At a remarkable time for Gulf energy-exporting nations, there is probably no better place to be than Qatar which, on a per capita basis, is already one of the world’s richest nations.

With oil prices soaring, Qatar’s decision more than 15 years ago to invest in expanding production capacity and building liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants looks positively visionary. The results are unprecedented.

In an interview with MEED, Qatar’s Finance Minister, Yousef Kamal, said that Qatar’s economy will again double in the five years to 2012. This should mean that the country will then have GDP per capita approaching $150,000.

In the coming five years, Qatar is likely to record a total current account surplus of well over $200bn.

But there is more to Doha than just cash. In a startling development that few would have forecast, Qatar’s Prime Minister, Hamad Bin Jassim al-Thani, brokered a deal among Lebanon’s warring factions that has finally produced a president for the divided country.

More good news could be forthcoming as, on 4 June, Doha is expected to be named as one of the cities shortlisted to host the 2016 Olympics.

Acceptable partner

Qatar is now scanning the horizon for ways that it can mobilise its wealth and oil and gas skills.

Qatar Petroleum has established an international division, which is weighing opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa, one of the last places on earth where easy oil may yet exist.

The vision behind the initiative is to help economic development in some of the world’s poorest countries by providing aid mixed with direct investment in the oil sector.

The hope is that Qatar will be regarded as a more acceptable partner in some countries than conventional international oil companies (IOCs). We shall see if the strategy works. It deserves to.

The Qatar story is becoming increasingly compelling.

The New Doha International Airport is due to start operating in 2009. Work has begun on Lusail, a city for 250,000 people being built north of Doha. The green light has been given to a new petrochemicals complex in Mesaieed. The west coast is being developed and major highways are being built to link all parts of the peninsula.

Eroding resentments

Plans are being devised for a railway and a metro system for Doha. They will be needed if the 2016 Olympic bid is to be credible.

The spring in Doha’s step in part reflects the positive impact flowing from meetings in Jeddah last September between Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani.

There has been a new atmosphere in relations between two countries, which almost went to war over disputes about the border and other matters in the 1990s.

Qatar’s mandate in Lebanon would have been impossible without Saudi Arabian approval. Its role has been noted and may be repeated elsewhere in the region and, perhaps, outside.

Once regarded as the GCC exception, Qatar is conforming to the regional mainstream, as the oil boom erodes old resentments and clears the way for growing Arabian co-operation.

The road ahead looks remarkable clear. Qatar and its friends are now taking a giant step into the future.