Al-Sulaiti Law Firm represents several of Qatar's biggest organizations, most notably Qatar Foundation. What are the strengths that have made it the preferred legal partner in Qatar?
The law firm was founded in 2002 at a time when Qatar's economy was already flourishing. This economic boom immediately made it necessary to have an international outlook on our practice in order to be able to work for foreign companies and foreign investors and also to accompany Qatar's biggest entities, such as Qatar Foundation, the Rail, Barwa Real Estate, Damac, and Qatar Football Association. As such, the firm is positioned as an international player in its operational outlook of delivering legal services to its clients. We have a legal team made up of highly experienced practitioners across a wide range of fields, which means that we are able to address our clients' needs effectively and efficiently. Our lawyers are fluent in several languages including French, Italian, German, Arabic, and English. Our lawyers are all experienced and come from different legal cultures. This enables our law firm to respond to the complexity of the work that our clients deal with on a daily basis.
What are the key legal issues that businesses interested in coming to Qatar need to understand before setting up here?
To do business directly in Qatar, a foreign investor must act through a locally incorporated entity, which means that Qatari corporate law should have a foundational position in an investor's strategy. In ordinary cases, a minimum of 51% of a local entity's capital must be owned by Qatari citizens or other local entities. Though Al-Sulaiti Law Firm has successfully petitioned the Minister of Economy and Trade to allow some of its foreign clients to incorporate wholly owned entities, these were exceptional cases. We work with our other clients to draft articles of incorporation and shareholder agreements to maximize their control over the local entity. But so long as the 51% rule remains, the core solution is not creative drafting, it is embracing the partnership. We assist our clients in identifying local partners whose backgrounds and temperaments will compliment their own. We then guide our clients in using the articles of association to articulate a positive and synergistic mandate for themselves and for the local partner. With Qatar sprouting skyscrapers and GDP vaulting to new heights, it is easy for foreigners to forget that, for Qataris, Doha is still a small town. At the very least, seriously engaging the local partner allows the new entity to thrive by connecting it to other local players.
Qatar finds itself in a competitive area that experiences rapid growth. How does Qatar's legal system compare to those in the region?
Qatar is fully aware that it stands in the middle of a fast-growing geographical region. However, Qatar knows that it can rely on a strong, deep-rooted legal system. Qatar's legal framework is based on those of France and Egypt. Qatar's deeply rooted civil law framework is attractive to foreign investors because it is highly similar to those found in many of their own countries. Furthermore, Qatar continuously modernizes its legislation. Qatar also modernizes and diversifies its institutions to attract foreign investors. For example, the Qatar International Court and Resolution Centre, located in the Qatar Financial Centre, includes highly experienced foreign judges and applies procedures similar to those in common law jurisdictions. When welcoming foreign investors, Qatar stands on two legs. Domestic industry will be a foundation of Qatar's future. Qatar fosters the development of industry by granting interests in land at nominal rates. Also, Qatar recently established Qatar Development Bank (QDB), which finances domestic industrial projects. QDB and other banks are encouraged to lend to industrial borrowers at preferential rates. Moreover, Qatar is making parallel investments in human capital. Qatar Foundation, the architect of the country's interlocking initiatives in health and education, has created a new space for foreign investors. A foreign investor's jib will draw deeply where its ambition overlaps with national policy.
What are the most important recent alterations in Qatar's legal system that have affected its standing as a foreign investment destination?
Qatar is keen to keep its legal system up to date and in line with its booming development. Hence, several new laws have recently been issued and several others are being revised. The Real Estate Sector Law No.6 of 2014 aims at regulating real estate developers. In future, any individual or entity carrying out real estate development activities must apply for a license issued by the Ministry of Economy and Trade. Such licenses must be obtained by individuals or entities established outside or within Qatar. The Ministry of Economy and Trade will keep a real estate developers register in which will be listed the names and details of individuals and entities that have received a license. A real estate dispute resolution committee has been created. Its role shall be to resolve disputes that arise from the Real Estate Development Law and from real estate projects. Another significant change in Qatar's legal system deals with Law No. 25 of 2005 regulating commercial registration. Law No. 20 of 2014 has amended Law No. 25 of 2005. The department responsible for commercial registration at the Ministry of Economy and Trade has to reply to an application for a commercial registration on the same day. In case the application is rejected, the department must cite the reason for the rejection. This amendment to the commercial companies law aims at accelerating the registration process of new companies and at encouraging investments. The new law also increases the sanction to be applied to whoever misuses a commercial registration. There are also laws to be amended. As the Qatar authorities are concerned about the working and living conditions of expatriates in Qatar, the Labor Law No. 14 of 2004 and Law No. 4 of 2009 regarding the regulation of expatriates, entry, departure, residence, and sponsorship are being reviewed by the authorities of Qatar.
What can be done to improve Doha's position as a preferred location in the region for international businesses?
Qatar is already a preferred business location for international businesses. It has got a lot of potential for development in several sectors such as education, health, sports, and tourism. International companies are willing to participate in that development. Qatar has set up the conditions so that international companies will find in Qatar a business environment similar to that they know abroad. Hence, foreign entities will find local and international banks in Qatar to help finance development projects. Qatar's legal system is also adapted from time to time in line with international business practices.
Considering the recent development in the legal structure of Qatar, how do you foresee this country developing over the next five to 10 years?
Qatar will keep on developing itself the way it has always done; looking to the future but with a deep respect for its past, its culture, and its tradition. And so, in five or 10 years' time, Qatar will look different but I have no doubt its culture and traditions will have been preserved.