DOHA | three years of boycott by its arab neighbors, Qatar has adapted to the isolation. Today, the rich emirate gas wishes to assert its ambitions for autonomy with a factory of military equipment, partially reconverted in the production of respirators for patients for the coronavirus.
In the factory Barzan, the core of the industry of the armament of the small country in the Gulf, posters depicting soldiers brandishing rifles of local manufacture boast the “sovereignty”.
In addition to the guns, and rocket-propelled grenades or night-vision goggles, the factory also manufactures respirators to meet the demand in full pandemic COVID-19.
In collaboration with the u.s. manufacturer of defence equipment in the Wilcox, the plant aims the objective of 2 000 respirators products per week, of which a large part is directed to “friendly countries”.
“We thought it was the perfect time to increase production,” said Nasser Al-Naimi, director-general of the public enterprise Barzan Holdings.
This company is the latest manifestation of the offensive of charm of Doha aiming to consolidate old partnerships and to secure new alliances, after his sudden ostracism by regional powers rival.
In June 2017, three neighbours in the Gulf, saudi Arabia, the united arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as their ally in egypt, have brutally broken off their diplomatic relations and economic with Doha.
The quartet accuses the small, but very ambitious emirate’s support for islamist movements, of being too close to Iran and interference in the internal affairs of arab countries.
Qatar has denied the accusations and refused to accept the 13 conditions imposed by its opponents for a resumption of relations. Among these applications: the closing of a Turkish base and, most importantly, the television channel Al-Jazeera, the black beast of arab regimes.
Nasser Al-Naimi had to oversee the establishment of an air bridge to bring Us the machines used in the manufacture of respirators, a method already used by Qatar for import of dairy cows at the beginning of the embargo.
“There was a five-year plan to import these machines, but it was obtained right away,” said Nasser Al-Naimi in the factory-brand new located in a science park on the outskirts of Doha.
Its isolation by the main economic actors in the Gulf has forced Qatar to ensure a degree of self-sufficiency with the constitution of food reserves, or the installation of truck farms, in a country that was heavily dependent on imports.
For Nasser Al-Naimi, the blockade has played a role of a “catalyst”. “It was an evil for a good which has enabled us to realize our true potential, we ensure that everything we need is produced here,” he continued.
According to the leaders of Barzan, five countries have expressed their interest in the respirators manufactured in Qatar.
Despite the embargo, the economy of the emirate has been more resilient than those of its rivals in the Gulf, the international monetary Fund (IMF) forecasting that the country will be one of the few in the world to achieve a budget surplus by 2020.
The authorities remain discrete on the cost of production of respirators, according to David Roberts, an expert of the region, “is likely to be frighteningly expensive.”
“In the era of the COVID-19, we all can see that it can be difficult to procure equipment”, noted Mr. Roberts, according to which the approach of Qatar seems to be logical.
Moreover, Qatar has not neglected the safety of food.
In large warehouses, five basic foods were stored in large quantities in order to avoid that the supermarket shelves will be empty, as was the case at the beginning of the embargo.
“We wanted to increase the inventory of products that cannot be grown in Qatar in order to meet the challenge of an epidemic such as the sars coronavirus,” says Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, the ministry of Commerce.
“We have in stock the rice for eight months, and sugar for seven months, and oil for three months,” he says.
In December, the Doha said that it would increase its stocks on six months of 22 essential commodities for three million people.
“Ten years ago, everybody talked about the common market of the Khalij (Gulf)”, reminds the expert of the Middle East Tobias Borck.
“Qatar has never had need of self-sufficiency, but the crisis has created a moment of nationalism, and the desire to show what they are capable of”, he observes.