Guyana’s President Made Official State Visit: Held Bilateral Discussions And Sign Deals

President Irfaan being officially welcomed by Qatar's Amir

President Irfaan Ali, on Sunday, May 14, arrived in Doha to become the first Guyana head of state to officially visit Qatar at the invitation of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani. President Ali is keen to advance bilateral ties with Doha to see fruition in Qatari investments in Guyana.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023: The Amir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani welcomed the President of Guyana, Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali, at the Amiri Diwan, on an official state visit, with an official reception. The Amir held a luncheon banquet in honour of President Mohamed Irfaan Ali and the accompanying delegation. The two leaders then held official talks. The day before, Ali had a packed schedule in which he had numerous meetings with government officials and the private sector.

According to the Qatar News Agency, “the President of Guyana expressed his thanks and appreciation for the Amir for the good welcome and reception, expressing his hope to strengthen bilateral relations and push them to broader horizons at all levels.”

President Ali said, “The talks session dealt with discussing cooperation relations between the two countries and ways to enhance and develop them, especially in the investment field and energy, in addition to discussing several issues of common interest.”

Among those present at the meeting with the Amir and President Ali were Chief of the Amiri Diwan Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Minister of Finance Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari, Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad bin Sherida Al Kaabi, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sultan bin Saad Al Muraikhi and several ministers and senior officials.

Guyana’s presidential delegation comprised Senior Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Kumar Singh, Guyana Greece and Middle East Ambassador George Hallaq, Director of Presidential Affairs Marcia Sharma Nadir, and Guyana’s First Resident Ambassador to Qatar, Safraaz Ahmad Shadood.

On Tuesday, President Mohamed Irfaan Ali inaugurated the Guyana embassy in Qatar, attended by Qatar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Sultan bin Saad Al Muraikhi, and local diplomats.

President Irfaan, Qatari Officials with the delegation at the opening of Guyana’s Embassy in Doha

Ali said both countries have “embarked on a journey of an enhanced bilateral relationship.” He added, “We both promote peace, stability and sustainability […] I want to thank all of our friends who are here to celebrate this momentous occasion.” 

The opening of an embassy in Doha was Ali’s first since his presidency, and the appointment of the first resident Ambassador in Doha attests to President Irfaan Ali’s seriousness on ties with Qatar. 

While in Qatar, President Irfaan Ali met with about fifty Guyanese in the diaspora in Qatar. 

President Ali is advancing discussions on bilateral relations and cooperation between Qatar and Guyana in aviation, energy, food security and infrastructure with various government officials and the private sector.

Guyana’s Ambassador to Qatar, H.E. Safraaz Ahmad Shadood

Qatar is a significant visit for the Guyanese President as Guyana advances its global positioning and profile. The resident Ambassador, Safraaz Shadood’s robust diplomacy in Doha and President Irfaan Ali’s active, hands-on approach to governing has picked up the pace between the two countries that could translate into significant Qatari investments in Guyana. Moreover, these talks are happening as Guyana makes headlines worldwide for a wave of economic bonanza stimulated by massive oil and gas discoveries. 

Guyana is witnessing a surge in foreign direct investments as the country continues to grow annually at an average of 25% or more. 

High-level visits between the two countries have increased. For example, in October 2022, Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad Sherida Al Kaabi travelled to Guyana and held talks with President Mohamed Irfaan Ali and his Cabinet.

During the Covid pandemic, Qatar supported Guyana with a full field hospital as a backup if needed.

In 2017 Qatar removed visas for Guyanese travelling to Doha. The two countries also signed an air agreement. Guyana is hoping Qatar Airways will invest in air transportation and cargo. Guyana has no national airline. Perhaps this could pave the way for an Arab airline like Qatar Airways or Air Arabia to open a hub in Georgetown. However, the country has an open-air deal with the United States.

In 2000, Foreign Minister Clement Rohee and Dr Odeen Ishmael, Guyana’s Ambassador to Kuwait and Qatar, attended the 9th Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Heads of Government Summit in Doha. Then in 2009, for the Arab South America Summit, Vice President Jagdeo, while on his way to Qatar, was compelled to abruptly cancel that visit upon the death of Mrs Janet Jagan in 2009.

A significant pillar of Qatari diplomacy is its survival as a sovereign state. Therefore, Qatar is keen to broaden its presence in Guyana and the Caribbean. After all, Guyana is home to the Caricom Secretariat, a grouping of 15 countries that Qatar also needs. After the Qatar blockade, Doha is expanding its global outreach and broadening its support network. 

Guyana and Qatar have cooperated at multilateral forums like the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB). 

Meetings in Qatar on May 15, 2023-

President Irfaan Ali, on Monday, met with Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and head of government, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Minister of Finance, Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari in Doha.

President Irfaan Ali also held bilateral discussions with Qatar’s Minister of State for Energy Affairs, Engineer Saad bin Sherida Al Kaabi in Doha. Al Kaabi visited Guyana. 

Also on Monday, President Dr Irfaan Ali held bilateral discussions with Qatar’s Minister of Commerce and Industry, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Qassim Al Abdullah Al Thani, in Doha.

Later in the day, President Irfaan Ali held talks with the Qatar Chamber of Commerce.

Representing the Chamber was its First Vice Chairman, Mohamed Bin Ahmed Bin Twar Al-Kuwari. At the same time, the Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr Ashni Singh, joined President Ali in this discussion.

The discussions focused on investment opportunities in Guyana.

It was a packed day for President Ali, who also held bilateral discussions with Qatar’s Minister of Commerce and Industry, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Qassim Al Abdullah Al Thani, in Doha.

Qatar Airways 

The meeting discussed several areas of cooperation between Guyana and Qatar.

 President Dr Irfaan Ali met with the Chairman of Qatar Tourism and Group Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, on Monday during his official visit to Qatar.

President Dr. Irfaan Ali met with the Chairman of Qatar Tourism and Group Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker

“The Head of State and the airline’s CEO discussed enhancing Guyana’s reach and the country’s tourism product.”

In 2019 Guyana and Qatar signed an air services agreement. According to Guyana’s Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), the deal will permit Qatar’s national carrier ‘Qatar Airways’ to operate passenger and cargo flights and cooperate between the carriers concerned. It will also enable Qatar Airways to have an operation centre in Guyana to fly to any country in the region and other regions.

Joint Release Statement of the Visit

The State of Qatar and the Cooperative Republic of Guyana issued a joint statement on the occasion of President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, H. E. Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali’s visit to Doha.

The joint statement reads as follows: Out of the distinguished relations between the State of Qatar and the Guyana Cooperative Republic, and at the invitation of Amir H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana H E Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali paid an official visit to the State of Qatar during the period May 15-16 2023.

H.H. the Amir and H.E. the President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana held bilateral discussions focusing on relations between the two friendly countries and ways to enhance and develop them in all areas in order to achieve the aspirations of the peoples of the two friendly countries.

In this regard, the two leaders stressed the need to develop economic relations between the two countries, especially in the fields of energy and food security. They also exchanged views on issues and matters of mutual interest on the regional and international arenas.

The two leaders expressed their aspiration that the inauguration of the Embassy of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana in the State of Qatar, which took place yesterday, would contribute to strengthening relations between the two friendly countries and bring them to broader horizons of cooperation and partnership.

They also agreed to send a technical team from the State of Qatar to the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, to review the available projects, especially infrastructure and road projects.

At the end of this visit, H.E. the President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana expressed his thanks and appreciation to Amir H. H. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani for the warm welcome, good reception and generous hospitality he and his accompanying delegation have received during their stay in Qatar.

The Diaspora in Qatar

On May 16, President Ali became the first Guyanese head of state to meet with the diaspora in Qatar and the Gulf. According to a press release from the office of the President, “President Irfaan Ali updated the Guyanese diaspora living in Qatar about Guyana’s development drive, its leadership quest in the areas of climate, energy and food security, and of plans to make the country a global provider of education and health services.”

The Guyanese diaspora met with President Irfaan in Doha

“He spoke about the country’s standing forest and the preservation measures implemented; while highlighting the availability of arable land for agriculture and the partnerships being developed with Guyana’s neighbours, including northern Brazil, to create an energy corridor.”

According to President Ali, Guyana is advancing its global reach, and its relationship with Qatar has been bolstered. He said that very soon, there will be a “great deal of activism” from the private sector in Qatar in the areas of hospitality, eco-tourism, energy services and infrastructure. The union will also take part at a government-to-government level.

The President also invited the diaspora to participate in the developmental process.

“We are at a very critical stage of the development of our country, and every single Guyanese, whether you are in Qatar or any other part of the world, we want you to be an active participant in this transformation.”

Assessment of the Visit

While I was expecting the announcement of some big news like Qatari investments in Guyana, I will say that the visit was successful, especially because this was the first Guyanese President to make a state visit to Qatar; the high-level engagements President Ali held with the entire cabinet of the Qatari government; the pomp and chemistry between the Amir and President Ali; the opening of the Guyana Embassy in Qatar and elevating Guyana’s profile in Qatar, which is the world’s richest country and above all to personally use his high office to showcase Guyana to Qatari investors. 

Since President Ali came to power, he has been keen to enhance Guyana/Qatari bilateral relations. Accordingly, he sent his personal Middle East, Greece and Africa Envoy, George Hallaq, to Doha to convey his messages directly to the Emir. Several visits to Guyana from Doha followed.

The two leaders held virtual meetings and phone calls. They met in other forums, like in London at King Charles III Coronation.

Ribbon cutting to officially open Guyana’s Embassy

And finally, Ali made it to Doha at the invitation of the Emir. His audience with Sheikh Tamim Al Thani alone, at this high level, of the flags of Guyana flying over Doha and the State welcome full of pomp was testimony to the respect Qatar attaches to this relationship. A lot of credit to President Ali because of his style of governance, charisma and vision. Ali had meetings with all high-ranking cabinet officials of Qatar. The Emir had all these officials ready to engage the Guyanese head of state. 

President Ali’s warm departure after meeting with the Amir was telling; the Emir gestured to the Guyanese President in a warm traditional embrace, demonstrating warm and friendly relations between the two men and what we can expect next. President Ali alluded to this in his address to the Guyanese diaspora in Qatar. 

President Irfaan being warmly greeted

President M. Irfaan Ali said, “soon there will be a “great deal of activism” from the private sector in Qatar in the areas of hospitality, eco-tourism, energy services and infrastructure. The union will also take part at a government-to-government level.”

Ali is a man of action. He wants to see Qatari investments in Guyana, and we can soon see this become a reality. Qatar also wants to expand its investment portfolio and global alliances with the 15-member CARICOM community, especially after the Qatar Blockade. 

The local media and the opposition didn’t have much to say about Ali’s visit to Qatar or previous visits to the UAE. There wasn’t any anti-Arab and anti-Islamic hysteria this time from them, but who knows, maybe Stabroek News will come out with a biased editorial of the President’s mission to Qatar. They, too, are ignorant of the Middle East and Islam and display their ignorance when it suits them opportunistically. Let’s not forget that the Alliance for Change (AFC), in a press release in 2011, referred to the Middle East as “an axis of death and destruction.”

I was the only person covering Guyana and its relationship and activities with the Middle East, the OIC and the IsDB since Dr Jagan came to office in 1992. I was in Kuwait when President Jagdeo toured the region. I met Dr Bharrat Jagdeo in Kuwait and former President Donald Ramotar. I lived in Kuwait and Morocco for four years. 

I was vilified and ridiculed for defending and advocating stronger ties with the region. I was “inviting terrorists”, they claimed. But, having seen the Qatar and UAE miracle, that is what I wanted for Guyana.