A sense of partaking in history buoyed many of the hundreds of activists that marched in Doha this morning to call on Arab governments and the world at large to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change: after all, this was the very first march of its kind in politically-wary Qatar.
“It took us six months of negotiations to get the Qatari government to agree to it,” says Ali Fakhry, a media campaigner with IndyAct and one of the organizers of the march. Banners demanding investments in renewables and for Arabs to take the lead were raised along with chants like: “Arabs, Arabs, action now!” and “Our future, our planet!”
Activists were gathered and ready to set out along Doha’s Corniche by 9 am, marching by the city’s bay for around an hour. Why so early? “That was part of the deal,” says Fakhry, who emphasized the government’s initial resistance to the march.
But Khalid Al-Mohannadi, the co-founder of Doha Oasis, one of the NGOs that helped organize the march, suggested during a press conference yesterday at Qatar’s National Convention Center — where the COP18 is currently taking place — that the government had no qualms about the march, as freedom of expression was guaranteed. The assertion later raised a few dubious mutterings, as it came one day after a Qatari poet had been sentenced to life in prison for allegedly insulting Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.
Ultimately, the march itself did not feel in any way too constrained — though a handful of burly tracksuit-wearing interior ministry enforcers were trying to fit in with the crowd despite their conspicuous earpieces.
A couple of the banners at the march interestingly shifted away from the central climate change message (see photo to the left). There were even two women holding between them a large rainbow-coloured scarf alongside posters calling for gender justice.
As to the march’s end goal: “We are hoping that this can push Qatar to make ambitious pledges to reduce its emissions by 2020,” says Fakhry. “If Qatar takes that step, it will encourage other countries in the region to also do so.”
As yet, it remains too early to tell what will come out of this COP. While expectations are thoroughly curbed, the outcomes aren’t likely to become clearer till later this week when high-level delegates and heads of states make their way to Doha for the UN’s ongoing climate change conference.