The news of the blockade has been a historic event for everyone within the State of Qatar, for both its citizens and its residents. One of the things that helped Qatar adapt quickly to this situation is the hard work of its officials in various fields who helped emphasize the country’s stability and independence, despite the hostility of its neighbors. Lolwah Rashid Al Khater has been one of the Qatari women who took a lead in defending our country by responding, as the official spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to many accusations made by neighboring countries. So, who is Lolwah Al Khater?
First and foremost, I am a Qatari woman. I belong to the generation that witnessed the period of reforms in Qatar, including educational reforms that encompassed ideas such as scholarships and educational universities. This particular phase has been beautiful because we managed to witness the planning and hard work that was invested to realize Qatar’s vision. The emergence of a Gulf figure like Sheikha Moza bint Nasser in the media, for example, has been something new for us. Therefore, we witnessed a lot of changes in the state and we believed that we were a part of this change. Praise be to Allah, when I look at my female colleagues now, I find that every one of us has reached a good position. Simply, we are witnesses to the news age.
Your majored in the field of science for your bachelor’s, were you always interested in that field?
I believe that children have the ability to excel in all areas, with the encouragement of those around them. My problem was that the people around me were only encouraging me to follow the scientific path, while I naturally gravitate towards literature. There was a belief that the best areas of study were the scientific fields, including medicine or engineering. The idea was to balance between these two elements: what a person naturally gravitates towards and what they are good at. I was good at science, but I did not necessarily like it. I studied this major for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but all my side readings in return had nothing to do with science. I was living in the United Kingdom at the time of my studies, and through my readings I tried to immerse myself in the struggle of Arab expatriate figures to preserve my own identity. So, I frequently visited “Dar Al Saqi” in London and looked for the latest publications as a method to associate myself with the literary field. In addition, there was a new site called “Nile and Euphrates”, which helped us order books from Beirut and Cairo. I have truly enjoyed reading all of these books very much.
How was your experience in moving from science to literature?
I was in an internal conflict for a period after graduating. I worked in the oil and gas field, and even though everything related to my work was wonderful I was still in conflict. The subjects of the meetings were limited in a certain direction, as the focus in this area does not go beyond its scope and so this limited view did not meet my broad interests. I confess that I did not have the courage to change, as it is very difficult to change after spending years in a specific field and change would mean that the years that have already passed may be useless and would be considered as if I wasted years of my life. This perception was what prevailed the culture at that time, but I overcame this thought and decided to major in public policies in Islam for my master’s degree. This major was excellent for me as it combined different areas that I was interested in. I studied for my master’s degree while working, and for me this was the focal shift from science.
Has your scientific background given you an advantage once you chose to explore other areas of study and work?
Yes, but is this my conviction to persuade myself that I have not wasted years of my life? There are some things that a person is attracted to instinctively, and studying it merely strengthen these interests. If you talk to any engineer or politician, they will tell you about the idea of eternal conflict between the two specialties. Politicians often tend to write to explain a phenomenon while engineers prefer equations and models that are drawn that may equate at least a hundred words. I experienced this conflict in the master’s degree, where one of my colleagues was an engineer who enrolled in a master’s degree in public policy. His graduation project was rejected because it consisted of eighty pages only, which is considered to be insufficient in the field of politics. The engineer relied on graphs and equations to communicate his idea rather than using paragraphs to explain. Therefore, I think that science has influenced the nature of my thinking and understanding of many issues. I have the ability to express through a combination of scientific perspective and literary political perspective.
Were you seeking to change the field of work too?
Yes, but this happened by coincidence. Many fields of work were opened for me through my studies and I entered many projects, especially research projects. However, the basic idea for me was to study for myself and not to look for a new area of work.
Can you tell us about the nature of your work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
My work with the ministry – Thanks to Allah – is enjoyable despite the many pressures. Everyday is different from the one before it. This is an important factor me because the most troubling thing about the oil and gas field was the repetition. I also like the interdisciplinary nature of my work, as it combines communication ,media and politics with diplomacy. The funny thing is that if I were asked in the past about the possibility of getting involved in media or politics I would say: “That is impossible”. It was impossible for many reasons, including my own unwillingness as I had very strong views on both areas. However, what convinced me to enter my current career is the crisis. I was working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before the blockade, but I was mainly focused on research. However, upon noticing the pressure my colleagues were facing at the time I believed that it was my duty to participate in providing my abilities and expertise to my country.
How has your experience been with public speaking? and what do you recommend for those trying to develop their public speaking skills?
Fear is one of the keys to success, as I am still afraid to talk in front of people. I think that fearlessness leads to failure for fear encourages a person to develop and work on themselves, so the fear factor is not a barrier but a factor for success. There are certainly differences between the fear that possesses the person and prevents them from progress and the fear that encourages development. I think there is a general misconception about the kind of qualifications needed to speak publicly. Many people link this skill to the linguistic stock, but to me, it is only its cover. In fact, to give a speech requires a great effort of work before reaching that point. First, the person must work on developing themselves not for the purpose of solely developing their speaking skills but to develop their own culture in general. Thus, this will be in favor to their public abilities, which contain the speech framework. Second, one of the important factors in giving speeches is the factor of honesty. We often see people who present an ideal speech, but it lacks the spirit of presentation. This spirit is produced by the honesty factor. The person must believe in all the contents of their speech, and to have an important issue that they want to target with that speech. These are the main points for me when it comes to honing public speaking skills. The existence of a linguistic stock is an important factor, of course, but it does not prevail over other factors.
Have you encountered any challenges throughout your career?
Challenges are everywhere, and this is the foundational lesson I have learned in my professional experience. In every place I moved to I thought the new place would be perfect and free of the problems I have encountered before, but I have discovered that all places have their own problems and that we are sometimes part of the problem. We unconsciously condition ourselves for disappointment when we set high expectations that do not reflect reality; we must adjust our expectations and ask ourselves: What do you expect of this place? Is the place designed to meet these expectations? For example, one of the things that did not make me settle in the oil and gas field is the limited scope of work. I liked to discuss broad matters in the meetings that are not limited to the oil and gas field only, but not everyone was convinced with that saying. So, I discovered that – as the saying goes: “to every context a saying” – and this was not the context of my saying. The mistake was not in what I was saying and it was not about the people around me, but the place was not designed for these discussions. The opposite is true in other places. Therefore, a person should adjust their expectations according the place where they work, and if it does not meet their expectations they should move to another place. One of the most important lessons I have learned in general is the idea of negative and positive energy. When a person surrounds themselves with a group of passive people, they get influenced by their thinking. However, when a person balances between negative and positive thinking, they will accomplish amazing things in their life and work. The experience of the Doha Institute was one of the most satisfactory experiences because it was a teaching experience, and it was nice to teach students at higher levels of education. I consider it to be one of the most wonderful experiences for me because I was reaping a direct reaction. Also, students are not obliged to communicate with me after the class, but them being still in contact with me is the biggest proof of a good relationship between us and that is a very rewarding feeling.
What is your impression about the idea of the academic world being separated from reality?
We need both: The people who work hard but cannot look up to reflect on reality, and the people who work in high places that cannot touch the ground. I admit that in the past I used to think that many of the senior officials needed to be better informed and more knowledgeable until I was put in the same position. All the officials go through the same struggle that we are going through every day. I can only say, “May Allah help them”. It is difficult for a person to keep their chin up and educate themselves in the other fields at the same time to be able to see the whole image. Therefore, we need both: academics and officials. There is no doubt that the academic fields are numerous and varied. In the field of science only there are theoretical sciences, applied sciences, etc. On one hand, a person can invest their time in one field and build their experience on it, and this is not a defect. If the person is talented in that area, why don’t they contribute to it? On the other hand, there are people who combine majors, such as (think tanks) research center for example. There is no right or wrong choice, in Qatar we need all areas. Therefore, if we have academics, I salute them, and if we have practical people, I salute them as well.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
Part of the explanation of my constant career shift is the search for my true passion. You will find that I went through many areas and initiatives until I got the right thing for me. It is natural that a person does not know what they want to do in the future, but in the end, we will all find the area which we love and in which we succeed – Allah Willing. So, do not feel disappointed. Moreover, do not be afraid of exploration and do not be afraid of spending years of your life in another area. The more you are honest with yourselves and the earlier you face yourselves, the sooner you will find a suitable position. I conclude by saying: Praise be to Allah. We, in Qatar, are in a unique position in a very beautiful way. We have a historic mission in the Arab world, as Qatar is the only country in the Arab world that is still cohesive. At the same time, we have a moderate vision of the world and a moderate vision of ourselves, our roots, our Islam, and our Arabism. This status gives us a lot of opportunities, so let’s take advantage of these opportunities in the best way.
- Interview written by Fatima Al Naimi.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.