China has almost 30 million jobless now. But I think they will recover. I don't know if America and Europe will still be leading. The main thing now, though, is that they prevent the world economy from collapsing.
SPIEGEL: Europe has staked its future on natural gas, but we are concerned about supplies. Can Qatar step in to fill the breach if Russia fails to deliver?
Hamad: We are selling gas to Italy, Spain, Belgium and, starting within the next few weeks, to Britain. I know that the Germans prefer to have their own gas supply, but I think our gas could come to Germany through another European country. However, this depends on the quantities we have on hand and the price.
SPIEGEL: Europeans are also worried about the creation of a so-called Gas-OPEC. Is there another cartel in the making that will be able to set prices at will?
Hamad: With OPEC they have a cartel. Why don't we have this gas cartel as well? And why don't we make a sort of agreement between consumers and producers? I wouldn't mind such a gas cartel, but it will take time because some countries today sell for high prices and others sell for low prices. It will be hard for those selling high to bring their prices down. So we will need time.
SPIEGEL: Will gas, like oil, eventually be sold on the spot market, where prices change on a daily basis?
Hamad: You cannot handle gas the way you do oil. To shut down gas takes six months, and to open it again takes another three to four months. For me it is more secure to supply gas than oil. If you come to Qatar to reach an agreement we will make it for 20 years. We cannot stop it at will. And, for example, if you are unable to take it you will still have to pay us. For us, it is a win-win-project.
SPIEGEL: Your country is located just 180 kilometers from the shores of Iran. Could you live with a nuclear-armed Iran?
Hamad: We are a small country and we can live with anything around us. We will not be an enemy to anybody, but of course we will not allow anybody to use us against others. We will not, for example, stand with America against Iran. For sure. Iran never bothered us, it never created a problem for us.
SPIEGEL: So will you join Iran in its stance against America? When he was here in Doha, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested the creation of a regional Gulf security pact that would include Iran.
Hamad: It will be hard for the Gulf countries to be with Iran against the United States. And I believe Iran knows this. But let us ask ourselves: Why don't we establish a common market with the Iranians?
SPIEGEL: A precondition for that would be that you would have to defy sanctions imposed against Iran by the United Nations. How do you judge US President Barack Obama's approach to Tehran?
Hamad: We were happy about this approach, but we are waiting for President Obama to do more about the Middle East. It is not only Iran. The Palestinians, the Iraqis, many countries suffered because of American policy. America has made mistakes before, but thank god America is a democratic country and they can correct their policies.
SPIEGEL: You are one of the very few Arab heads of state who, without a peace treaty in place, has hosted high-ranking Israeli politicians. Did you end this relationship following the war in Gaza?
Hamad: No, we didn't cut relations. We tried to get Egypt and Jordan to do that so that they could put more pressure on Israel. I am sure that if Egypt and Jordan had moved from the beginning that Israel would not have continued in Gaza. Now there will be a generation remembering forever what happened there. How can you make peace now?
SPIEGEL: Will you invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Qatar?
Hamad: The Israelis can continue to come and go -- we harbor no animus. We just state our opinion. And we want peace.
SPIEGEL: Do you still believe in the two-state solution?
Hamad: For sure. And this is what we tell all Palestinians we talk to -- including Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. Everything depends on Mashaal now. People say that Hamas does not recognize Israel now. But I am sure that if Hamas were offered the borders of 1967, they would have no alternative. Then other Arabs would recognize Israel -- and the Palestinians would be busy building their state.
SPIEGEL: Do you still believe in the Arab peace plan of 2002?
Hamad: I think Israel will not accept the return of the Palestinian refugees. But on the issue of dividing the city of Jerusalem (and turning over East Jerusalem to the Palestinians), I think they should accept it.
SPIEGEL: The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir. Why are you opposed to this?
Hamad: If anything happened to Omar al-Bashir und Sudan ended up in chaos, the whole of Africa would also sink into chaos. Sudan is a vast land with a lot of borders. Al-Qaida would be happy to see Sudan become like Iraq.
SPIEGEL: Isn't it time for the Arab world to finally do something about the Darfur problem?
Hamad: We have been mediating in Sudan for a long time, particularly because the groups in Darfur do not want the Arab League to get involved. My hope is that we do not see interference from some other Arab countries. We are confident. We need to give the parties time -- we have to let them shout and issue their grievances, and finally we need to get the process of negotiations going and discuss the future of their country.
SPIEGEL: Al-Bashir is now in Doha to attend the Arab summit.
Hamad: I sent my prime minister to invite him.
SPIEGEL: Will Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also attend as he did at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit 2007?
Hamad: I don't think so this time, because some Arab countries do not want this. They are not realizing that America is talking to Ahmadinejad. They took their action because America was against Iran. But they do not realize that a big change is happening in the US. It will take some time, but they will run to Teheran. I know this very well.
SPIEGEL: You are hosting two summits this week -- one with the leaders from the Arab World and another with those from Latin America. What will you discuss with them?
Hamad: We in the Middle East like to talk politics, we like to argue. Just look at the three prophets -- Moses, Jesus and Mohammad. They are all from this small region which creates problems all the time. So I think we will talk politics. But of course in the Arab countries this is leaders' politics, since there are no elections that any leader will be tied to. Finding a link to Latin America will be an economic issue. The apples that come from Chile are always very well kept and of the best quality compared to fruit coming from Egypt or Yemen. That's just one example I like to cite when it comes to our shortcomings as Arabs. We need Latin America.
SPIEGEL: Will Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez come?
Hamad: Yes, my friend Hugo Chavez is coming.
SPIEGEL: Your Highness, we thank you for this interview.