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

    Russia's Expat Community Shrinking

    Russia's troubled economy, tensions with West have led hundreds of thousands of foreigners to leave for better opportunities

    Accelerating the Push Against Islamic State: What Will Work?

    Experts stress need to step up military action, address root causes of Muslims' disaffection, counter IS social media messages in a massive way

    Experts: N. Korean Abductions Sought to Halt Brain Drain

    Pyongyang abducted about 3,800 South Koreans and more than a dozen Japanese nationals in late 1970s

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees with Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees with Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.