The Emirate of Qatar has become increasing active in the polictics of the Middle East.
An article in the Wall Street Journal notes the role the tiny state played in the Libyan conflict. It mentions how “ Qatar provided anti-Gadhafi rebels with what Libyan officials now estimate are tens of millions of dollars in aid, military training and more than 20,000 tons of weapons. Qatar’s involvement in the battle to oust Col. Gadhafi was supported by U.S. and Western allies, as well as many Libyans themselves”. Worryingly, the article goes on to say that some “worry that Qatar’s new influence is putting stability in peril”.
The article goes on to mention how “At issue, say Libyan officials and Western observers, are Qatar’s deep ties to a clique of Libyan Islamists, whose backgrounds variously include fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s and spending years in jail under Col. Gadhafi. They later published a theological treatise condemning violent jihad. With Qatar’s support, they have become central players in Libyan politics. As they face off with a transitional authority largely led by secular former regime officials and expatriate technocrats, their political rivals accuse Qatar of stacking the deck in the Islamists’ favor”.
Worse still, “With the blessing of Western intelligence agencies, Qatar flew at least 18 weapons shipments in all to anti-Gadhafi rebel forces” and that “The majority of these National Transition shipments went not through the rebels’ governing body, the National Transitional Council, but directly to militias run by Islamist leaders”. Similarly, it says that “Some Tripoli officials allege Qatari arms have continued to flow straight to these Islamist groups in September, after Tripoli’s fall, to the open frustration of interim leaders”.
Nothing comes for free and the piece says that “Qatar’s ruler, Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, has dismissed some Libyans’ fears that Qatar is angling for influence over Libya’s gas reserves, Africa’s fourth-largest. Instead, one of Qatar’s main goals in supporting popular uprisings in the region, say people familiar with its leaders’ thinking, is to promote its political vision—that in a Muslim-majority region, Islamic political figures can help build modern, vibrant Arab nations by being included in new democracies”. The piece adds that Qatar is home to the US Fifth Fleet, while at the same time, “Doha has also openly fostered ties with some of the region’s most controversial Islamic militant groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah”.
Others have noticed the role the emirate has played, and is about to play in the world. He writes that “The Economist called Qatar a ‘Pygmy with the punch of a giant,’, while adding that “in an off-mic moment with political donors, U.S. President Barack Obama called him a ‘pretty influential guy.’” He adds that “Qatar has inserted itself into conflicts in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, positioning the emirate as a disinterested mediator, trusted — or at least tolerated — by all parties”.
Crucially he argues that “ it wasn’t until 1995, when Sheikh Hamad ousted his father in a bloodless coup, that Qatar began building its little patch of desert into a force in the region and beyond. Under him, Qatar has become an expansionary power, a sort of latter-day Venice — only its strength lies not in trade or maritime prowess but in the flow of natural gas”. Speaking on its economy he adds that “Qatar has been more than merely lucky, making big, bold bets on the rise of liquefied natural gas and reinvesting profits in massive infrastructure projects at home and high-profile assets abroad like Harrods in London and the French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain. Eventually, the government hopes the interest on Qatar’s $85 billion sovereign wealth fund alone will be able to fund its operations in perpetuity”.
Speaking on the actions of its Libyan adventure, he adds that “a nationalist backlash over perceived Qatari meddling in Libyan affairs soon ensued. Abdel Rahman Shalgham, Qaddafi’s former U.N. ambassador whose dramatic defection helped seal the dictator’s fate, appeared on television to denounce Qatar as an alien, malign force. ‘Qatar might have delusions of leading the region,’ he said. ‘I absolutely do not accept their presence at all.’ Qatar’s secular allies were soon forced out of the interim government, while its main Islamist proxy in Libya, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, was detained and humiliated at Tripoli’s airport by rival militiamen. One year on, it’s hard to see what Qatar gained from its North African adventure”. While it is certainly too soon to say this is true, Qatar is not a charity and will almost certainly want a return on its “investment”.
He concludes, “all outside attempts to end the conflict peacefully have failed, including repeated Qatari-led efforts to come up with a diplomatic solution. If Assad survives, Doha will have aggravated the Syrian regime’s biggest supporter — Iran — with which Qatar shares the world’s largest gas field and maintains officially friendly ties, to little end”, adding, “There’s a reason most city-states throughout history have avoided provoking their larger neighbors — sooner or later, they strike back. And isn’t being incredibly rich good enough?”