Doha Forum 2019: Reimagining Governance In A Multipolar World - Concludes With A Success


The 19th Edition of the Doha Forum concluded on Sunday 15 December following two days of discussion and debate by leading policy makers who had reconvened in Qatar under patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, Amir of Qatar.

Doha Forum this year was proud to host more than 3000 guests in Qatar, including more than 300 panelists from 142 nationalities and 104 countries, who contributed to more than 50 sessions across the two-day event.

Representing Qatar were H.E. Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani and H.E. Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Closing the Doha Forum, H.E. Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador stated: “It is our responsibility to create a world that every generation since the dawn of civilization has dreamed of, we have the ingredients humanity never had before, let’s find a formula for this new era.”

This year’s honourable guests included; 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.

In addition to the many networking opportunities on site and side meetings, Doha Forum hosted more than 30 signings and individual MoUs, and an international media presence of more than 200 people from around the globe.  A Viewpoint series also interviewed more than 40 attendees and speakers on site against the Doha skyline.

During the forum, the Ooredoo Connections Lounge in the exhibition space welcomed guests who were able to truly immerse themselves in some of the issues talked about at the Forum, through Virtual Reality, Art, and displays including the Doha Debates portal, connecting guests to real-time, on-the-ground conversations in some of the world’s most remote areas.

A summary of the Doha Forum day two sessions is below:

Special Session: Resilience, Governance, and Public Policy for the 21st Century

In partnership with Hamad bin Khalifa University, the second day of Doha Forum commenced with a special session on how global and domestic policy is increasingly affected by financial markets, weather events, terrorism and sudden foreign policy shifts. The capacity of governments to respond to these events with agility and resilience is key to effective governance. Professor Zeger van der Waal from the National University of Singapore, articulated how “resilience is forged and mastered in times of crisis.” During the session, H.E. Achim Steiner, Administrator at United Nations Development Programme, emphasized the legitimacy of public institutions, stating “public institutions should be capable of holding individuals in power accountable for their unlawful actions”.

Plenary Session: World Disorder: Meeting Emerging Global Security Challenges with Innovative Solutions

In partnership with the Ministry of Defense, this session explored the security threats facing the world, from the collapse of traditional modes of conflict – from inter-state to intra-state, the changing nature of traditional alliances, to shifts in political and economic norms, and threats and opportunities arising from the digital age. H.E. Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defense Affairs, Qatar, finding that “the old method of creating external enemies for internal cohesion is over.”  Panelists focused on the need for dialogue and cooperation, as well as an international system of rules to control any military arms race, articulated by H.E. Dr. Hulusi Akar, Minister for Defense, Turkey “from a humanitarian point of view, it’s important to put into place rules and regulations to control the military arms race, otherwise it’ll cause a problem not just for one or two countries, but for the world.”

Plenary Session: Business Leadership for Positive Impact

Hosted by the Qatar Investment Authority, this session highlighted an upcoming era in finance where profit at any cost is no longer socially acceptable, while social impact and environment protection investment opportunities continue to grow. On a global level, the launch of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement illustrate how investors can act as innovators.  However, there are challenges and the world needs a clearer picture of standards and definitions. Commenting on the discussion, Mansoor bin Ebrahim Al Mahmoud, CEO, Qatar Investment Authority, spoke of how “44% of our infrastructure projects had zero emissions, showing our commitment to positive impact. This is a serious issue we are trying to solve and have been investing in companies that prioritize this field.”  He continued “yesterday, we signed a MoU with Volkswagen for R&D using autonomies electric cars for public transportation here in Qatar.”

Parallel Session: Rules of Engagement for Non-Military Conflict

Conducted in partnership with RAND Corporation, this session discussed the risks and costs associated with the large-scale use of military force, whereby international rivalries have come to be characterized by increasingly sophisticated, wide-ranging and integrated campaigns using non-military instruments. Panelists examined critical questions surrounding rules which can help prevent or mitigate armed conflict, with Andrey Kortunov, Director General from the Russian International Affairs Council commenting “what we need is to create a critical mass of stakeholders, interested in universal regimes that can build a multipolar context”. Dr. Stefanie Babst, Head, Strategic Analysis Capability from NATO, further stressed upon the necessity of political will in creating and developing rules of engagement for non-military conflict.

Parallel Session: New Models for Online Content Governance

With social media increasingly in the spotlight and much debate around regulating digital content, companies have struggled to develop and enforce appropriate standards to address issues ranging from proliferating hate speech, incitement to cause harm, a rise in xenophobic, racist, and sexist language in online interactions. Panelists discussed current and proposed efforts to monitor, regulate and curate content online. This included how misinformation, hatred and violence on digital platforms, are defined, and who defines them.

Zoe Darmé, Manager, Global Affairs and Governance at Facebook spoke of the importance of transparency in decision making, mentioning Facebook’s proposed Oversight Board which will be comprised of external experts who will examine complaints. Mr. Jacob Mchangama, Executive Director, Justita talked of “France, the UK, and the European Union following suit with Germany in holding social media companies responsible for not removing flagged content. Unfortunately, authoritarian countries like Russia and Belarus are copying & pasting this law into their legal code”.  Addressing the proposed regulation of digital content, Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief, BuzzFeed News, said “right-to-speech doesn’t mean right-to-reach” and used the example of Reddit which, Smith continued, “employs an editorial oversight at a top-level without censoring anyone. That’s where the compromise lies.”

Parallel Session: Preserving Human Rights in Times of Crises

This session highlighted obstacles to the implementation of universal human rights. H.E. Dr. Danilo Türk, Emeritus Professor of International Law at University of Ljubljana, explained that during times of crisis, governments take selective political decisions which usually do not include human rights, and as a result, these are often widely abused in times of crisis. Ms. Irene Khan, Director-General of the International Development Law Organization, discussed the importance of promoting women’s rights and achieving gender equality, stating: “This is an exciting and encouraging time for women, as women are in the streets fighting for their rights. There have been changes in laws and legislation to ensure women are given their rights, yet women are still not safe at work and in their homes, and they still face discrimination across different sectors… There will be no progress or development until or unless women are given their due rights.”

Parallel Session, Business Hub: Islamic Finance: Trends and Opportunities

This panel held with Qatar Financial Centre, explored Islamic finance, now one of the fastest growing segments of the global financial system as it offers a safer and more ethical alternative to conventional banking. The industry’s growth has been buoyed by recent investments in infrastructure, as well as Islamic financial certificates or sukuks, capital market products, and the adoption of financial technology. However, Islamic banks continue to face obstacles in integrating with the global banking environment. The panelists reaffirmed the need for consistent product structures and investment practices, accessibility across markets, and regulation capabilities.  These factors are particularly important as the sector expands.

During the session, Yousuf Mohamed Al-Jaida, CEO, Qatar Financial Centre, stated “Our vision is to reach out to Malaysia and Turkey to create a consortium for Islamic finance activities. We believe that the three of us can come together to dominate the Islamic Finance market globally.”

Parallel Session: Yemen: Prospects for Peace

The panel debated the possibility and likelihood of peace in Yemen, and the role of the United Nations in ameliorating the humanitarian crisis.  The panelists further discussed how distrust between the warring parties and the renewed fighting harm any confidence-building measures. While commenting on the Yemeni conflict, Saeed Thabit, Yemen Bureau Chief at Al Jazeera Arabic, explained that there is no political or military solution to the Yemeni conflict in the near future, until external actors stop supporting their proxies operating in the country. The panel examined the balance of power in Yemen after five years of war, the influence of international parties’ support of various factions within the country, and potential scenarios for a political solution.

Parallel Session: The Impact of Free Zones on International Trade and National Development

In partnership with Qatar Free Zone Authority, this discussion centered around the steady increase in investment in free zones , due to their proximity to logistics hubs and corridors as well as one-stop services that facilitate ease of doing business. There are, today, more than 5,000 free zones across 147 economies.  This number is likely to increase as countries realize the positive effects these zones have in attracting investments, facilitating capital flows, and stimulating the local economy. Qatar’s free zones alone have attracted investments worth 1bn QAR from major international companies and led to the establishment of new partnerships between companies across diverse fields.

H.E. Reem Al Mansoori, Shura Council Member, Qatar, and Assistant Undersecretary for Digital Society Development Sector, Ministry of Transport and Communications, commented on Qatar’s burgeoning startup scene. She spoke of Qatar’s “Last October during QITCOM, we attracted a large number of startups from all over the world. We offer them the environment they need for their businesses to flourish. We have great infrastructure, alongside a collaboration platform with academia, universities and research, which will spur innovation. [And] in October we announced our biggest infrastructure project, which is TASMU’s Smart Qatar Central Platform, that will be available for global services.”

Media, Technology, and Multiple Versions of the Truth

The proliferation of new technologies and media, including social media platforms like facebook and twitter, along with the manipulation of facts and the rise of disinformation and ‘fake news’ has undermined the authority of governments, experts, the conventional media, and very concept of objective truth. Dipayan Ghosh, a Co-Director for Digital Platforms and Democracy Project, Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School emphasized that “the primary responsibility lies with governments with a political will to inform the public. We are not going to see any voluntary action on behalf of companies to do anything about this problem. We should not expect them to act in the public interest by addressing economic overreaches or content as it will affect their record-breaking profits.” Held with Foreign Policy Magazine, the panel reviewed the manner in which these trends are giving rise to political polarization, undermining social stability, fueling the rise of demagogues and threatening democracy itself. Dr. Sarah Kreps, Professor from Cornell University agreed that “there is room for digital literacy”, to which H.E. Louise Mushikiwabo responded stating “there is a pressing need for education among the common man consuming news through the various platforms”.

Plenary Session: Protecting the Benefits of Tourism in a Multilateral World

In partnership with the United Nations World Tourism Organization and the Qatar National Tourism Council, this plenary reviewed the effect of geopolitics on tourism.  H.E. Mr. Akbar Al Baker, Secretary General of QNTC lauded tourism and its importance as a way to build bridges and develop understanding between otherwise disparate peoples, especially sports tourism, noting the success of the Gulf Cup in bringing together fans from across the GCC. HRH Princess Dana Firas, President of the Board, Petra National Trust, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador said, “Daesh in Syria is trying to erase connections between people, erase a narrative that brings people together”. Panelists also spoke of how governments have sometimes weaponized tourism, blocking tourist flows, while terrorist groups target tourists and heritage sites for maximum impact, stoking fear globally and economic hardship locally or regionally. This session explored what can be done to reduce the negative impacts of conflict on travel and tourism, positing that multiparty collaboration with the public and private sectors, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations was the most effective way to bolster tourism as a driver of peace.

Parallel Session: MENA Workforce Development: Report Launch and Roundtable Discussion

Alongside the Wilson Center, this session reviewed political and socioeconomic developments in the MENA region and how they have slowed economic growth, decreased the flow of foreign direct investment (FDI), constrained local investment, and led to increased unemployment. According to the World Bank, the youth unemployment rate in the MENA region is among the highest in the world, with women’s labor force participation among the lowest. Ms. Roya Mahboob, CEO, Digital Citizen Fund in Afghanistan believes “we need more women role models in different areas like technology and engineering to prove that women are capable of achieving anything, if they get the right opportunity.” The session introduced The Wilson Center’s new report, “Ready for Work: An Analysis of Workforce Asymmetries in the Middle East and North Africa,” and addressed questions regarding the skills mismatch, the education system, technical and vocational training, the private sector, the role of entrepreneurship and the problem of endemically low female labor force participation.

Parallel Session: The Adaptation Challenge: New Approaches to Climate Change Resilience

Conducted with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the session highlighted that despite efforts to date, climate change is already a reality. Increasingly, attention is turning to how the world can adapt to a new paradigm of a hotter planet with more extreme weather conditions. H.E. Fahad Al Attiya, Ambassador and Chairman, Qatar National Food Security Programme posited: “the knowledge and expertise to tackle climate change exist – what we need is wisdom. There are incumbent structures and industries that want business to continue as usual, as long as their profit is not impacted. The question becomes – should we continue to make it profitable for them?” The panel further explored how the public and private sectors can better collaborate and implement innovative solutions to address current climate challenges.

Parallel Session, Business Hub: The Geopolitical Contest for Tech Leadership in the Asian Century

Held with ORF, the panel addressed how interdependence has shaped the global community. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, supply chains and innovation systems have been exported to developing communities, creating symbiotic economic relationships.  In many ways, this guaranteed peace and security. With the ubiquity of technology and a more multilateral approach, the 21st century is being defined entirely differently. Rachel Rizzo, Adjunct Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program, Center for a New American Security, articulated: “we are going towards a world where the internet is going to be fragmented and will look different in different places. You want to have rules of the road that people can follow… We’re building the airplane as we’re flying in it”.  The session’s moderator, Samir Saran, President, Observer Research Foundation, concluded by stating: “The mobile in your hand allows you to join the debate at any time. It’s our job as users to continue to defy states that try to censor us. May each of you use your mobile phones well today.”

Parallel Session: U.S. Global Leadership in 2020 and Beyond

In partnership with the McCain Institute, the session examined the global order in the decades following World War II, when the United States enjoyed a period of unprecedented global leadership. Its hegemony was rooted in economic power and military might, and America was a hub of technological innovation, and an imperfect but recognized beacon of freedom for many around the world. Panelists discussed the US’ current position in the world order, with all panelists agreeing with Mr. Thomas Bossert, Chief Strategy Officer, Trinity Cyber, that “there needs to be an avenue for redress in international arena”. Ms. Amy Pope, Associate Fellow, Chatham House, focused on the importance of multipolarity, finding that “another four years of President Trump [would be] a threat to multipolarity … people are forgetting why we needed those institutions in the first place”.  However, she suggested that the current American administration is forcing a re-examining of the existing global order, which has not been adapted to deal with newer geo-political realities.

Plenary Session: The United Nations at 75: A Time for Renewal and Innovation

In partnership with the Stimson Centre, the plenary session reviewed how the international institutions built since 1945 to help nations manage and resolve their problems peacefully—and together—are being weakened to a degree not seen since their founding. Ibrahim Gambari, Chairman, Savannah Center for Diplomacy, stated “we need to build a coalition of the willing but also the unwilling. We must all fight back against this attack on multilateralism. In the face of these global challenges there are numerous divisions and discrepancies within and across societies along racial, gender, socioeconomic, and other lines, with the debate highlighting how to engage and explore novel approaches to improve the architecture of global governance.  H.E. Ban Ki-moon, Deputy Chair, The Elders, Former Secretary-General, United Nations, found that with the plethora of issues confronting societies, “there is not a single country, however powerful or resourceful, that can do it alone”. Rosemary DiCarlo, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs, UN, conceded that the UN does not communicate its successes or efforts well enough, saying “We need to do a much better job at telling our story. We need to showcase our efforts behind the scenes. We’re not just working in Syria, Yemen and Somalia, we are also preventing conflicts.