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Q&A: A look at Qatar, future home of Muslim teen clock-maker

October 21, 2015

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Muslim from Texas detained after his homemade clock was thought to be a bomb, will soon be moving with his family to Qatar to attend school thanks to the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.

Here’s a look at where he’s headed:


The small but wealthy OPEC nation juts into the Persian Gulf like a thumb off the eastern flank of the Arabian Peninsula. It is about an hour’s flight from the capital, Doha, to the Middle Eastern commercial hub of Dubai. Flying direct from Dallas, near Mohamed’s hometown of Irving, Texas, will take a lot longer at more than 14 hours.

A dramatic, yearslong boom fueled by Qatar’s vast reserves of natural gas has transformed the country from a sleepy backwater into a land of luxurious shopping malls and cutting-edge skyscrapers. Construction work continues as the country gears up to host the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar’s native population ranks among the richest in the world per capita, though they are far outnumbered by foreign guest workers. Many of the migrants are low-paid laborers from Asia whose conditions in the country have been criticized by rights groups.


The Qatar Foundation was launched two decades ago to advance Qatar’s development through education and scientific research.

The foundation describes itself as a private, nonprofit organization, though it enjoys backing from the highest levels of Qatar’s hereditary leadership. Members of the ruling family and influential government ministers serve as trustees and directors.

Founded in 1995 by then-ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, it is chaired by his most high-profile wife, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned. She has been a vocal champion for education and is the mother of the current emir, who inherited power from his father in a peaceful transition in 2013.


Outposts of American universities, a business hub designed to foster technological innovation and cultural projects such as the national library and a philharmonic orchestra all fall under the foundation’s umbrella.

The American university campuses, which attract both Qataris and foreign students, are clustered in the foundation’s Education City on the western edge of Doha. They include Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University, Northwestern University and Texas A&M University.

While not a household name in the U.S., soccer fans around the world may recognize Qatar Foundation’s name from its past sponsorship of the popular Spanish team FC Barcelona. State-backed Qatar Airways later took over that sponsorship.


Mohamed will be getting an unspecified amount of financial support to pay for his high school and college education in Qatar, where some 6,000 students are enrolled in schools affiliated with the foundation.

He was invited through the foundation’s Young Innovators Program, which it says is aimed at empowering young people “to foster a culture of innovation and creativity.”

Other recipients of aid through the program include Iqbal al-Assaad, a Palestinian who grew up in Lebanon and graduated at age 20 from Weill Cornell Medical College.


The United States sees Qatar as an important ally in the Middle East. The country is a major buyer of American-made weapons and passenger planes. Several U.S. oil and gas companies, including ExxonMobil and Chevron, do business there.

The vast al-Udeid air base on the outskirts of Doha hosts the forward headquarters for U.S. Central Command as well as American bombers and support aircraft vital to the air campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Qatar has helped secure the release of detained Americans, including Taliban prisoner Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and journalist Peter Theo Curtis, who was held by Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate, the Nusra Front, last year.

But its ties to Islamist groups — including the Palestinian Hamas, whose exiled leader lives in Qatar — have drawn scrutiny. Qatar denies funding terrorist groups and argues that not all Islamist movements should be seen as extremists.


Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck

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