Doha Forum 2019: Reimagining Governance In A Multipolar World


Doha Forum 2019, the premier policy forum in the Middle East, reconvened today for its 19th edition at the Sheraton, Doha.  This year’s forum will bring together policymakers, world leaders, and experts from around the world under the theme “Reimagining Governance in a Multipolar World”.

Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Amir of Qatar, Doha Forum 2019 opened with a welcome address by His Highness, who stressed the importance of building dialogue between nations, forging consensus and creating solutions for collective global issues, especially as the world moves towards multipolarity.

This year, the two-day policy forum welcome over 250 speakers to debate some of the world’s most challenging issues, through plenary sessions, parallel sessions, and roundtables, where experts from a range of sectors will discuss the world’s most pressing issues, particularly the Forum’s titular topic of reimagining governance in a multipolar world.

This year’s honourable guests include; H.E.  Mahathir Bin Mohammed, Prime Minister of Malaysia; H.E. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda; H.E. Armen Sarkissian, President of Armenia;  H.E. Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador; H.E. Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia; H.E. Otto Sonnenholzner, Vice President of Ecuador;   H.E. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda; H.E. Hassan Ali Khayre, Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Somalia; H.E. Fayez El Sarraj, Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya; U.S. Treasury Secretary, H.E. Steven T. Mnuchin who will travel to Doha Forum with H.E. Ivanka Trump, Advisor to the U.S. President; H.E. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly;  H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission and H.E. Ban Ki-moon, Deputy Chair of The Elders, to name just a few of the VIP guests who are represented at the Forum.

Day One sessions included:

Plenary Session: Reimagining Governance in a Multipolar World:

The opening plenary session of Doha Forum was held under the theme of this year’s edition, ‘Reimagining Governance in a Multipolar World’, in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Qatar. The session focused on the need to rethink existing systems of multilateral governance, with a focus on inclusivity and a respect for human rights and the rule of law.  Panelists explored the viability of the current order, particularly the limitations of the UN’s Security Council, and the need to include more countries in decision-making, particularly when they are directly affected. Panelists stressed the importance of sovereignty and collaboration, as well as mutual respect in promulgating international norms and overseeing the global order.

Speakers touched upon the necessity of addressing root causes of conflict, particularly terrorism, which they found was ultimately, due to a lack of inclusivity.  Mr. Borge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, stated: “We moved from a Cold War to a hot peace… trade is not a weapon, it is a key to prosperity if you get it right.”

Parallel Session: Unwinding Africa’s Proxy Wars

The discussion began with H.E. Ahmed Isse Awad, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Federal Republic of Somalia, stating that “Africa is headed towards integration and cooperation, which will result in conflict resolution and economic benefits for the region.” The session laid great emphasis on the political situation in Somalia and Libya. The panelists highlighted Somalia’s progress towards bringing about stability through dialogue. However, they also spoke of how external involvement remains a matter of concern, as it can be an obstacle towards achieving stability as evidenced by Libya. Ms. Claudia Gazzini, Senior Libya Analyst at the International Crisis Group explained how Libya has become a hub for proxy wars, and it can take a very long time before the country could be stable. She further explained that external rather than internal stakeholders are becoming increasingly relevant in the conflict resolution process.

Parallel Session: Paths to Peace in Syria

In partnership with Brookings, this parallel session looked at how the abrupt departure of US forces from the eastern Turkey-Syria border in October sparked a new round of violence and increased the uncertainty around how these wars end. Shifting alliances appear to favor the Assad regime—and its Russian and Iranian backers— as well as Islamic State, while the consequences of the Turkish incursion remain unclear. To this end, Randa Slim, Senior Fellow and Director of Conflict Resolution and Track II Dialogues Program, Middle East Institute, highlighted how “Syrians went into the streets due to the lack of security, not to just fight Bashar Al-Assad”. Meanwhile, violence continues to kill and wound Syrian civilians. This parallel session explored the conditions of the civil war in Syria and possible paths to peace. Dr. Jason Fritz, Senior Research Analyst, Brookings, spoke of the cost of rebuilding Syria, and its difficulty while the Assad regime [remains] in power. “We are now entering a global economic slowdown if not recession, which means typical donors will not have the funds to allocate to the reconstruction in Syria.”

Parallel Session: Whose Migration Challenge?

The European Council on Foreign Relations hosted the panel on migration, and the manner in which countries respond to it, both at a country level and globally.  With speakers representing Europe and Africa, the discussion addressed misconceptions around migration, and the different types of migrants – from legal to illegal fleeing conflict or economic hardship.  Ambassador Nicola Clase, Coordinator for Migration and Refugee Issues, Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, talked of how the number of migrants is at an all time high, and contrary to popular belief, the majority of migrants move within rather than between countries and continents.  H.E. Miroslav Lajcak, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Slovak Republic, stated: “Migration is a global phenomenon. We can’t stop it but must learn to manage it. No single country can manage it alone… Migration is a very divisive issue. Europe has traditionally been very generous, but it couldn’t cope with the uncontrolled mass migrations of 2015. This led to division within Europe and was a key issue that we are still struggling to solve.”  The panelists focused on education as a way to equip migrants with the skills necessary to succeed in their adoptive homes without being viewed as a burden, ending with an appeal to emphasize the positive aspects of migration.

Parallel Session, Business Hub: Investment Trends in Emerging Markets

In partnership with the Investment Promotion Agency Qatar, this panel addressed the opportunities and challenges for both global investors and the emerging markets they engage with.

The discussions were rooted in the context of a competitive global economy in which economic activity occurs, while placing considerable pressure on emerging countries to improve their incentives and capabilities if they are to achieve these objectives.

Murat Emirdağ, CEO of Hepsiburada, commented: “Developing markets can collaborate to create a sustainable ecosystem. They can combine synergies and capabilities to offer an attractive unique value proposition to investors.” He continued, “to create a successful investment environment in emerging countries… find specific areas or problems you need to solve and focus on addressing them.”

Parallel Session: Advancing the Repatriation of Foreign Terrorist Fighters

The session highlighted the importance of developing a national action plan that encompasses the repatriation, rehabilitation, and reintegration of radicalized fighters, with Jean-Paul Laborde, Roving Ambassador, Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, emphasizing “the need for the international community to develop an action plan to achieve the three Rs.” H.E. Dr. Mutlaq bin Majed Al Qahtani, Special Envoy of the Foreign Minister of the State of Qatar for Counterterrorism and Mediation of Conflict Resolution, stated that “Terrorism is not a regional issue, but a global one [with] radicalized fighters originating from more than 120 countries.” Cooperation between countries is therefore crucial to counter-terrorism efforts.

Roundtable: Preventing Extremism and Building Resilient Societies in Fragile States

Moderated by Susan Stigant, Director, Africa Programs, United States Institute of Peace, the roundtable discussed the tremendous need to prevent extremism and build resilient societies in fragile states. While there has been a decrease in global terrorism, the geographic extent of terrorism is still on the rise. In a recent project by the U.S. Institute for Peace, a group of people came together to discuss a strategic approach around three key pillars:

  • The need for a shared understanding towards prevention, along with a recognition that this is a political and ideological problem

  • The need for the U.S. government to operationalize a strategic prevention framework

  • The need to rally the international community together as this cannot be solved by one country and one approach

The speakers talked of prevention at the community level, the need to mobilize an international conceptual framework to address challenges, preventive diplomacy and collaboration. Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, United Nations, said “Within a state, if you deprive a community from participating and oppress it for too long, it implodes, making it a fertile ground for radicals to control the narrative.” In his closing remarks, HE Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General, United Nations Counter-Terrorism Office expressed “We need to rebuild trust and confidence, without which we will not be successful. Equally important is the involvement of civil societies.”

Parallel Session, Business Hub: Developing the High-Tech Sector in Russia: Prospects for Venture Investment

In partnership with Roscongress, this panel discussion addressed how venture investment in the Russian hi-tech sector is now one of the most important elements of Russia’s economy. Participants discussed development trends in the global and Russian venture markets, identifying priority sectors for venture investments along with the most effective investment tools for bilateral Russia-Qatar cooperation. The session found that the competitive global business environment requires national economies to focus on innovation, transformative industries, and rapid growth with strong returns.

Ali Alwaleed Al Thani, CEO, Investment Promotion Agency Qatar, stated: “Since 2019, Qatar has been witnessing Russia’s drive towards building a resilient tech sector. There’s a lot for Qatar to learn as it is embarking on the same road with initiatives such as TASMU Smart Qatar. We see a lot of investment opportunities for the Russian tech sector to operate here, and for Qatar investors to invest in Russia.”

He added: “The Qatar-Russia relationship has been on a positive trajectory. There is ongoing cooperation, a lot of discussion on how we can work together, and cross-migration. The potential from this is high.”

Parallel Session: Challenges to the International Legal Order and Possibilities for the Future

Held in partnership with the Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this session reviewed how an established global legal order has become an important prerequisite for trade, diplomacy, respect for human rights, and all matter of international relations. Globalization has brought about fundamental changes in the economy, society, and in politics. Panelists spoke of how we are now witnessing the undermining of long-established international laws and practices, with a pivot towards unilateralism, political tension and widespread unrest.

Moderated by Surya P. Subedi QC, DCL, OBE, Professor of International Law, University of Leeds, the roundtable discussed proposals to reform the United Nations. Martin Chungong, Secretary-General, Inter-Parliamentary Union, said “The international legal order needs to become more inclusive by integrating new stakeholders, and become more effective by taking legally binding resolutions, in addition to becoming more democratic.”

Karin Landgren, Executive Director, Security Council Report, added “The U.N. Security Council should discuss topics such as cyberthreats, the nuclear arms race and climate change. The General Assembly has the power to make recommendations to the Security Council and it should use that power. Further, Security Council members must abandon the ‘Adopt & Forget’ approach to the issues and spend time on implementation of the decisions that are taken.”

Parallel Session: A Stronger Role for Europe in the International Arena – What Would It Take?

The parallel session highlighted the challenges faced by Europe and the European Union. The discussion began with an analysis of Brexit and the impact it could have on the future and relevance of the European Union. Daniel Gors, Director of the Centre for European Policy Studies, stated: “The economic consequences of Brexit are secondary compared to its political consequences.” European experts also discussed security challenges posed by historic Russian aggression towards Europe and mass migration resulting from conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. All in all, the experts and ministers voiced the need for regional coherence and international cooperation and dialogue to tackle both global and regional challenges.

Parallel Session: Technology and the Challenges of Global Governance

As one of Doha Forum’s Strategic Partners, Chatham House moderated this parallel discussion on the development of governance in a wide range of digital spheres – from cyberspace to internet infrastructure, to the ethics of emerging technologies and how it is failing to match rapid advances in technical capabilities or the rise in security threats, leaving significant regulatory gaps.

Parallel Session: How ISIS Wins Women, How Women Win the War Against ISIS

In this parallel session, Dr. Davis-Packard of Women Forward International moderated a discussion on Women in ISIS.  The conversation centred around the complexity of women’s involvement in ISIS, with Ambassador Melanie Verveer articulating “We cannot look at women as a monolithic force. There are many women who are perpetrating the violence, and are co-actors, while there are others who have suffered horribly.” Panelists spoke of the need to achieve a holistic understanding of what impels women to join ISIS, and the very real grievances and sense of alienation they may feel when they volunteer.  ISIS’ sophisticated use of social media and its targeted outreach to women is indicative of the nuanced appeal of ISIS for women, despite the later commodification of the sex. The panelists stressed the need to include women in the peace building process and acknowledge their agency.

Parallel Session: US-China Relations and the Future of the Rules Based International System

In partnership with Wilton Park, this parallel session at Doha Forum looked at how the current international system was established based on a combination of rules, derived from international law, and balance of power underpinned by the United States. With China’s rise, the United States’ relative decline, and the increasing rivalry and confrontation between the two, the international balance of power is becoming more fluid and unstable. Prof. Stephen Chan OBE, Professor of World Politics, SOAS University of London, further expressed Africa’s vulnerability as it is caught between the US and China, quoting a proverb ‘When the elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets flattened’. “To this end, Africa is a collection of vulnerable states. If Africa has to choose to trade rare metals (that power the WIFI) with the US or China – where does that leave Africa?”  However as Dr. Lu Miao, Co-Founder and Secretary General, Center for China and Globalization, stated “The completion of Phase 1 of the US-China trade deal has stabilized the global market expectation.”

Prof. Danny Quah, Dean and Li Ka Shing Professor in Economics, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, left the audience with food for thought when he suggested “Middle powers and small states should do everything they can to preserve multilateralism and rules-based order, instead of handing over control to the US or any other country.  If we are suspicious of big tech monopolies, then we should be suspicious of super power countries too.”

Parallel Session, Business Hub: A look Ahead at Investment in 2020

Held in partnership with the Qatar Investment Authority, this parallel session summarized that the warning signals are flashing for global growth. It reviewed the big macroeconomic themes likely to dominate in the year ahead, while investigating how to make sense of Brexit and what to watch in the technology sector. H.E. Sigmar Gabriel, Chairman, Atlantik-Brücke, stated, “Looking positively, the UK Brexit agreement could provide a blueprint that we can use with other regional players, nations close to the EU.”

Aside from key panel and plenary debate at Doha Forum, there were a number of significant networking opportunities and side events.

The Doha Forum report, launched for the first time at the Concordia Annual Summit, was revisited, while new reports were also launched by The Wilson Center, Rand Corporation, and Qatar Financial Center Authority.

A number of round table discussions also took place on the sidelines of the event, while the presence of over 200 local and international media ensured that the networking areas were utilized to the fullest.

Other on-site events included a Doha Debate portal, which allowed participants to engage in conversation with individuals in conflict areas, bringing to life humanitarian concerns.  Viewpoint, spotlighted attendees and speakers on site.

Collaborating with the world’s top decision makers and policy leaders, Doha Forum exclusively partners with top policy institutions which lead research and debate on global issues. This year these include: The Royal Institute of International Affairs, widely known as Chatham House, the International Crisis Group, the European Council on Foreign Relations and the Munich Security Council.

Content partners for 2019 include: Aspen Initiative for Europe, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Brookings, McCain Institute, Observer Research Foundation, RAND Corporation, Roscongress, Stimson, UNWTO, Wilson Center, Wilton Park and Women Forward International.

Institutional partners include: The Ministry of Defence, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Ministry of Finance, Doha Film Institute, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Investment Promotion Agency Qatar, The Abdullah Bin Hamad-Al Attiyah International Foundation for Energy and Sustainable Development, Qatar Financial Centre, Qatar Free Zone Authority, Qatar Investment Authority, Qatar Petroleum, Qatar National Tourism Council and the Supreme Committee for Legacy and Delivery.

Doha Forum thanks its sponsors: Diamond Sponsor Qatar Investment Authority; Platinum Sponsors Qatar Airways, Qatar National Bank and Qatar Petroleum; Gold Sponsor Qatar Financial Centre and our Official Telecommunication Partner Ooredoo.