Qatar-Funded Brookings Institution Scraps Annual Doha Energy Conference

Gulf countries and their supplicants under financial pressure due to plunging oil prices

February 10, 2016

The Brookings Institution will not hold its annual Doha energy conference this year amid reports that Qatar and other petroleum-rich countries are cutting spending due to the global oil market collapse.

Brookings, a Washington-based think tank that received nearly $4 million from the Qatar government in 2015, according to disclosure reports, declined to give a reason for why the conference is not being held this year.

"Unfortunately the [Brookings Doha Center] will not be organizing an energy forum in 2016," said Kais Sharif, program and events manager for the Brookings Doha Center. "However, we are very optimistic that our next forum will take place in March/April 2017 and we will start planning for it in fall."

A spokesperson for Brookings said the event, which has been held for the past four years, was not intended to take place annually. The Doha Center’s website states that one of its main activities is organizing "the annual Doha Energy Forum."

The closed-door conference, which focuses on the interaction between the Middle Eastern energy market and the United States, Europe and Asia, has drawn high-level government officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Qatar.

Brookings is one of many Washington-based policy institutes that receive funding from foreign governments. The think tank took in nearly $15 million from Qatar and $2 million from the United Arab Emirates between 2013 and 2015, according to congressional financial disclosures.

Congressional witnesses, including think tank scholars who testify before committees, are required to disclose any foreign government funding under the 2015 "Truth in Testimony" law.

One disclosure form filled out by Brookings scholar J.M. Berger last year stated that Qatar had pledged $560,000 to the think tank in 2016 as part of a three-year grant. That grant will expire at the end of this year.

Brookings spokesperson Adrianna Pita declined to discuss Qatar’s and the UAE’s 2016 funding commitments to the institute.

"All of our funding details are made available every year in our annual report, which typically comes out in November," said Pita.

Another foreign policy-focused think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, received $700,000 from the UAE for "policy papers, conferences, [and] roundtables on Gulf security" between 2013 and 2015, according to records.

Qatar’s embassy in Washington did not respond to questions about whether the drop in oil prices would cause it to scale back its contributions to U.S. think tanks in 2016.

Al Jazeera America, the U.S. arm of the Qatar-funded news network, recently shut down and there was speculation that the government’s budget troubles may have prompted the closure.

"There was a mismatch of expectations since day one," an Al Jazeera employee told the Financial Times. "With oil at $100 a barrel . . . mismatches don’t matter as much. At $30 a barrel the mismatches were real."

Qatar is also reportedly slashing its cultural spending. The government’s museum authority is laying off as many as 240 staffers and reining in other expenses, according to the Financial Times.

The UAE also planned to cut spending for the first time in over a decade due to the financial crunch, Reuters reported last year.

Saudi Arabia has also reduced spending, cut education programs, and raised oil prices domestically to help deal with an unprecedented budget deficit.

In 2015, the global oil market suffered the worst crash in decades. Prices have remained under $30 a barrel, with industry experts saying the downturn could last years.

Published under: Qatar