News / Middle East

Amid Season of Unrest, Qatar Seeks to Expand Role in Middle East

Libyan Finance Minister Nagib Mustafa al-Serraj, left, talks with Yousef Hussain Kamal, Qatar Finance Minister, at the opening of Arab Finance Ministers Exceptional meeting in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 7, 2011.
Libyan Finance Minister Nagib Mustafa al-Serraj, left, talks with Yousef Hussain Kamal, Qatar Finance Minister, at the opening of Arab Finance Ministers Exceptional meeting in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 7, 2011.

While many of its neighbors grapple with civil unrest, the small country of Qatar in the Persian Gulf continues to strengthen its role as a regional leader. But whether the absolute monarchy will be able to retain its leadership position in a post-Arab-spring Middle East remains unclear.

In March, Qatar gained international praise when it became the first Arab nation to send troops to Libya to reinforce NATO’s combat mission against pro-Gadhafi forces.

The support did not stop there. Qatar also became the first Arab state to recognize Libyan rebels as the legitimate representatives of their country. It hosted the first meeting of the international Contact Group on Libya and used some of its vast oil wealth to provide the rebel’s National Transitional Council with $400 million in aid.

Some international media reports have described Qatar’s efforts as somewhat unexpected. However, Gulf analyst Mehran Kamrava, director of Georgetown University’s Center for International and Regional Studies in Doha, says he was not surprised.

“[Qatar’s] involvement in Libya early on and so extensively did not necessarily come as a surprise because it is consistent with very proactive diplomacy that has propelled Qatar to the forefront of regional affairs,” said Kamrava.

There has also been some criticism.  Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations says that while Qatar has been an important partner for Libya, its motives are solely aimed at advancing its own interests.

“The decision to back the rebels was certainly not based on any great principle. It isn’t as if this was done to advance democracy and personal freedom because if that were the case, they wouldn’t be taking the position they do in Bahrain,” said Abrams.

At the same time as Qatar began supporting military intervention in Libya, the Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Qatar is a member, was also using its troops to help quell pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain.

Qatar’s leader, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, later expressed his support for Bahrain’s crackdown on dissidents, which rights groups say left over 30 people dead.

According to Abrams, Qatar’s varied positions on external matters suggest that it is likely to carry on with a carefully nuanced and deliberately crafted approach to its foreign policy.

“The next time around, we may not find that we’re on the same side as Qatar. The expansion of Qatari influence is a mixed bag, a mixed blessing,” he said.

Qatar is an ally to both the United States and Iran. How it will progress with its international relations remains to be seen. What is almost certain, however, is that it will try to start reaping rewards in the new Libya as soon as possible.

Libya is full of investment opportunities, one of the most lucrative being its national oil company - the gatekeeper for the largest known reserves of crude in Africa.

Toby Jones, assistant professor of Middle East history at Rutgers University, says while foreign states are assessing how they can benefit form Libya’s crisis, it is still too early to determine who will be involved in the reconstruction process and in what capacity.

“Who is going to be calling the shots in Tripoli when things settle remains unclear and that’s going to have ultimately an impact on not only which regional actors are able to be involved, weather it’s Qatar, the UAE, Egypt or somebody else, but also which global actors are going to be able to be involved,” said Jones.

Qatar will have to compete with Chinese, Russian and Western companies. And while the tiny nation’s enormous wealth may be able to influence Libyan rebels now, that may not be the case in the future.

Abrams says the same can be said of Qatari leadership in the region. There is a possibility it could become irrelevant as more countries in the Middle East attempt to push ahead with democracy.

“If they have new democratic leadership, then I think that even though they don’t have money in the way the Qataris do, they can really make a challenge to Qatar: what gives you the right to lead the Arab World? You have a tiny population and you have what is essentially an absolute monarchy, we want to lead the Arab world,” said Abrams.

So, as demands for democracy continue to bring change to all corners of the region, it appears Qatar will just have to wait and see what role it will have, not only in the new Libya, but also in the new Middle East.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs