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Rebranding UNESCO: An interview with H.E. Dr. Hamad Al Kawari UNESCO Director General candidate

Dimitris Giannakopoulos

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap]ince his nomination for the position by Qatar in March 2016, Dr Al Kawari has also won support of a number of countries representing various continents Africa, Europe, Asia and Americas. UNESCO needs rebranding and he believes that under his leadership, the Organization will make a fresh start so that it can achieve the goal of the founding fathers. Will Dr Al Kawari be the first Arab leader in UNESCO? In an exclusive interview to Modern Diplomacy and Dimitris Giannakopoulos, he shares his vision about the prestigious Organization, towards the November election.

How important is UNESCO leadership for Qatar?

UNESCO incarnates the conscience of the world, through the deep interest it has given to the human issues which, through education, culture, science as well as heritage, have shaped up the past, current and future intellectual, social and cultural development of human beings.

Of equal importance are UNESCO’s other areas of interest including gender equality, the promotion of dialogue between civilizations, the development of youth programs, sustained focus to the environment in all its dimensions and safeguarding human memory, all of which are structured around human development.

It is against this background that the State of Qatar is seeking to serve these humanitarian goals. Since it became a UNESCO member, the State of Qatar has been very supportive towards this Organization in terms of the implementation of educational programs (Educate a Child), heritage protection programs as well as other programs, not to mention the financial support it has been providing throughout the Organization’s many various critical stages of its existence, its unshakable aim being to better serve the Organization and its humanitarian goals.

Let there be no doubt that the presence of one of its nationals at the head of the Organization will make Qatar and its sister countries even more keen to provide him with all the support that he would need to succeed in his mission and to help the Organization overcome its crisis and move forward.

Once elected, which initiatives will you first start working on?

There are several aligned and interrelated initiatives that need to be taken by the Organization. The ultimate purpose of such initiatives should be to address the crisis facing the Organization and help it make a fresh start so that it can achieve the goal of the founding fathers.

However, UNESCO needs rebranding, as it no longer enjoys the image it used to have. As I was making my visits to the various continents, I have come to realize that some people do not know the location of UNESCO, nor are they familiar with its fields of competence. Some even confuse it with other organizations. Refocusing the image of UNESCO and ensuring a more effective dissemination of its noble objectives will definitely help secure more support from everyone.

Among other feasible initiatives that could be conjured up is the setting up of a Small Projects Fund which would cater for the needs of countries for such projects.

With respect to the financial aspect, the situation was examined and possible actions are envisaged in cooperation with senior officials, the President of the Executive Board and the President of the General Conference.

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Which other issues do you think are of paramount importance?

One of the most critically important issues to urgently deal with is the political dimension of the UNESCO crisis. During the Candidates general discussion held at the end of April in Paris, I happened to be the only one who dared to speak openly about the role of the United States which has frozen the payment of its share to UNESCO’ budget since 2011 following the admission of Palestine to UNESCO. Since then, the crisis has become increasingly critical. The growing concern about issues related to the Memory of the World and the positive observations made on transparency and arbitration during the Organization’s journey are but a few issues that need to be addressed bravely in order to solve them. The Director-General plays a vital and effective role in raising these issues whenever and wherever appropriate, and in initiating dialogue with the concerned parties in order to overcome the problems. Turning a blind eye on the political aspect or shying from it will prove a not so constructive approach at all.

Cultural Heritage has become some kind of hostage to terrorist groups such as ISIS. Can this threat be averted?

Extremists and terrorists aim at destroying not only human lives but also the conscience of the world, its past, civilization and history, and in a nutshell its heritage.

The world should be made aware of this. There are urgent measures to be taken akin to the Heritage Support Fund established in Abu Dhabi and the Security Council Resolution condemning the destruction of cultural heritage, and stressing the importance of preserving and restoring it.

In the discussions held at the end of April, I raised the slogan “Let UNESCO be the best means to combat terrorism through education and culture”. During the discussions and the campaign, I put forward specific proposals regarding this matter, in particular emphasizing the upstream role to be played by education in addressing the root causes of terrorism. The eradication of its financial roots alone is not sufficient To wage an efficient war against terrorism, emphasis should also be placed on qualitative education through shared human values such as tolerance, mutual respect between cultures and the fight against poverty.

In line with this, I called for a world cultural day to be devoted to the promotion of the role of culture and the culture of peace in the fight against terrorism and extremism. In fact, UNESCO and its programs are as most effective in combatting terrorism as the use of military means.

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Is the current Budget enough to carry out the tasks of the organization?

Needless to say that, for optimum performance of the task, more financial resources is needed. Abu Dhabi Conference and the Heritage Support Fund are important, but the task is huge, especially after the sabotage acts perpetrated by the terrorists.

Having been named the ‘Man of the Arab Heritage’ for 2016, and considering my immutable interest in heritage, human heritage and its preservation is bound to be a cornerstone in my work as Director-General, once elected.

Should governments be more cooperative in other ways?

During my trips to the countries of the world, namely, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, I have come to realize that the world has faith in the importance of UNESCO and is aware of the dangers facing us. This is a good sign indicating that there exists a genuine political will to overcome such dangers and to steer UNESCO back to the successful path it used to follow.

UNESCO is a just cause, but one which needs an advocate who believes in it, who is fully aware of the intricate implications of its goals and who has the required competence, experience, vision, public relations, international network and friends to enable him to undertake the needed rescue operation. Only then will the cause achieve the desired success.


Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari is a Qatari diplomat and statesman. Dr. Al-Kawari serves as an Adviser at the Amiri Diwan (Royal Palace of Qatar), and was formerly the Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage of Qatar (2008-2016). He was previously the Ambassador of Qatar to France, the United States, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the UN. Dr. Al-Kawari is a candidate in next election of the Director-General of UNESCO, to take place in autumn 2017. He is married and the father of three children.

Journalist, specialized in Middle East, Russia & FSU, Terrorism and Security issues. Founder and Editor-in-chief of the Modern Diplomacy magazine. follow @DGiannakopoulos

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Middle East

China-Iran Deal and its implication for the region

Ashish Dangwal

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From the past few years, the increasing partnership between China and Iran has raised major concerns among many countries. Sinking economy and the recent COVID crisis pushed Iran into the corner and China timely manifested itself as a perfect partner for Iran. The diplomatic ties between these two countries were established in 1971 and over the years China’s demand for energy and Iran’s isolation from the international community brings them together. The recent investment and security pact covered almost every sector from Telecom, banking, ports, railways and dozens of other projects. Though the secret details of the pact were leaked but soon rejected by Iranian officials.

In 2016, Xi Jinping made a state visit to Iran and then laid the structure of this deal. Soon after in 2019, China announced its plan to invest $ 400 billion. Iran’s economy is suffering greatly because of the U.S.A sanctions and needs a lifeline to revive their domestic market. Where one side, most of the companies from different nations pulled out their businesses from Iran, On the other hand, Chinese investment can play a significant role in Iran’s survival. This partnership between these two nations directly challenges U.S.A efforts to cut off Iran from the international market arena. China’s ever-growing aspirations to increase its involvement in the Middle East perfectly sync with the geostrategic location of Tehran. However, Iran’s ambition to become a regional power needs huge investment in its domestic market. That’s where both countries see themselves as an emerging partner. 

China-Iran Economic Relationship

As a growing economy, China dependence on Iran’s oil is quite reasonable. Though this relationship is not just based on the energy, but even on the many different aspects. After 2016, China and Iran were agreed to increase their trading relations to $600 billion in the upcoming 10 years. The agreement was concordant with One Belt, One Road framework. A total of 17 agreements were signed, including one which relates to the Iran nuclear programme. The Chinese will help connect Tehran with Mashhad via their high-speed rail technology.  After the sanctions levied by the USA and other western countrieson Iran, its dependence on China increased in recent years. The trading relationship is not only limit to purchase of crude oil but even China’s involvement inIran’s upstream and downstream production processes through major investments.From 2005, both countries signed seven upstream production agreement with each other. All these agreements involve the state-owned Chinese companies, which shows the significant presence of China in Iran.

China-Iran-Syria Nexus

In December 2019, Syrian president while giving an interview to a Chinese media expressed his willingness to join the BRI project and projected Syria as a perfect partner for the Chinese investment. Syria suffered a lot because of the decades of war and wanted to start the reconstruction activities in their country. Iran and China identified themselves as the ally of Syria and they even wanted to make a strategic nexus between these countries. For the reconstruction process, China is helping Syria from Port of Tripoli by setting up it as a logistic base for the reconstruction process. China wanted to link this port with Syria’s “Four sea strategy” and connect the BRI project to the eastern Mediterranean area. This whole economic bloc could challenge the American hegemony in the region. Iran and Syria are already strategic allies in this region and by adding China in this situation, it would promote the autocratic rule in the region to counter America.

The implication for the Region

Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy towards Iran pushed many countries like India and Japan to cut off the trading ties with Tehran. This was seen as the major diplomatic blunder made by the U.S.A because of the one very simple reason that these countries could play a major role to find the middle ground for the talks between Iran and the west.As claimed by the reports, China will increase its partnership to build the ports too, getting a port in the Persian Gulf will provide the major boost to Chinese strategic plans. If China successfully expands its presence in Iran then it will lead to the major conflict between the U.S.A and China. Though China has already invested heavily on the Gwadar port, it will not hesitate to gain an upper hand in the Persian Gulf. From where Beijing can keep its eye on U.S.A movements in the region. India’s investment progress in Iran was slow and that’s the reason recently Iran started the railway track construction work on its own.

The growing instability in the region will further escalate, as the partnership will grow between these countries. China’s ambitions to expand its BRI projects and Syria’s “Four seas strategy” can become a foundation for future projects in the whole region. Syrian President Bashar Assad has promoted this four seas strategy since 2009 that would transform the Damascus into a major trading hub. Syria wanted to form an economic space between Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria that will shape a new bloc of nations in the region. This plan includes the four seas of the region from the Mediterranean, Caspian, Black Sea, and the Persian Gulf, which makes easy for these nations from investment to transportation. 

The expanding partnership will lead to the architecture of a security structure between these three countries and will directly undermine the U.S.A presence in the region. The gradual consolidation of powers based on Anti-American and Anti-west sentiments can even form a proper security alliance where the inclusion of Turkey would be a possible scenario shortly. All these countries kind of having the same political regime one way or another, so for them it will be a great strategy to stop America’s presence from their domestic issues. If U.S.A wants to stop China’s involvement in the region, it needs to involve its key Asian partner, so that there will be some major power players in the region to maintain stability. 

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Are The U.S. And Its Partners Losing The Grip On Syria’s North East?

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The oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor located in Eastern Syria has witnessed another escalation between the local Arab populace and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Unexpectedly for the SDF and the U.S. military, the protesters have established control over a number of towns, and it seems they are willing to go further.

Sources close to the SDF initially reported that the protesters limited their demands by requesting a solution to a number of minor issues, but soon enough it became evident that it was not the case and the issue – and a major one – was the presence of SDF in the area. The demonstrators were quick to turn from chanting slogans to taking control of towns: in a single day they captured all of Shuhayl, Al-Hawayej, Diban and forced the SDF members to leave before blocking the roads.

The protests were sparked by a series of assassinations of influential leaders of Al-Aqidat and Al-Baqara tribes. Three Deir Ezzor sheikhs were killed in less than a week: Sheikh Suleiman Khalaf al-Kassar from Al-Aqidat was shot in Busayra village July 30. The next day Sheikh Suleiman Al-Weis who belonged to Al-Baqara was shot in the head by two gunmen on a motorcycle in Al-Dahla. Finally, Sheikh Muttshar al-Hamoud al-Hifl was shot in the outskirts of Al-Hawayej on Sunday, August 2. His relative Sheikh Ibrahim al-Hifl was also wounded in the incident but survived.

In a peculiar coincidence, a few weeks before the assassinations the tribal leaders were invited to a meeting with the SDF Commander Mazloum Abdi with the U.S. servicemen also present. The agenda reportedly included co-operation between the tribes and the SDF. It was reported that at least one of the victims, Muttshar al-Hifti, declined to participate and to engage with the Americans.

An insight into the details of these meetings can be gained through the reports about an oil deal allegedly struck by the SDF and a little known American oil developer Delta Crescent LLC. Delta Crescent was granted exclusive rights for production, refinement and export of the oil from Deir Ezzor fields potentially bringing the participants annual profit of hundreds of millions dollars, according to statements made by U.S. officials. The deal was met with harsh response from the Syrian government who labeled it a “deal between thieves”.

According to sources on the ground, the implication is that those who fell victim to the assassinations shared this view and opposed the deal. Their removal, however, has clearly failed to deliver the results intended by the masterminds behind their deaths, yet another time when the Kurds were thrown to the wolves by the U.S. who is accustomed to making their allies bear the consequences of the reckless pursuit of the American interests.

Meanwhile the SDF started to amass forces in the vicinity of the areas shaken by the unrest. The reinforcements sent from Al-Shadadi, Al-Sousa and Baghuz are gathering at the US military base near Al-Omar oil field. Moreover, two US Apache attack helicopters were spotted patrolling the area. These developments combined with lack of report on any negotiations between the protesters and the SDF leadership paint a grim picture, indicating that the SDF likely intends to use force to disperse the protests.

It is not the first time the SDF resorts to the use of force when faced with the discontent of the local populace in north-eastern Syria, although this approach had never brought the desired result. All areas affected by the protests have been subjected to dozens of raids of the SDF and the US special forces. Reports on these operations unfailingly mentioned arrests of ISIS terrorists. They failed to mention, however, what the Pentagon files under the category of “collateral damage” – deaths of civilians killed in the result of the actions of the US military and their allies.

The upheaval in Deir Ezzor is yet another evidence that the SDF, initially an independent movement, has degraded to a tool or a lever of American influence in Syria, and now finds itself fighting consequences instead of locating the root cause of the unrest – widespread corruption among the officials of the Kurdish administration and dramatic deterioration of the living conditions.

The regional turbulence created by Washington’s constantly shifting stance – or rather a lack of stance – on Syria has grown so strong it finally turned against the American interests. The latest escalation in Deir Ezzor should be considered nothing but a byproduct of this ill-designed policy and, perhaps, marks a beginning of the end of the US and SDF hegemony in Syria’s North East.

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Middle East

The Looming Disaster of the Safer Oil Tanker Moored off the Coast of Yemen

Amb. Sahar Ghanem

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Amidst the raging conflict in Yemen, the challenge of the Safer Oil Tanker emerges as one of the most hazardous risks to the environment safety in the Red Sea as a result of the potential oil spillage in the Red Sea at any moment.

Following expressing deep alarm, the United Nations Security Council called on 29 June,2020, to immediately grant unconditional access for the United Nations technical experts to assess the tanker’s condition without overdue to prevent growing risk of possible rupture, explosion or even spillage.

The threat of the floating Oil Tanker, moored off the coast of Yemen, does not only impose challenges to the geopolitical and strategic importance of the Red Sea, but it rather represents a huge challenge that threatens the environment safety, leading to one of the largest environmental hazards in the world, after the unforgettable 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Siberia – Russia.

On 18 July 2019, the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator Mr. Mark Lowcock informed the UN Security Council of the growing threats of the deserted Safar Oil Tanker, warning of possible explosion or leakage of its loads [1.14 M barrels of crude oil]. In his briefing on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, he pointed out that such an incident would result to a disastrous crisis to the marine life in the Red Sea and maritime in the straits of Bab-Al Madeb and Suez Canal which are two significant water corridors to the world.

It is known that the Red Sea is home for some scarce invertebrates such as corals and 600 species of fish. Unless preventative measures are taken now and immediately to prevent oil spill or possible tanker explosion, we will concretely witness a disastrous incident leading to severe effect on the Red Sea marine environment, and on both biodiversity and livelihoods starting from Yemen and extending north to Suez Canal through Jobal strait and the Gulf of Suez and south through Bab-Al Madeb strait reaching even Hormoz strait through the Arabian sea.

Environment experts’ projections expect that 115 islands are vulnerable to the risk of oil pollution; 126,000 fishermen will lose their source of income, among them 76,000 fishmen are in Al Hodeidah governorate; 850 tons of fish stocks will be exposed to the danger of contamination and death in Yemen, in the Red Sea and in Bab Al-Mandam; more than 500 fish species are at high risk of disappearing; and 300 corals will certainly disappear as a result.

The problem emerged following the takeover of the Capital Sanaa on 21 September 2014, when Houthi militias implemented unilateral actions inter alia dissolving parliament and taking over Yemen’s government institutions, which have seriously escalated the situation, leading to illegitimate seizure of power “coup d’etat”, and eventually leading to current conflict in Yemen.

The floating storage and its connected offloading terminals have not been inspected or maintained since 2015 after Houthis militias took control of the area including port of Ras Isa to which the floating tanker is connected by terminals extending 9km off the coast of Yemen.

Yemen’s internationally-recognized government has warned in many letters of evident corrosion and lack of maintenance, creating the conditions for serious environmental disaster. The Yemeni government made an urgent call for the UN to send inspection team to scale the risks.

Unfortunately, the UN inspection team was denied access to the floating tanker by the Houthi militias many times. The UN inspection team is tasked with the mission to provide the necessary inspection and put recommendations for the needed maintenance and continuing to create obstacles will refrain the team from reaching the tanker and delivering the urgent inspection.

Lately, the Government of the Republic of Yemen repeated asserting the urgent emergency of the imminent catastrophe of the floating “Safer Oil Tanker”. The government confirmed that “given the critical nature of the aging floating tanker’s situation, on 27 May 2020 leaks have been reported in the tanker causing water leaked into the tanker’s operational machineries raising the possibilities of the tanker rupturing, sinking or even exploding.

Despite urgent fixing of leaking occurred, the deteriorating situation of the tanker threatens continuing eroding. As a result, on 15 July 2020, the UNSC held a session to debate latest urgent developments and called for urgent response to be taken by the Houthi militias as required by the inspection team. It is worth mentioning that the Houthis always show willingness to accept the inspection team just like the assurances made by the Houthis in August 2019 only to be withdrawn right before the inspection team was due to board the tanker.

The Yemeni government has always approved all relevant initiatives recommended by the UN to allow addressing the serious matter and proposing necessary urgent solutions to the Safer oil tanker, as part of the responsibility to the humanitarian and economic measures proposed by the office of the UN Special Envoy Mr. Martin Griffiths and as part of its responsibility to building and sustaining environment safety; however, the Houthi militias continue refusing to allow permissions to the UN inspection team to visit the oil tanker, noting that the situation of the Safer oil tanker is becoming extremely critical more than ever, causing increasing threats of possible oil spillage, tanker sinking and explosion at any moment.

In conclusion, the Safer Oil Tanker is a floating time-bomb and allowing inspection and maintains is the only possible means that will stop a serious catastrophe from happening. If incidents of explosion or even oil spill occur, that will lead to one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in the Red Sea. Action must be taken immediately while we have in hand an opportunity to protect the environments and spare the lives of millions of people in Yemen and the region from a looming tragedy.

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