15 NOVEMBER 2010


It took the British public a couple of days to discover that Sheikha Mozah of Qatar is the real First Lady of the world. Michele (Barack) Obama, Carla Bruni (Sarkozy), like others, were suddenly replaced by a solid confident female, who looks stunningly beautiful in impressively fashionable, yet respectfully conservative, attire; a gracious lady fully supportive of her royal husband's role and an effective benefactor of so many worthy basic causes. From left to right, the U.K. media gushed about the wife of the ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad, who was received by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II during an official visit.

London and Doha go a long way back, since the British mandated rule of the Gulf to ensure a safe passage to the Indian Raj. Kipling's East is East and West is West was about Afghanistan, of course. But the British public has a special affinity for a region that displayed affectionate respect then went ahead to mark its own future after the decision to withdraw from East of Suez. With comparatively little trouble (even with Iranian claims on Bahrain and Tomb Island), newly-formed states like Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates joined the international community as member states.

Now, enough history and more on image. Qatar has its own admirers and detractors. In particular, its current Prime Minister, who oversees its Foreign Affairs operations as well as much of its investment ventures, has had a negative image in the Arab world, although he has struggled to improve it by making a better effort to explain his positions to those who thought he was overbearing. Actually, Qatar's Permanent Representative to the U.N. is one of the worst dispatched by that young country since its membership, with the possible exception of his predecessor who fancied himself, not just as an extraordinary diplomat, but as a poet and Casanova as well!

Yet very few would contest the dynamism, sincerity, and valuable good offices of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa, in giving practical support for the U.N. and as an honest broker in mediating for settlement of conflicts from Lebanon to Sudan. His straightforwardness, his popular approach, accessibility to all parties -- and his sense of humour -- have often helped in advancing the human aspect of an issue.

His loyal wife, Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, proved to be a valuable asset to her loving husband. While fully considerate of her country's traditions, she was instrumental in advancing the role of women in public life and their increased involvement in education, such as up-to-date technology and social care, including practical opportunities for the physically challenged. Her directly sponsored Foundation to Strengthen Family Life presented a lively example which is now copied by several developed countries. Like her husband, her practical support for U.N. objectives and all aspects of U.N. work is unflinching. Her involvement in encouraging partnerships with the highest calibre of internationally known universities, hospitals, and cultural foundations, has been channeled effectively and with a sharp focus on results. Her late father, Nasser Al-Missned, was a pioneer of enlightened education in the Gulf Region. All her dedicated work was and is done discreetly, with full consideration of her country's traditions and the Emir's predominant role. Progress was achieved in timely fashion, inspired by the leadership, with full participation by the components of a growing society.

Years ago, in 1994, as the state of Qatar was emerging into a new light, a then senior U.N. Secretariat official, who spotted the potential role of Sheikha Mozah, wrote, inviting her to participate in a media event on a main social issue. She declined graciously. Speculation at the time was that she did not wish to be seen by some traditionally conservative groups in Doha as being photographed by attentive media in New York. It is an indication of a programme accomplished that now her photographs were headlined all over by the media of London.

To everything there is a season...And nothing succeeds like success.