DOHA, Qatar The anti-globalization movement has come to Qatar, and the world’s trade ministers rather like what they see.
In 1999, protesters trashed rainy downtown Seattle in a spectacle that helped derail a meeting of the World Trade Organization, but they have barely raised a finger under the blazing sun of Doha.
Instead, they are gathering under the tents outside the Sheraton Hotel in the Qatari capital where the globe’s trade chiefs are huddling this year.
Eschewing riots, protesters staged a little theater with a nasty portrayal of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and other top officials before a horde of television cameras.
Even Qatari security officials, clad in gleaming white robes that are the traditional Arab garb in the Gulf, leaned in to hear the dialogue.
“Patents and profits come before people,” growled an activist whose costume of Mr. Zoellick included a cheap suit and fake plastic mustache.
The comment was a reference to U.S. demands that WTO members avoid weakening patent rules on life-saving pharmaceuticals for diseases such as AIDS and malaria. Mr. Zoellick has said that patents are crucial to ensuring innovation in medicine, but his message has fallen on deaf ears among protesters in Doha.
The United States and 141 other members of the WTO traveled to Qatar in the hopes of kicking off a new round of trade-liberalizing talks. Mr. Zoellick hopes WTO nations will agree to reduce barriers to agricultural and industrial trade, as well as services such as telecommunications and finance.
The meeting runs through tomorrow.
Fewer than a thousand representatives of nongovernmental groups journeyed to Doha, partly because Qatari authorities limited their numbers. But many also stayed home for financial reasons or because they were afraid to travel to the tiny, oil-rich emirate, which lies across the Persian Gulf from Iran.
Seattle-style protests, however, were afoot elsewhere in the world.
At WTO headquarters in Switzerland, following a peaceful demonstration on Saturday of about 5,000 people, militants hurled bottles, firecrackers and molotov cocktails. Riot police eventually drove the protesters away.
By contrast, the scene in Doha entertained without shocking.
It delighted Gerrit Ybema, the Netherlands minister for foreign trade. He calmly toed the official line when asked about the WTO meeting, but he came alive when asked about the thespian protest.
“The portrayal of Mike Moore came very close,” he enthused, referring to the former New Zealand trade minister who heads the WTO. “The guy needs to work on his New Zealand accent.”
Little did Mr. Ybema know that Barry Coates, the man playing the WTO chief, is actually from New Zealand. Years of work in Britain as the director of the World Development Movement, an advocacy group for poorer countries, has taken the edge off his Kiwi accent.
Mr. Coates had little good to say about the WTO meeting, which he claimed was muting the voices of the poor.
“It’s about developing countries getting shut out and about civil society not being represented,” he said.
Mr. Coates, who said he has met “frequently” with the British trade secretary, Patricia Hewitt, called the limits on activist participation “outrageous.”
Mrs. Hewitt bristled at the suggestion that governments were behaving undemocratically. She said governments, unlike activists, have voters behind them. “We are accountable to parliaments,” she said.
Not content to send a few activists to the scene, the renegade environmental group Greenpeace sailed its flagship, the “Rainbow Warrior,” into Doha harbor for the meeting.
The vessel made a long journey from Philadelphia on Sept. 15 to Dubai in the Persian Gulf. After a few days of tedious negotiations with Qatari authorities, it docked in Doha.
The ship’s predecessor of the same name gained fame in 1985 when the French government, irritated by protests against France’s nuclear testing in the south Pacific, bombed and sank it in a New Zealand harbor.