Her Highness Sheikha Moza, the wife of the emir of Qatar, has set out to transform the oil-and-gas-rich state into a model for reform in the Persian Gulf.
She is spearheading a multi-billion dollar shopping spree for world-class education institutions, attracting Cornell, Carnegie-Mellon, Texas A&M and Virginia Commonwealth University to Education City, an ultra-modern campus built on Qatar’s desert sands.
In a rare interview, Sheikha Moza speaks to NBC’s Preston Mendenhall about the impact of the Qatar Foundation’s groundbreaking projects – and their ability to transform the region.
What is your vision for Qatar?
We want Qatar to be a better nation. Our hope is really that our people and our citizens will be able to have a stake in their country. The Qatari people should be full participants in building their nation. We are trying to achieve this through three main components: good governance, a strong civil society and a diverse economy.
You are spending unprecedented amounts of money by bringing American institutions to Qatar. Why not just send Qataris abroad?
We can send them abroad, but [our goal is] not just educating a few individuals. It’s educating the whole nation. It’s upgrading … the education system, social system and political system. It is bringing a different environment, a different culture, to this nation. A few people cannot change the environment, but bringing the environment here could make a big change.
Why American institutions?
When we conducted our search, we went through … Europe and America. And we selected the schools according to their rank and according to their academic standard. [We were looking] for the best, and only the best. So that was actually the condition and the criteria. Quality, nothing else.
You are looking many generations ahead in the development of Qatar.
We have to understand that history does not belong to us. We belong to history. It means that we need to look inward and try to recreate ourselves. We need to look outward and realize this dream.
Qatar has a high per capita GDP, $38,000. We want to augment this with good education. We want our people to be wealthy, not just with what they have. We want them to be wealthy with what they know. Knowledge is everything today.
Some of your neighbors see these reforms as controversial. How will Qatar’s path affect the region?
Geographical lines and borders, they have no power at all. Not any more at least. They just reflect the sovereignty of the states. But I don't think that there is sovereignty over people's minds. What’s happening here in Qatar could affect the rest of the region. This is a possibility we shouldn't deny.
The United States’ reputation has suffered in the Arab world. Will Qatar’s reforms change that?
At Education City, we are trying to bring people together, trying to bridge the gaps, trying to make people understand that, in the end, they are all human. American schools reflect the beautiful face of America. Having these academic programs represents only the beautiful face, only the good face of America.
How have these changes affected the lives of Qatar’s women?
I hope that these changes will affect them in very positive way. [Qatari women] have potential. In the proper environment, they can reach their full potential. And this is what we are trying to do here. We are trying to create the right environment, because we don't believe [women] are any less than anyone else in the world.