Navigating conflict zones: Sheikha Moza speaks on protecting education from attack

The Qatari royal also expressed her pride in the leadership of Qatar’s current leader.

The situation in Iraq during the deadly 2003 invasion was the point in which Sheikha Moza bint Nasser started leading efforts in protecting education globally from attack.

Speaking to CNBC International last month in Paris, the visionary leader described conflict as the main culprit in disrupting education worldwide. The interview took place on the United Nations International Day to Protect Education from Attack, launched by Qatari royal in 2019.

Sheikha Moza, who is also the chairperson of the Education Above All Foundation (EAAF), recounted the time she visited Iraq to help save education. 

At the start of the war that drastically changed the country, Sheikha Moza said students and teachers asked for Qatar’s assistance to ensure their education continues.

“In 2003 when I got involved with UNESCO, I started receiving letters from Iraqi students. I remember in 2003 that was the US invasion of Iraq and its allies. Students sent letters asking to help them pursue their education and learning,” the Qatari royal said.

Teachers were invited to Qatar at the time, where they asked for bulletproof vests to protect them as they performed their duties whilst some students were granted the opportunity to pursue their education in Doha.

Sheikha Moza also visited Iraq’s Green Zone throughout the war, where she saw ‘shocking scenes of destruction’ across educational institutions.

“I met with the students and I met with the teachers, unfortunately some of these teachers were not there because they were killed, apparently the bulletproof vest was not enough,” she said.

Iraq has been struggling in various sectors since the US invasion, in which the country’s health ministry stated that at least 151,000 persons were killed between 2003 and 2006, with the total number of civilian casualties disputed.

“One conflict can really transform a country from being a wealthy country to a country that suffers from ignorance and illiteracy,” said the Qatari royal. 

Sheikha Moza had led the UN  initiative to mobilise international support to ensure accountability for the ongoing attacks on education and armed violence against children around the world.

“Under all these [international] laws, attacking education, attacking the right to education, it’s a crime. I’m not asking for too much, I’m asking that everyone should act or make a difference according to what he can and his means,” she told CNBC.

In 2012, Sheikha Moza founded EAAF in an effort to extend a helping hand to communities in need of humanitarian support, particularly in the education sector.

“You need to educate people to be prudent, to be wise in terms of dealing with their ecosystem, their environment, with their health, with their sanitation […] when you educate an individual, you’re really helping to bring up a healthy wellbeing,” said Sheikha Moza.

Education in Qatar

At home, Sheikha Moza is a pioneer in the field of education, having established Qatar Foundation (QF) in 1995. 

The educational entity has grown to become a key hub for research and learning, helping the intellectual capacity in the country to further flourish and bringing together campuses from all over the world. 

Commenting on her mission in the promotion of education, Sheikha Moza said that it has always been in her DNA as it was a key element in her upbringing, and her experience with her children’s upbringing.

“When my children were young, I struggled with their education, I didn’t have much choices, either public schools or private schools and there was not that difference between these two paths. I created my own school and then I started reforms in Qatar,” said Sheikha Moza.

Education was also a crucial element in leading Qatar’s modern development, under the vision of the former leader, Father Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

“The Father Amir had a vision for his people and for Qatar. He wanted Qatar to be a modern, prosperous country. He achieved that. The transition from Sheikh Hamad to Sheikh Tamim [bin Hamad Al Thani], my son, happened in a very smooth way,” she said.

Sheikha Moza further noted the significant achievements that Sheikh Tamim has led since becoming the Gulf state’s amir in 2013.

“I think Sheikh Tamim went through a lot of challenges, he went through lots of hardship times since he took over, but he faced all of this with prudence and wisdom,” she said.

The Qatari royal described Amir Tamim as “a young, ambitious leader” who she said “learned a lot from the political master, his father.”

“I am, as a mother, also very proud of him,” said Sheikha Moza.

The World Cup

Since winning the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar focused on merging sports with education by joining efforts with international and local entities, namely the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC).

The Gulf state, now less than a month away from the kick off to the major event, has placed great emphasis on promoting sports for peace.

“Our region has been through a lot since being a sort of hot zone for a long time. So such an event I think will bring hope, happiness and joy,” said Sheikha Moza.

Among the key points of criticism Qatar has faced, mainly by Wester countries, is the region’s hot climate. As a result, Qatar pushed the tournament’s date to the winter season.

“Qatar promised to deliver a clean, enjoyable, peaceful event and we’ll be achieving that. When it comes to the weather, some criticism were related to the weather that Qatar was too hot, so discrimination based on weather is something I cannot understand and comprehend,” said Sheikha Moza.

Last week, Sheikh Tamim slammed the “unprecedented” campaign targeting Qatar since it won the bid to host the World Cup.

“Since we won the honour of hosting the World Cup, Qatar has faced an unprecedented campaign that no other host nation has received. And we had handled it at first in good faith while considering some of the criticism positive and beneficial,” Sheikh Tamim told the Shura Council.

“It soon became clear to us that the campaign has continued and expanded, and includes slander and double standards,” added the Qatari leader.

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