Women leaders and pioneers are Qatar's pride

Women leaders and pioneers are Qatar's pride
Comment: Qatar's modern renaissance was the result of the vision of both its men and women, including Sheikha Moza, argues Maryam al-Khater
6 min read
01 Aug, 2017
Qatar's modern renaissance was the work of its pioneering men and women [Getty]
Some puerile-minded people may use her name to make jibes, or drag her into their petty political squabbles, the wife of the former Emir of Qatar Sheikha Moza bint Nasser.

But her name in Arabic, a name of quintessential Gulf origin, is a world of meanings. It underlines a rich linguistic history, where Arabs, when naming their daughters, had made sure to pay tribute to the sources of their natural wealth that represented the engine of their economy, even a century ago.

Indeed, a Moza, plural al-Moz, is a type of rare Arab pearls, and so are Hessa, Dana, and Lulua, all common names of women in the Gulf. Pictures of these pearls exist and interested people can visit national museums in Gulf countries and see them firsthand.

It is necessary to highlight this history, which cannot be falsified, for those who have spared no lies to wage superficial but ill-intentioned, immoral campaigns against Qatar and the exemplary women in its leadership, disregarding all norms and religious traditions.

In Qatar, we all take pride in righteous mothers who have given birth to us and entire generations

Men and women lead the way

The Moza they have targeted is the mother of the Emir of Qatar, whose stances on his nation’s issues have made many an Arab proud. His father, the Father Emir, is the Arab leader behind Qatar’s modern renaissance, a supporter of oppressed peoples who was the only Arab leader to break the siege of Gaza in 2012.

With ill intentions, some referred to the Emir Tamim bin Hamad, Glorious Tamim, as Tamim bin Moza, without realizing it is not an insult to attribute a person to his mother. One day, we will all be called by our mothers’ names. None of this makes any difference in the ladder of glory, for what matters is that before resurrection, one must be upstanding and righteous. Prophet Mohammad, praise be upon him, was sent by God to “perfect noble morals” before all else.

In Qatar, we all take pride in righteous mothers who have given birth to us and to entire generations. And we are proud of the ideal represented by the mother of the Emir of Qatar. But as journalists, we have the right to go further, and highlight certain things we have seen, beyond media coverage, that bear witness to her character and achievements.

On the day the Father Emir and Sheikha Moza inaugurated Education City, in an event that was the largest yet in Qatar, we saw him emerge from the ceremony on television, then drive his car personally, with Sheikha Moza sitting by his side. He held her hand, before he took the wheel, and that gesture announced without words that Qatar’s march would be led by both its men and women.  

The image is still engraved in our memory. Qatar, it was plain for all to see, was embarking on a renaissance, following the vision of its leader, to be led by men and women with direct blessing for competent women like her to be in the driver’s seat, including in education and social development.

Qatar launched an initiative to develop education in schools, implementing world-class standards and moving Qatar away from curricula full of theories and redundancies, towards critical thinking and practical education

Women and education in Qatar

Qatar was racing against time. The education of Tamim and his siblings was not the only concern of their mother, but so was the education of all Qataris and residents of Qatar, in a vision that saw knowledge from a new, different perspective.

In 1997, Qatar University invited us to attend the first ever open and direct debate between female students and graduates, at the initiative of Sheikha Moza. She had a lot to say about the future of the university and education in general in the state. This was in the early days of Emir Hamad’s tenure.

In 1998, Qatar witnessed a new shift in the public education system. An initiative was launched to develop education in science schools, implementing world-class standards and moving Qatar away from curricula full of theories and redundancies, towards critical thinking and practical education.

Sheikh Moza carried the concerns of public education in Qatar. This sense of responsibility and push for diversity drove her independent vision, which sought to unlock different academic specialties and infuse competitiveness and freedom of academic choice in an over-bureaucratic school system.

It was not an easy thing to accomplish. Even at the level of the world, it was a completely new endeavor, at the heart of which was a quest for fulfilling high-quality international standards in public education, and equality between Qatari citizens and expatriates.

Since everything new entails many challenges, and pros and cons, the initiative received its fair share of analysis and criticism. Yet Sheikh Moza welcomed it, and closely followed everything that was written and published about it, out of a keen desire to improve it and implement all constructive feedback. 

While we cannot deny the associated challenges and setbacks, we also cannot deny that the initiative led to a new generation of graduates who are critical thinkers, rather than copycats who memorize information, and who can compete with their peers in the world. And Qatar reaped the fruits of this effort, including during the blockade of Qatar, in various fields. 

Internationally, it is hard to count Sheikha Moza’s achievements in education, not just in Qatar, but in the world.

World-class achievements

In higher education, Sheikha Moza, by chairing the Qatar Foundation and Qatar University, sought to match opportunities to specialties. Education in Qatar University improved in quality, opening horizons that were untapped before, under the vision of Sheikha Moza and other pioneering women, such as Sheikha al-Misnad, former president of Qatar University, and her deputy Sheikha Bint Jabr Al Thani. 

In addition, Qatar Foundation introduced advanced majors, including by opening seven branches of some of the world’s most prestigious universities and research centers, and the Qatar National Library linked to the British Library.

Internationally, it is hard to count Sheikha Moza’s achievements in education, not just in Qatar, but in the world. 

In 2003, UNESCO chose her as Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education.   

Her international memberships and initiatives – such as Education Above All, Educate a Child, Protect Education in Conflict, Fakhoura, and Silatak – helped create new hopes for children, youths, and women in poor and developing nations, and job opportunities for unemployed youths in the Middle East and North Africa region.

In 2010, she served in the Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group, focusing on basic education, and in 2012, she advised the steering committee of the UN Secretary-General's Global Education First Initiative.

Beyond education, in 2016, the UN secretary general asked her to join as advocate the UN Sustainable Development Goals Group. In 2008, she served as ambassador for the UN Alliance of Civilizations.

I will not enumerate further achievements, which can be seen with a simple Google search, but I want to mention something I witnessed and was not covered in the media. During the Alliance of Civilizations conference in Rio in 2010, Sheikha Moza visited the city’s impoverished favelas, launching education programmes there, away from the limelight.

This is who Sheikha Moza is, and no opinion article can be sufficient to do her justice. But in short, throughout her work, she was not only a mother for Tamim, but for Qataris and others. We are proud of Tamim not only because he is the son of his father, Hamad, but also because he is the son of a giving mother, and Qataris can be proud to be the children of Sheikha Moza, as he is. 

Maryam Al-Khater is a Qatari writer and media personality.

Follow her on Twitter: @medad_alqalam

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.