News / Middle East

What’s Driving Qatar’s Foreign Policy?

Qatar AirlinesQatar Airlines
x
Qatar Airlines
Qatar Airlines
Cecily Hilleary
From the art world to the airline industry and on to the United Nations, the tiny Gulf nation of Qatar has been leaving a big footprint wherever it goes.  This week, Qatar Airways announced it will partner with American and British Airways, giving them access to vast new markets in India and Asia. 

Qatar has been investing millions of Euros in European banks, real estate, fine art and football clubs and will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup―all this while providing considerable financial support to the countries of the Arab Spring.  All in all, Qatar’s investments across the globe are estimated at about $60 billion.

So what is Qatar up to? Is it just looking for sensible ways to invest its money?  Or, is Qatar trying, as one commentator told VOA – only slightly in jest – to become the world’s next “superpower?”

Spreading the wealth

The Qatar Investment Authority has spent more than $4.3 billion this year on eight deals in Europe, including a shopping mall on the Champs Elysees in Paris, the London Olympic athletes village and the Italian fashion house, Valentino.  It has invested in some of France’s top companies―Louis Vuitton, TOTAL, and the Carlton Hotel in Cannes. 

The Artprice and Organ Museum Research, group recently disclosed that Qatar has been buying up international art at prices well above market value. The Qatar HYPERLINK "http://www.arabianbusiness.com/qatar-royals-buy-cezanne-painting-for-250m-443738.html" royal family recently paid $250 million for a single work by the 19th Century French painter Paul Cezanne.   

Qatar also has offered to pour $100 million into small and medium-sized businesses in the French banlieues, low-income suburbs where most of the country’s six million Muslim immigrants live.  Qatar says these investments are part of a global strategy to reduce the country’s reliance on oil and gas revenues.  But some commentators fear something else may be afoot, even calling it a “takeover,” expressing fear that Qatar is aiming to radicalize France’s Muslim population.

Religious motives

Pepe Escobar is an outspoken Brazilian journalist and Asia Times columnist who comments frequently for the Al Jazeera network.  He is also the author of  Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War.  Following Qatar’s recent bid at the United Nations for an Arab-led intervention in Syria, Escobar wrote an outspoken commentary in which he outlined what he believes are Qatar’s political—and religious—motives.

“The war inside the Muslim world at the moment is between Salafi jihadis―or hardcore Wahhabis―financed, supported or with the sympathy of Saudi Arabia on the one side, and the Muslim Brotherhood supported by Qatar on the other,” Escobar told VOA.  “The future foreign policy of Qatar is to propel, finance, encourage―you name it―the Muslim Brotherhood, all over the Middle East, from North Africa to the Middle East,” he said.  It does so, says Escobar, through its Al Jazeera television network. 

“And one of the most important figures at Al Jazeera TV,” Escobar said, “is Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi―he has a program on Shari’a law and connections between Shari’a law and everyday life.”  He refers to ash-Shariah wal-Hayat, or “Shariah and Life,” a talk show that is watched by an estimated 60 million Muslims worldwide.

“Look at what has happened since the beginning of the Arab Spring.  We have the Muslim Brotherhood capturing the presidency in Egypt.  They have the prospect, if the Bashar Al-Assad government falls―which is not a given, of course―of being the major power in the post-Assad regime.”

In his recent commentary in Asia Times, Escobar suggested a second motive behind Qatar’s ambitions―a desire to squash a $10 billion deal between Iran, Iraq and Syria to pipe natural gas from the South Pars field, across Iraq and Syria, and into Europe―a deal that, in Escobar’s words, “would solidify a predominantly Shi’ite axis through an economic, steel umbilical cord.”

Instead, Escobar says Qatar wants to build its own pipeline “in a non-Shi’te crescent,” through Jordan and into the Mediterranean.  Thus, it was these two interests-- religious and economic, that drove Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani to call for Arab intervention in Syria at the UN General Assembly last month.

Agent for Peace

However, Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, sees things quite differently. 

“I think you have to look at Qatar’s foreign policy initiatives over the last half decade,” he said.  “They’ve been throwing a punch above their weight.  Their style is to really project power by presenting themselves as a mediator.  And certainly, in the case of the Arab Spring, they are actively supporting change in the region.  They’re doing this, I think, partly out of prestige, partly as a means to raise their profile within the GCC and to win the support of Western powers.”

Wehrey points out Qatar’s long history of diplomatic intervention:  Doha worked to broker the 2008 ceasefire in Lebanon and to reconcile the two sides in Sudan’s civil war.  He also cites Qatar’s outreach to Iran. 

“I think in the case of Syria, it’s the Qataris wanting to shape the post-Assad outcome in a way that preserves their interests and gives them a bigger seat at the table than perhaps some of the other Arab powers,” he said. Wehrey admits that it would be in Qatar’s interest to see a more moderate form of Islam to prevail in a new Syria.  He also suggests another motive in Qatar’s long-term strategy:  Its rivalry with Saudi Arabia.

“The Qataris, I think, make a virtue of trying to upstage the Saudis on these regional initiatives, and I think that power rivalry has to be taken into account," he said.

Whatever Qatar’s motives, Wehrey notes that efforts at “constructive engagement” can backfire.  “We’ve seen that certainly in Libya, where the Qataris certainly engendered some good will because they sent their advisers, weapons and training during the war, but then afterwards, they were seen as meddling in Libyan politics.”

 In the end, he says, the Qataris are finding out like everybody else that things have a way of boomeranging in the region.

You May Like

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Five-Nation Tour to Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of state will visit Egypt, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam to discuss security issues, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs