On the 12th of June, the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies (CHS) and the Regulatory Authority for Charitable Activities (RACA) organized a joint symposium on "The Experience of Qatari Humanitarian Organizations in Adapting to a Changing Regional Landscape". Held at CHS, the symposium drew a general picture of the effects of the changing regional landscape on humanitarian organizations' work in Qatar, convening representatives from RACA, Qatar Charity (QC), the Qatar Red Crescent Society (QRCS), and an international humanitarian expert. This event arises from CHS' commitment to its guiding principles of contextualization, participation, and collaboration in order to develop the resilience of humanitarian work. The symposium saw a wide attendance of practitioners in the humanitarian field, scholars, experts, and other interested individuals.
Following opening remarks from Dr. Ghassan Elkahlout, Director of CHS, and Ali Al-Ansari, Consultant to the General Manager's Office of RACA, Dr. Elkahlout provided an overview of the impacts of political developments on humanitarian work. In the mid-1990s, the atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina transformed voluntary humanitarian work to a more institutionalized field. Following 9/11 and the war on terror, many organizations' scope of work became limited due to increased restrictions. The GCC crisis similarly saw greater institutionalization of the humanitarian field in Qatar which added greater time and resource costs to local agencies, and increased their difficulties in accessing financial resources. These impediments disrupted Qatari organizations' humanitarian activities abroad. Al-Ansari then focused his intervention on the changes to funding for Qatari humanitarian organizations during the GCC Crisis between 2017 and 2021. Although numerous challenges emerged for local agencies, it was revealed that their impacts were limited due to donors' trust in their work. H.E. Ali bin Hassan Al-Hammadi, the General Secretary of QRCS, provided a historical overview of his organization before underscoring the safety challenges presented by the COVID pandemic to humanitarian agencies' abilities to provide aid and relief to vulnerable communities. He echoed Dr. Elkahout's recognition of 9/11 as a watershed moment in the humanitarian field, as humanitarian work became accused of supporting terrorism. Mohammed Al-Ghamdi, the Executive Director of International Cooperation at Qatar Charity, discussed the burgeoning rise in humanitarian need around the world that are linked to the increase in global conflicts, threat of climate change, and COVID-19 pandemic. Against this international backdrop, Al-Ghamdi praised Qatar's ability to adapt to the changing political environment and maintain their humanitarian and regulatory work. Dr. Iyad Nasr, a humanitarian expert and former regional director of OCHA, continued by discussing the impacts of the GCC Crisis that led to a fragmented regional approach to humanitarian aid. Nasr advises the region to rebuild its relationship in order to foster a collective and beneficial humanitarian strategy. Nasr also praised Qatar's resilience during the Gulf Crisis and commended its efforts to revive the charitable and humanitarian sector.
In an engaging question-and-answer session, the panelists entertained questions on: the definition of terrorism and its implications on humanitarian work; the politicization of charitable work; the impacts of the pandemic on fundraising and financial transactions with the UN; and the triple nexus. These questions centered on the experiences of Qatar's charitable and humanitarian institutions and received valuable insights from the expertise of the panelists.
Overall, the symposium highlighted the inextricable link that exists between the humanitarian field and politics, whereby humanitarian work can serve as a tool for soft power for a state. However, humanitarian work must necessarily maintain clear divisions between its own agenda and the state's, for example by continuing to serve vulnerable communities in states that may not enjoy friendly relations with its own.