Andres Knobel is a lawyer from Argentina very interested in international matters, from his current work related to international taxation and its effects on developing countries, to broader issues of international relations (especially related to Israel) and fostering the understanding among Arabs, Muslims and Jews.
I applied for a Go Professional Micro Grant to attend a workshop in India on taxation, transparency and illicit financial flows. However, I took the opportunity to make a stop on my way to Delhi, and I spent four days in Doha, Qatar. There, I participated at the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Global Shapers gathering, which is related to the World Economic Forum.
Although the meeting was about youth employment, I was really eager to meet young people from the Gulf and other Arab countries to discuss one of my favorite subjects: bridge-building between Arabs, Muslims and Jews. I was puzzled that 3 Israelis were supposed to attend the gathering and had already been assigned a hotel room. However, by the time I arrived to Doha they told me that the Israelis hadn’t obtained their visas on time. I wasn’t exactly surprised by that, only to find out later that some Jordanians and Palestinians were also waiting for their visas. After all, the Israelis’ absence appeared to have more to do with bureaucracy than with a political issue.
I had already visited other Arab countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, the West Bank) and had had conversations with some locals. Still, I was really impressed by the people I met in Doha. Engineers, entrepreneurs, directors and journalists all speaking English with no accent, who had studied or worked in the US and Europe. At least half of participants were women, and many were involved in very interesting projects about employment, the environment and entrepreneurship. I know that they are not necessarily representative of the greater population of their countries, but these people will very likely have a direct impact wherever they live and the Middle East may look different in a few years from now because of them.
I had many interesting and enlightening conversations with people from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Pakistan. I inquired about their views on Jews, Israelis, and the conflict between Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. Most people didn’t look especially interested in the subject, or to be clearer, very optimistic. A clip presented by Al Jazeera during a session wasn’t very impartial either. But all in all, people seemed quite open to talk about it. What was missing though, was finding anyone interested enough to work on projects towards Peace in the region. Somehow, investing their time in projects to end poverty and unemployment appeared more reachable.
After the luxuries of Qatar, India was much of a shock. But after 10 days between relaxing in Kathmandu and yoga in Rishikesh, I was ready for the next conference. It ended up being a great opportunity to meet people working on the same issues of international taxation and transparency, though in countries far away from my home: Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Indonesia, the Philippines and China. Although I got sick right before coming back and spent some 30 hours of travelling with a fever, I really can’t complain!