Profile of Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned, Consort of the Emir of Qatar
She is the favourite, the one the Emir encourages to take centre-stage. Since Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani came to power in 1995, his second wife has refused to limit herself to the occasional official photo, instead mounting a personal challenge to the unwritten rule that banishes woman from public life. Noted on the international stage for her air of proud independence, at home more importantly Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned is a symbol for a whole generation of women. If she refuses to veil her face, if she holds her husband’s hand in public and wears figure-hugging dresses when abroad, it is above all to open new possibilities for women in a country too long hidebound by its social traditions. “For many people in Qatar, she is not just a First Lady. She is the very symbol of women’s right to work and be educated. In Arab countries, women are too often shunted to the side,” says a resident of Doha.
Exploiting to the full her universally acknowledged charisma, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned has embarked on a series of different projects. “She wants to go faster than time,” says one observer. “At the start she was advised to concentrate on a single plan of action. But she preferred not to set herself limits. She says that the gas will run out one day and it is our duty to bequeath to future generations a high quality system of education.” The Sheikha has that sense of purpose to be found in history’s most enlightened monarchs which consists of seeing beyond oneself and one’s own time. Qatar produces only a small quantity of oil, but it is one the world’s three biggest producers of natural gas, with reserves that are estimated to last between 150 and 200 years. Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned has come to embody her country’s ambition to move down a path of enlightened Islam, setting an example to other countries in the region. Though small in surface area, Qatar has 1.6 million inhabitants — of whom only 209,000 are Qatari nationals – and the highest per capita income among developing nations. It also devotes 2.8 percent of its GDP to research – the equivalent of 1.5 billion dollars per year.
Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned believes that if Qatar is a country destined to change, then education is the key to sustainable development. Fifteen years ago she launched the Qatar Foundation, which is the body behind Education City. Opened in 2003, Education City comprises six separate universities, all co-educational. It also includes a medical research centre (Sidra is currently under construction and due for completion in 2012) as well as a science and technology park. The Sheikha is also president of the Arab Foundation for Democracy, which promotes women in politics, and she has helped set up the Shafallah centre for autistic and disabled children. In addition she is a UNESCO special envoy for basic and higher education, and has spoken out in support of access to education in crisis zones such as the Gaza Strip. All this she carries out in conjunction with her official duties on Qatar’s Supreme Education Council and Supreme Council for Family Affairs. In 2007 Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs recognised her work in promoting progressive education and building bridges between Islam and the west when it awarded her its annual Chatham House prize.
In her own family story, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missned embodies that quest for peace and dialogue that she has made her own. Her father Nasser Abdullah Al-Missned was an opponent of Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad bin Abdallah Al Thani, father of the current Emir. The family lived in exile in Egypt and Kuwait, but returned to Qatar for the Sheikha’s marriage in 1977. The couple now have seven children, five boys and two girls.