Environmentalists, human rights activists, labor unionists, and farmers have gathered from Bangladesh to South Africatoday to protest the World Trade Organization meetings in the Gulf state of Qatar. Doha, Qatar must have seemed likean ideal location when the World Trade Organization chose it a year ago to host this week’s crucial gathering oftrade ministers. At the time, the main security concern on the minds of WTO officials was the threat of a repeat ofthe big anti-globalization protests.
Qatar promised an unprecedented security crackdown for the summit, including closing its borders to all butofficially approved visitors in the run-up to the meeting. Demonstrations are rare in the prosperous but tinycountry, though its ruler, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, is relatively liberal by the standards of the region. Hefunds but does not control al-Jazeera television, the only truly independent source of news from the Muslim world.
Few protesters were granted visas to travel to Qatar, and most of the anti-WTO trade and environmental groups whowere granted permission cancelled their plans in the wake of the September 11th attacks. But as trade ministersgather in Doha, the location in the sensitive Gulf region no longer seems to be an advantage. Large parts of theIslamic world are in uproar over the US bombing campaign against Afghan targets, and Osama bin Laden has issued awarning to all westerners to get out of the Arabian peninsula.
Several delegations have been issued with gas masks and emergency medical kits, while US trade officials will becarrying radios in case they need to be evacuated to the fleet standing by offshore.
The fact that all of the WTO’s 142 members have decided to go to Qatar despite the risks indicates how important theybelieve a new round of global tariff cutting is. With the world economy cooling rapidly, the US and the EuropeanUnion stress that failure in Doha would be a major blow, especially as the World Bank warns that trade is stagnating.
- Thatcher Collins, correspondent for Free Speech Radio News in Quatar at the WTO meetings.
- Zeina Al-Hajj, environmental campaigner from Lebanon, on board the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior, docked inDoha, Qatar.
- Katharine Ainger, editor, New Internationalist magazine.
- Rhyne Phala, activist and youth organizer.
- Anna Dashgard, organizer with Canadian Front on the WTO in Ottawa.
- Mike Menser, No More Walls Coalition Against the WTO in New York.