Qatar Foreign Policy Towards the Middle East
Qatar Foreign Policy Towards the Middle East
Qatar is located in Arabian Peninsula in boarders with Saudi Arabia, with only 225,000 citizens in a population of 1. 7 million. Qatar follows a conservative religious ideology, Wahhabism. While some refer to Qatar as the “ Second Wahhabi Emirate,” it is traditionally known as “the most boring place in the gulf” or “the country known for being unknown (Roberts, 2012). ” However, Qatar emerged as a strong state actor with extended networks of alliances in the world. The mediator role that Doha plays today is crucial in the region, particularly after the Arab Spring (HRW, 2013).
Indeed, Qatar supported the Arab Uprisings across the region in 2011. In addition, Qatar invested between $65 billion and $100 billion to the FIFA world cup that it will be hosting in 2022. The Emir founded a number of humanitarian projects in Sudan, South of Lebanon, Gaza and Asia. In this paper, I attempt to answer the question of what are the driving motives of Qatar’s foreign policy in the Middle East? And why, unlike its neighboring countries, Qatar’s leadership supported the Arab appraisals of 2011?
Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, stated, “we support those who demanded justice and dignity,” when asked about his country’s role in the Arab revolutions in an interview in 60 Minutes . In response, President Barak Obama thanked the Emir for promoting democracy in the Middle East (Al Thani, 2012). Ironically, Qatar is an absolute monarchy described as an “ authoritarian regime” that is ranked 138th out of the 167 countries by Democracy Index 2011. In addition, the Freedom House lists Qatar as “ not free” (freedom house), (Democracy Index, 2011).
Therefore, Qatar’s lack of rule of law, freedom of speech and political rights contradict “the Emir’s efforts to promote democracy” and delegitimizes his political statements. In relevance to this hypocrisy, Qatar’s foreign policy in general and its support of democratic transitions in the Arab region in specific serves its ambitions to secure itself from threats, maintain its status quo of an independent state and take a leadership role in the region. Political Emancipation and the Saudi Threat: Al Thani family ruled Qatar for more than 150 years.
Qatar attained its independence in 1971, when the British-mandate came to an end and after its refusal to join the United Arab Emirates federation. Since that date until the 1990s, Saudi Arabia acted as the de facto protector of Qatar. Consequently, the Emir took policy directions from Al Saud. However, this relationship witnessed a change in the early 1990s as tensions in bilateral relations between the two countries began to arise. After the invasion of Kuwait and Sadam’s threat to attack the Suadi kingdom, Saudi quickly reached out to western coalitions in aim of protection.
As Suadi presented itself as weak and unable to defend itself, the Qataris began to doubt Saudi’s ability to protect the Qatari entity and decided to pursue a strong alliance with the US. Therefore, between 1990-1992, Qatar signed a military agreement with the United States to host its military base in Al-Odead. In response, Saudi worked to block Qatar’s pipeline exports of gas to United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman. As a result, tensions between the two countries intensified. Later, in 30 September 1992, Saudi attacked the Qatari boarders leaving three soldiers dead (2012).
However, the clashes did not stop there. In1995, Shiekh Hamad Al Thani, the Crown Prince back then, seized power after a bloodless coup d’etat against his father. Of course, Saudi Arabia did not welcome the coup d’etat because of Hamad’s known strong motives to maintain his country’s autonomy. Instead, Saudi financially supported another coup against the current Emir. Then, Qatar detained a number of Saudi and Qatari citizens who cooperated with the Saudi government to bring the ousted prince back into power.
These tensions led the Saudi-Qatar relations into a deep freeze until rapprochement happened in 2008 (2012). Since then, Shiekh Hamad Al Thani led the modernization process to create a brand name of Qatar. In its foreign policy, Qatar adopted diplomacy as a foreign policy tool that allows it to take on the mediator role in a number of regional disputes. In addition to its diplomatic activism and small size, the Qatari wealth that is invested in mediation efforts paves the way for Qatar to be a head in the political game today. A Theoretical approach on Qatar’s Mediation:
The tribal nature of the Qatari society and the hierarchal system of the government lends the leadership absolute power to form the country’s economic-political agenda and foreign policy. The major two agents that determine the political strategies of Qatar’s foreign policy are its national security and its desire to establish a brand name for itself. Hence, the main key element of Qatar’s foreign policy is mediation, which is apparently is not a new political tool as the “early Al-Thanis were forced to become experts negotiators quickly in anarchic corner of the Middle East (Roberts).
According to Jacob Bercovitch in his book, Studies in International Mediation, countries engage in mediation for various reasons that include “(a) a genuine desire to change the course of a long-standing conflict to promote peace, (b) a desire to gain access to major political leaders and open channels of communication, (c), a desire to spread one’s ideas and enhance standing and professional status, (d) the wish to preserve intact structure of which they are part, (e) viewing mediation as a way of extending and enhancing their own influence and gaining some value from the conflict (Roberts). Therefore, from this perspective, Qatar’s employs mediation for the enhancement of its professional status and the acquirement of power.
From here, Qatar mediated a number of disputes in the region including the Hezbollah dispute with the Lebanese government, the rebellion disputes with the Northern Sudanese government and the Huothis dispute with the Yemeni government. Moreover, Participation in mediations between states is of great advantage to Qatar. Internationally, it promotes a peaceful image as a peacekeeping state in an attempt to gain worldwide respect (Roberts).
Peterson argues in his work, Qatar and the World, “The fundamental advantage, however, is that it assures the legitimacy of the micro state. This in turn leads to the single most important factor: increased awareness of and legitimacy accruing to Qatar- in domestic and external terms- enhances the prospects of the states’ survival”(Roberts). Qatar neutral position and its small size makes non-threatening to other state to except negotiation with compare to Saudi which has interests in regional conflict, which leads political parties to refuse its negotiation, e. . Saudi support of the government in Yemen and rivalry with Hezbollah. On the other hand, Qatar established diplomatic relations with almost everyone.
Qatar’s Foreign affairs minister, Shiekh Hamad bin Jasem Al Thani, in an interview on Al –Jazeera, was asked by Ahmed Manosur, Al Jazeera presenter, “I just want to understand one thing! In Qatar you have relations with the devils and the angels, with the Iranians and the Americans, with the Israelis and Hamas, he continued, how can we understand this policy? (Mansour, 2012). Today, Qatar unlike other state in the region, calls Tehran in the morning and Tel Aviv in the afternoon “(Roberts). It was the first state in the gulf to host trade office of Israel, established good relations with Hamas, opened communications with Hezbollah, the Emir of Qatar was the first to invite Ahmadinejad to attend the 28th Gulf Cooperation council summit in 2007. While other Arab states alienated Islamists, Qatar was in good terms with Arab oppositions, particularly Islamic groups.
For example, Yusuf Al Qaradawi is an influential Islamic leader, resident of Qatar since 1960s is the main guest who taken the Qatari citizenship is Al Jazeera chief religious show. Also, other Arab political dissidents were welcomed and took Qatari citizenship such as Mohammed Hamed Al Hamari from Saudi Arabia who organized Youth Role in Change in the Arabic Gulf; young activists from across the gulf attended the conference (Al Qassemi, 2012). Al Jazeera as foreign Policy tool Part of “Brand Qatar” project, is to spread ideas and enhance Qatar’s status.
The establishment of Al-Jazeera in 1996 came to serve that goal. Al Jazeera is an important tool of Qatar foreign policy, with its slogan the “ The Opinion and the other Opinion” and the channel shameless criticisms to Arab leaders and programs on democracy and political rights. Al Jazeera soon gained the respect of Arab public compare to other media alternatives that are state sponsored (Khtib, 2013). The channel broadcasted the revolutions across the Arab spring countries – except the appraisals in Bahrain .
The spread of revolutions were feared by Arab states, yet Qatar seemed to support the revolutions through Al Jazeera. That is said to be reason that inspired the youth in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen to rebel against their governments and demand freedom and dignity. Nevertheless, The channel neutrality was under question, during the Egyptian elections, Al Jazeera hosted members of MB like Khirat Al Shater, and Moahhmed Mosri. Sultan Al Qassimi, a, wrote about Al Jazeera’s Arabic love ffaires with MB, he discussed some of his observations, that Muslim Brotherhood supports were given the chance to express their views on through the channel while critics towards Muslim Brotherhood were barely heard in the channel (Al Qassemi, 2012). Recently, Waddah Khanfar the director – general of Al Jazeera was replaced with Shiekh Ahmed bin Jasem Al Thani, who holds degree in petroleum (Al Qassemi, 2012). This suggests that Al Jazeea is becoming less free to represents Qatar’s government preferences and its support to Muslim brotherhood.
Apparently, Qatar calculations towards the Arab spring were opposite to its neighbors who supported Mubarak regime. It saw an opportunity to ally itself with revolutions to promote for its image as “Pro- Arab public ” and play regional role in Arab-Arab relations despite the policy risks its taking incase these revolutions were not successful. Through Qatar’s Money, Al-Jazeera, regional mediations and international pressure, Doha was successful in making the Arab Spring an opportunity so that it plays valuable role and take a leadership role in the region. Qatar in the Arab Spring:
Qatar natural position had to be changed when it realized that change will topple the former leaders to stay at the head of the game head of Saudi, After Mubarak’s fall, Qatar supported Muslim brotherhood in Egypt. Shiekh Hamad Al Thani, the foreign minster of Qatar state that his country won’t allow Egypt to go bankrupt, Doha transferred five billion dollars to Egypt to meet its financial obligations. In addition to the financial support, Al Jazeera members’ Muslim brotherhoods are regularly interviewed to spread their influence. Middle Ease Scholar, Alain Gresh calls Al Jazeera the mouthpiece of Muslim brotherhood (Khatib, 2013).
Furthermore, Rashid Al Ghanushi of Al Nahdha party of Tunisia, stated in an interview with Al Arab newspaper that Qatar is a major partner of the Arab spring revolutions hence it’s also a partner in next period of democratic transition and development since it offers development projects to support the economy of the Arab spring states (2012). Qatar had to intervene in Libya and Syria to sustain its leading regional position. It was the first country to lead the international action against Gaddafi. Qatar supplied the rebels with total US$2billion. On the other hand, Qatar involved in arming Syrian rebels like the Free Syrian Army.
Also, it was successful in unifying the Syrian opposition. The importance of Qatar involvement in the latter is to counter Iranian influence by allying with opposition while Assad regime is backed by Iran (Khatib, 2013). In contrast to this, Al Jazeera was silent towards the uprisings in Bahrian. Qatar has been selective in backing uprisings there. The reason behind that, is Saudi Arabia influence that views the situation as “Shi’a uprising “ and regional rivalry with Iran, hence any intervention from Qatar’s side in Bahraini issue would result tensions (Roberts, 2012).
In conclusion, Qatar had different view towards the Arab Spring compare to its neighbors. Its objective to play a valuable role in the region, made Doha change its position as neutral state and take foreign policy risks. Although the question of weather Qatar made the right policy decisions or not remains unanswered yet. However, Doha succeeded in playing regional role a head of regional power like Saudi and influenced the Arab countries to take collective action towards Libya and Syria.
In addition, Qatar foreign policy faces challenges; among these challenges is the reliance on money donations to support Post Arab Spring countries that would hinder progress in Qatari diplomacy. On the other hand, the lack of democracy and rule of law domestically puts Qatar legitimacy to promote for democracy under question. Moreover, making policy changes internally such as guarantee of political and civil rights to citizens hold parliamentary elections and protection freedom of speech will give Qatar legitimacy and enhance its image in international community.