News / Middle East

Examining Qatar's Arab Spring Largesse

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (L) greets Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi during the Arab League summit in Doha, March 26, 2013.
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (L) greets Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi during the Arab League summit in Doha, March 26, 2013.
Cecily Hilleary
The tiny oil-rich nation of Qatar is emerging as a major behind-the-scenes player in the Middle East following the Arab Spring uprisings. It has managed this by pumping billions of dollars into Tunisia, to jihadist fighters in Libya and to the new Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. Some regional analysts worry Doha may end up buying the very sovereignty of the governments it supports.  Others fear Qatar is looking to spread political Islam across the region.

...Qatar is competing, particularly with Saudi Arabia, to achieve a greater diplomatic and political prominence in the Middle East.
Political prominence

Twenty-five billion barrels of proven oil reserves and the world’s third-largest natural gas reserves have given Qatar the highest per capita income on the globe—nearly $103,000 per household.  With money to burn, Qatar is investing heavily across the globe.

“I think the key motivation for Qatar is political ambition,” said Lina Khatib, who heads the Arab Reform and Democracy Program at Stanford University. “Qatar wants to be seen as one of the major—if not the major—political brokers in the Middle East, and this ambition motivates Qatar to try to have a stake in whatever conflicts the region faces, as well as try to influence the political processes and actors, especially right now in countries in transition.”

Production facility 4 of $13.2 billion Qatargas 2, the world’s first fully integrated value chain liquefied natural gas (LNG) venture, which was inaugurated on April 6 by the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani at Ras Laffan, on Saturday, AprilProduction facility 4 of $13.2 billion Qatargas 2, the world’s first fully integrated value chain liquefied natural gas (LNG) venture, which was inaugurated on April 6 by the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani at Ras Laffan, on Saturday, April
x
Production facility 4 of $13.2 billion Qatargas 2, the world’s first fully integrated value chain liquefied natural gas (LNG) venture, which was inaugurated on April 6 by the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani at Ras Laffan, on Saturday, April
Production facility 4 of $13.2 billion Qatargas 2, the world’s first fully integrated value chain liquefied natural gas (LNG) venture, which was inaugurated on April 6 by the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani at Ras Laffan, on Saturday, April
But investing in the Arab Spring nations isn’t Qatar’s first political foray.  It has mediated conflicts in Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen and has dispensed aid throughout Middle East and beyond—even to victims of America’s 2005 Hurricane Katrina

“This is part of Qatar’s aim to influence political processes while appearing neutral,” Khatib said. “And that involves basically working with multiple political actors who may sometimes be in conflict with one another or share even widely different political agendas.”

That would certainly explain seeming incongruities in Qatar policy--such as sharing the world’s biggest natural gas field with Iran or paying for a  football stadium in Israel.

Simon Henderson, a scholar at The Washington Institute and director of its Gulf and Energy Policy Program, suggests Qatar is simply taking advantage of an opportunity. 

“They see in the Middle East that Egypt, which used to be one of the main leaders, has declining energy and certainly very little money to play a very major role, and Saudi Arabia, which does have the money, is ruled by a very old King…and apparently at the moment seems to lack the energy to maintain its paramount leadership role,” said Henderson. “And so Qatar is competing, particularly with Saudi Arabia, to achieve a greater diplomatic and political prominence in the Middle East.”

Religious Imperialism or self-preservation?

Some critics accuse Qatar of working to install and support Islamist governments across the Middle East.

Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, rejects that idea. “I believe that its policy, which is driven almost exclusively by its emir, the leader of Qatar, is to basically make Qatar valuable—or important, if you’d like—in the region by having a key role as a mediator, as a sponsor, as a patron for different political forces, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that it has been cultivating since the 1950s,” he said. 

That said, Haykel rejects the idea that Qatar is looking to spread any particular form of Islamic extremism.  “I think it’s just doing it out of what it sees as its pragmatic national self-interest, which is just to have very strong connections with powerful and dominant political forces throughout the region and then, through them, seem even more important to the outside world.”

This undated image posted on a militant website purports to show evidence of a growing cross-border alliance between two powerful Sunni jihadi groups Al-Qaida in Iraq and the Nusra Front in SyriaThis undated image posted on a militant website purports to show evidence of a growing cross-border alliance between two powerful Sunni jihadi groups Al-Qaida in Iraq and the Nusra Front in Syria
x
This undated image posted on a militant website purports to show evidence of a growing cross-border alliance between two powerful Sunni jihadi groups Al-Qaida in Iraq and the Nusra Front in Syria
This undated image posted on a militant website purports to show evidence of a growing cross-border alliance between two powerful Sunni jihadi groups Al-Qaida in Iraq and the Nusra Front in Syria
He points to Doha’s sponsorship of the Egyptian Islamist, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.  By giving Qaradawi an outlet on the Al Jazeera channel, Qatar ensures the loyalty of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But what about Qatar’s support of Islamists in Libya or jihadist fighters in Syria?  Stanford University’s Khatib says Qatar is motivated by the need to protect itself. 

“Qatar perceives groups like the Muslim Brotherhood as allies and wants to maintain influencing those allies,” she said.  “Aid is a way to maintain a degree of power over those groups. At the same time, when it comes to other Islamist groups that are of a more, let’s say, non-moderate leaning, Qatar’s support of those groups—again, it’s not because it wants to promote  them as much as it is interested in controlling them and keeping the danger away from its own borders.”
When you support someone, it becomes easier to know their secrets, to know whether they have anything to do with al-Qaeda or not and to have more information about their money-laundering, their connections...

Exposing Islamism?

Tawfik Hamid is a Senior Fellow and Chair for the Study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and the author of Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam.  He suggests that by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar is actually working against religious extremism.

“In the case of Egypt, Qatar’s support is generous, but only to the extent that it might prevent complete economic collapse, not ensure the long-term building of Egypt,” Hamid said.  In other words, the Muslim Brotherhood is being allowed to demonstrate its political inefficiency. 

“And when it fails  in Egypt, the mother country, the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest Arab and Muslim country with al-Azhar there [Islam’s oldest religious institution], this will be the biggest blow to political Islam globally,” he said. 

As for Syria and Libya, Hamid, a former member of the militant al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya who now works to advance peaceful Islam, believes Qatar may be supporting jihadists for intelligence reasons. 

“When you support someone, it becomes easier to know their secrets, to know whether they have anything to do with al-Qaeda or not and to have more information about their money-laundering, their connections,” he said.  

President Barack Obama meets with Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani of Qatar in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 23, 2013.President Barack Obama meets with Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani of Qatar in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 23, 2013.
x
President Barack Obama meets with Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani of Qatar in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 23, 2013.
President Barack Obama meets with Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani of Qatar in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 23, 2013.
Beyond that, Hamid suggests another motive: Jihadists, who are Sunni, could someday prove useful to Qatar.

“The support for these jihadi and Islamist groups may be part of a defense mechanism against the Iranian influence in the region—they are so worried about the Shi’a in the region,” he said of Qatar. 

“Maybe Qatar sees that if there is ever a confrontation with Iran, they will need a lot of soldiers, a lot of jihadists under their control to protect Qatar, to deter Iran from attacking.”

Qatar insists it isn’t looking for attention or to interfere in regional politics.  During his recent trip to Washington, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani insisted Qatar is only working on behalf of the people of the Arab Spring and supporting the choices they have made.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Islam from: Arab
April 29, 2013 8:51 PM
Qataris think that if they feed the snake it will bite only its neighbors... soon soon yah Al Thani we will come for you...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid