- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Americans could only imagine it: high per capita income, ample employment opportunities, free health care and education from kindergarten through college all without income tax. This is precisely the lifestyle experienced by citizens of the tiny Gulf nation of Qatar.
Based strategically in the Persian Gulf, east of Saudi Arabia and boasting the third-largest natural gas reserves in the world, Qatar has transformed itself since independence in 1971 to a modern state. For the 21st century, it stands poised to shape regional and international relations in free trade and democracy. While, at first blush, one may think such a transformation should be easy for a country that "does a trillion dollars in gas," we know too well that it isn't just about money when it comes to leadership and stability. This change requires a commitment to certain values that we share with Qatar. It has invested returns from its natural resources in human capital. Its citizens are highly educated, often in the West, and its foreign workers from Asia and the Middle East also manage a good standard of living.
Following last month's attacks, Qatar immediately expressed its condolences, voiced its condemnation and pledged its cooperation. Given Qatar's history, values and recent military cooperation, this is not just lip service. We only have to remember in the Gulf War how Qatari troops successfully held off Iraqi troops in the battle over Khafji. With its strategic location and pre-positioning base with U.S. weapons, Qatar is in a strong position to act on its commitment. In 1992, we signed a joint military cooperation agreement with Qatar and have expanded our working relationship with them ever since. On his official state visit to the United States this week, the emir will likely reiterate his nation's friendship and strategic cooperation on a variety of issues.
But U.S.-Qatari relations go beyond military and intelligence gathering. In fact, it is the other things that make Qatar a true partner for the United States in the region in fighting terrorism. We have expanded trade, investment, educational and cultural ties over the last few decades and stand to gain mutually from these. While still an absolute monarchy, ruled by the Al-Thani family, Qatar has taken great strides to enshrine values of universal suffrage, a free press and human rights.
Qatar has taken large steps in the Arabian Gulf toward democracy, where voting and other basic freedoms are relative. In 1999, Congress recognized Qatar's first municipal elections in its history, where women not only had the right to vote, but were also allowed to run for office, although none were elected. The emir has committed to enacting a new constitution by late next year that would include a nationally elected Parliament with universal voting rights.
Another area where Qatar has surprised many is by maintaining a free press. When Sheikh Hamad assumed office in 1995, one of his first acts was to guarantee a free and independent press. The satellite channel Al-Jazeera, based in Doha, Qatar, has emerged as the most popular news channel throughout the Middle East and among Arabic-speaking audiences all over the world.
In April, I had the pleasure of going to Qatar for the second time. I attended the First Annual Conference on Free Trade and Democracy, co-hosted by the Heritage Foundation, the Islamic Institute and the University of Qatar. This conference was well-attended both regionally and internationally. Eight members of Congress attended, along with parliamentarians and government officials from Europe and the Middle East. Qatar wished to celebrate its historic commitment to free trade. As a port city along ancient and colonial trade routes, it has a culture and history of free trade dating back more than a thousand years.
Next month, Qatar will host the mother of all free trade get-togethers: the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Fourth Ministerial Conference. Some say this site was a cynical attempt by developing nations to thwart protests. But Qatar has opened its door to non-governmental organizations and other non-WTO participants. Also, it is no accident that Qatar was one of the first Gulf countries to enter the WTO. Qatar is committed to the values of an open economy, and recognizes the difficult task in bringing together developed countries and developing nations to agree on principles to be ratified next month.
It is in our nation's interest to bring prosperity, security, stability and justice to this region. Qatar has shown by its track record that she really means it on being a reliable ally. Today's fight is for terrorism. Tomorrow will bring new challenges, and we need to place our bets where we have the best shot.

Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.

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