Exclusive: Akbar al Baker: A patriot in the Gulf crisis (pic)

By Muyiwa Olayinka

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Akbar al Baker

Located in the Arabian Gulf, Qatar shares a land border with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the south-west and is surrounded by the Arabian sea. It also shares borders with Bahrain and United Arab Emirates. It has the population figure of about 2.3 million (2017 figure)

It’s economy is strong with Petroleum and liquefied natural gas are the cornerstones of Qatar’s economy and account for more than 70% of total government revenue and roughly 85% of export earnings.

Gas has given Qatar a per capita GDP that ranks among the highest in the world.

On June 6th, in what is one of the worst rifts among some of the Arab world’s most powerful states, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain followed Saudi Arabia in severing all ties to Qatar.

Almost immediately after announcing the shock move, the three Gulf states gave Qatari tourists and residents just two weeks to leave their countries, and transport links to the country were cut off.

Qatar was accused of supporting terrorism in the gulf region.

It was accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s oldest Islamist movement, that was ousted out of power by the military in Egypt. There are other accusations that Qatar backs the agenda of regional arch-rival Iran.

Saudi accused Qatar of backing militant groups and broadcasting their ideology, apparently referring to the country’s influential state-owned channel Al Jazeera.

Egypt has since 2015, detained an Al Jazeera Egyptian born producer, Mahmoud Hussein for “provoking sedition” and spreading “false news” in the country.

‘Qatar embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Isis and al Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly,’ the Saudi state news agency SPA said.

An economic crisis loomed immediately in the Gulf, as the four countries invoked a total land and sea blockade on Qatar.

Three major airlines – Etihad, Emirates, and budget carrier FlyDubai – have already announced they are indefinitely suspending flights to and from Dohaonthe capital of Qatar.

Qatar Airways is one of the victims of the crisis. However, the company just announced record profits: 22 percent increases, year on year. But it fears dark days ahead.

Qatar airways was founded in 1993 by Qatari royalty, under the direction of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, The Father Emir of Qatar, the airline consisted of just four aircraft serving a handful of regional routes.

In 1997, Al Baker stepped into the role of the CEO of one the seven five-star airlines, Qatar Airways was re launched and the airline prepared to take off.

Twenty years later, Qatar is thriving. The airline’s initial fleet has multiplied from four to more than 160 aircrafts (with upward of 300 additional aircraft on order), and with 150 destinations and counting, its sprawling route network appears to be boundless.

Akbar Al Baker is involved in every aspect of Qatar Airways. He doesn’t just wear the title of CEO; he gets hands-on.

With the crisis in the gulf region, Qatar Airways was forced to re-route its flights over Iran, Turkey and Oman.

The UAE has also blocked access to the Qatar Airways website.

Saudi Arabia revoked Qatar Airways’ licenses and ordered its offices in Saudi to be closed within 48 hours.

While speaking to Al jazeera about the implications of the blockade, Al Baker  argued there is  a deliberate ploy to kill the airline and cripple the economy of the nation. “Countries around our region ganged up against my nation and made a land, sea, and air blockade. It is unprecedented in the history of any country at time of peace that such a blockade is conducted”, he said.

To buttress his claim, he said Bahrain and the UAE have illegally blocked the airspace. The airspace that they have blocked, does not belong to them. It belongs to the international community.

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Baker & his wife with the Trumps

Al Baker was totally  disappointed with the role American President Donald Trump, played in the crises, despite being an associate of the President.

He supported the Donald Trump in becoming the US President. He once told CNN during the 2016 presidential election in USA: “It’s all smoke and mirrors with Donald. Donald is a businessman at the end of the day”.

He accused the American President of standing on the fence against his nation.

In his words, I am very bitter about it, not because only what they did, but also the way they did it. To seal Qatar Airways offices with large stickers, as if we are a money-laundering business or a drug agency. Kicking people out of our offices, detaining our manager, not allowing us to give refunds to our passengers, not allowing even our staff to take personal effects.

He continued “We have taken a moral high ground. We have not acted in the way others have acted. Emiratis, Saudis, Egyptians can live here peacefully. Emirates, Etihad, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Egypt Air they can operate their offices, openly. They can bring in and transfer money out normally”.

He believes with diplomacy and international cooperation, Qatar will  come out stronger out of  the crisis, persevere and weather the storm.

Who is Akbar al Baker

Akbar Al Baker (born 1960 in Doha, Qatar), is currently the CEO of Qatar Airways, and holds a degree in economics & commerce which he earned in India.

Al-Baker became Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Airways in 1997. Prior to this appointment, he worked at the Civil Aviation Directorate of Qatar. He is also the former Chairman of the Qatar Tourism Authority. He is CEO of several divisions of Qatar’s national airline, including Qatar Executive, Qatar Airways Holidays, Qatar Aviation Services, Qatar Duty Free Company, Doha International Airport, Internal Media Services, Qatar Distribution Company, Qatar Aircraft Catering Company and a member of the Board of Governors of IATA (International Air Transport Association).

Al Baker is leading the multibillion-dollar development of Hamad International Airport, which opened its first phase in May 2014 and is now home to Qatar Airways.

Al Baker is a member of the Executive Committee of the Arab Air Carriers Organization, a member of the Board of Governors of the International Air Transport Association, and a non-executive director of Heathrow Airport Holdings.

 

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