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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid