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

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora