Qatar: An economic and religious offensive
Since the start of the Arab spring, Qatar has supported the anti-establishment movements in North Africa and the Near East. With wealth from its oil and gas resources, the tiny emirate nestled on a peninsula in the Persian Gulf is a key player on an economic and military level. France and Germany are keen to negotiate new contracts with Emir Hamad Ben Khalifa. But the wealthy emirate’s political and economic objectives are also linked with religious issues which threaten the stability of the region. Analysis with Guido Steinberg, a specialist on the Near East at the Wissenschaft und Politik foundation (SWP) in Berlin.
Qatar cannot be ignored by anyone wishing to play a political role in the Near East. This Sunni regime has considerable influence both in North Africa and the Arab countries being buffeted by the winds of change. Guido Steinberg, specialist on the Near East explains: “Qatar has become rich over the last 10 years due to gas exports and it redistributes some of this money to forces that it considers to be the real winners in the Arab ‘spring’ or ‘uprisings’, namely the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and probably also Syria.”
Al-Jazeera, the major weapon in Qatar’s foreign policy
The state-owned television channel Al Jazeera, where many important positions are held by the Muslim Brotherhood, is the major weapon in Qatari foreign policy, as shown by what happened in Libya: the channel called on people to rise up against Colonel Gaddafi whilst Qatar provided weapons to the Islamist rebels. Weapons which are being used again today, as Guido Steinberg explains: “According to several reports, Qatar has sent Libyan fighters to Syria, for example, so they can take part in the insurrection.”
Qatar gets involved in the Syrian conflict
Qatar isn’t just supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels, it is pushing the Arab League and the West towards military intervention in Syria. It’s a political calculation which hides a religious motive: Qatar wants to overthrow the Shiite-Alawi regime of Bashar al-Assad and substitute Sunni forces. According to Guido Steinberg, “that is what makes the Qatari policy so dangerous. If we don’t stop what is happening in Syria, it will lead to sectarian civil war and the Alawi, Christians and possibly the Kurds will be the victims. There is no good and evil in this country, there is only evil!
Qatar’s double game
Qatar’s foreign policy also constitutes a risk for France. Like his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande is banking on continuing or even increased cooperation between France and the pro-Islamist emirate. But according to Guido Steinberg, European politics won’t stop the rise of the Islamists: “All we can do is try to act so that it develops in a certain direction, as was the case in Turkey.” Qatar should continue to seek to consolidate the influence of conservative religious groups. And the propaganda images of an open and welcoming country organising the World Cup in 2022 shouldn’t fool anyone.
Patrick Schulze-Heil for ARTE Journal
Read also the interview of Guido Steinberg : “Qatar tried to get the better of the Saudi Arabia”
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