Designed to resemble a string of pearls, the Pearl-Qatar in Doha, Qatar is an artificial island spanning nearly four million square meters, creating over 20 miles (32 kilometers) of new coastline, located 383 yards (350 meters) offshore of Doha’s West Bay Lagoon area on a former pearl diving site.
QATAR IS TINY AND RICH, AND ITS ANGLING FOR INFLUENCE
by Aryn Baker
Note for WoP readers: The Arabs, including Qataris, are the gold grabbers who can’t even produce their own grains. Wealth alone cannot make a nation a superpower. It’s the productivity and the ability to innovate that makes nations great.
Added to this is their incapacity to manage their riches and assets which they leave to others to do for them. And above everything they’re incapable of defending their own country. They are totally oblivious to the fact that a nation cannot be productive if its lazy and squanders its talent (if they do have this trait!). In this regard, not only are they talent-less, they also are arrogant.
In this context, Qatar is just angling for the wrong influence.
Don’t these self styled mauvrik Qataris see a lesson in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and lately Syria that when US wants, it can occupy every Arab land? Is Qatar not occupied?
I’m sure Aryn Baker was given a good compensation for writing such phrases and praises which of course the Qataris don’t deserve.
The following poem by a great and visionary Arab poet GIBRAN KHALIL GIBRAN though quoted quite often yet fully fits into the approach adopted by our Qatari and other Arab friends. (Gulam Mitha)
Pity The Nation…!
Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.
Pity the nation
that wears a cloth it does not weave,
eats a bread it does not harvest,
and drinks a wine that flows not from its own wine-press.
Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero,
and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.
Pity a nation that despises a passion in its dream, yet submits in its awakening.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
save when it walks in a funeral,
Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox,
whose philosopher is a juggler,
and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.
Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting,
and farewells him with hooting,
only to welcome another with trumpeting again.
Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years
and whose strong men are yet in the cradle.
Pity the nation divided into fragments,
And each fragment deeming itself a nation
When a cease-fire was called on Nov. 21 between Israel and Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, residents of Gaza rushed to the streets in relief. They set off firecrackers and waved the flags of everyone they wanted to thank for helping end eight days of bloody conflict. Hamas’ flag fluttered along with those of Egypt and Turkey, countries that have long stood by Gazans’ side. But a new banner joined the ranks: the maroon and white flag of Qatar.
Just a month before, Qatar’s Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani visited Gaza to deliver a $400 million development package, becoming the first head of state to break, in the most public way possible, an Israeli blockade that had been in place since Hamas, an Islamist group, took control of Gaza in 2007. With that bold move in support of the world’s most incendiary issue, Qatar placed itself squarely out front in a region that desires decisive leadership. The investment in Gaza earned the tiny emirate, better known for its outsize wealth than its strategic prowess, a place at a negotiating table that had long been reserved for bigger players.
Qatar Science and Technology Park
As the balance of power shifts in the wake of the Arab Spring, Qatar, a nation of fewer than 2 million people, of whom only an estimated 250,000 are citizens, has muscled its way into a position of disproportionate importance. Punching above its geopolitical weight, this salt-scrubbed spit of land on the Persian Gulf has used political finesse and the judicious deployment of its vast oil and gas riches to engage early and consistently with the most difficult issues in its neighborhood.
It was the first Arab nation to embrace Libya’s anti-Gaddafi rebels; it then quickly threw its support to Syrians seeking the overthrow of former friend President Bashar Assad. The Emir’s visit to Gaza was succeeded by an almost comic scramble among other regional nations to keep up with the Thanis. Egypt sent its Prime Minister nearly a month after the Emir’s visit, and Turkey’s Prime Minister has pledged to go.
Qatar is a paradox: an absolute dictatorship blessed with unimaginable wealth that has positioned itself as the champion of democratic change everywhere but at home. It is a conservative Sunni monarchy that has been ruled by one family since the mid–19th century, and yet it is spending billions of dollars buying assets and cultivating projects that might telegraph a savvy, sophisticated and forward-thinking image to the West. Qatar’s leaders–a small, taciturn circle–have provided no explicit explanation for these moves, but analysts and Middle East experts say they all point in one direction. “Qatar wants to be the region’s next superpower,” says Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics. “The Emir of Qatar knows well that there is a hunger for leadership, and he thinks Qatar should be that leader.”
THE WORLD”S RICHEST NOMADS
A half-century ago, most Qataris lived in poor coastal fishing and pearl-harvesting villages or led precarious, nomadic lives amid the interior’s desert wastes. Then oil and gas revenue began pouring in. Qataris now rank among the world’s richest people, with GDP per capita of more than $98,000, twice as high as in the U.S. It has the world’s third largest natural gas reserves, worth an estimated $10 trillion, and has generated growth rates that put China and India to shame. In 2011, GDP surged by 14.1%, following a 16.7% jump in 2010.
Yet the Qataris know the boom that has made them rich also leaves them vulnerable. Hydrocarbons account for nearly 60% of Qatar’s economy, but oil and gas “are not going to be there forever,” says Fahad bin Mohammed al-Attiya, counsel to the emirate’s heir apparent. Nobody knows exactly when the gas will run out, but to prepare for that eventuality and diversify its economy, the government is funneling billions into education, entrepreneurship and the arts.
Doha,Qatar: The spiral mosque of the Kassem Darwish Fakhroo Islamic Centre, Qatar is one of Doha’s most famous landmarks. This is not a traditional Qatari mosque but a replica of the Great Mosque of Al-Mutawwakil in Samarra in Iraq.
Satellite news channel al-Jazeera is Qatar’s best-known export. The de facto voice of the Arab street, al-Jazeera has earned Qatar legions of fans, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who once compared the station favorably with U.S. broadcasters, saying it offered “real news.” With an estimated 150 million viewers internationally (though it is still not widely available in the U.S.), “al-Jazeera is Qatar’s passport to the world,” says Qatari media consultant Hassan Rasheed.
If al-Jazeera is Qatar’s introduction to the world’s newshounds, the nation’s investments in culture, sports, education and blue-chip companies will bring it to the attention of everyone else. The 2,500-acre (1,000 hectare) Education City on the outskirts of the capital, Doha, houses the Middle East branches of eight top-ranked international universities, including Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon and Northwestern. Qatar also hosts branches of international think tanks such as the Brookings Institution and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
In theory these institutions, like al-Jazeera, are completely independent. Still, most employees hesitate to speak frankly on the record about their hosts for fear of inviting scrutiny. And with good cause: a Qatari poet was sentenced to life in prison last month for penning a verse about the Arab Spring that, officials say, insulted the Emir. Qatar has also been widely criticized by human-rights groups for abuses against migrant workers.
Qatar is unusual among the oil-rich states of the Gulf for the prominent public role played by its royal women.
The Emir’s glamorous second wife Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser is often at the Emir’s side during high-level political appearances, her hair tucked under a chic mini-turban rather than under an enveloping veil.
She is the head of the Qatar Foundation, which has dispensed billions in charity and development projects dedicated to education.
THE ROYAL WOMEN
Qatar is unusual among the oil-rich states of the Gulf for the prominent public role played by its royal women. The Emir’s glamorous second wife Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser is often at the Emir’s side during high-level political appearances, her hair tucked under a chic mini-turban rather than under an enveloping veil. She is the head of the Qatar Foundation, which has dispensed billions in charity and development projects dedicated to education. The Emir’s daughter Sheika al-Mayassa bint bin Khalifa al-Thani is one of the most powerful patrons in the art world. She oversees a clutch of museums that are home to the Gulf’s best collection of Islamic art, including an I.M. Pei–designed building that floats, mirage-like, in Doha’s harbor.
Pearl monument and skyline in the background on the Corniche
Sports, too, serve Qatar’s strategic goals. The Qatar Foundation has sponsored the FC Barcelona soccer team since 2010. Two years ago, Qatar elbowed aside sporting heavyweights the U.S. and the U.K. for the right to host soccer’s 2022 World Cup. “By 2022 pretty much every person on the planet is going to be aware of Qatar,” says Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center’s Middle East program. “So it really creates a sense that it is a power to be reckoned with in the region.”
Meanwhile, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, with an estimated $100 billion in assets, has embarked on a worldwide shopping spree. It snapped up the U.K. department store Harrods for a reported $2.2 billion, owns 95% of the Shard, a $2.4 billion real estate development in London, and has bought the Paris Saint-Germain soccer team. It has stakes in iconic brands such as Volkswagen, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton and Credit Suisse. The Emir is also considering a deal to acquire the AC Milan soccer team from embattled former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for a reported $650 million.
Qatar’s investment strategy is designed to project an image that appeals to its Western allies. It doesn’t always work. A recent Qatari proposal to invest $65 million in Paris’ marginalized–and Muslim-dominated–suburbs provoked a vitriolic outcry in the French press. (The far right’s Marine Le Pen dubbed the initiative a “Trojan horse.”) Qatar’s successful bid for the World Cup–which will be played in a desert country in the summer–is regularly hit with accusations of bribery and foul play. Officials with Qatar’s sports federation have denied any improprieties.
Why does Qatar seem to have such a Napoleon complex? One word: “Kuwait,” says David Roberts, deputy director of the Doha branch of RUSI. “Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait demonstrated that anonymity is not a good thing. So if you can be known as that strangely powerful country striving–in a good way–on noble issues like education, regional peace and stability, that sounds like a good way to stand out.”
THE FLAG BEARER
In the early days of the Arab spring, al-Jazeera made it very clear where its sympathies lay. Within a week of the Libyan uprising, anchors on al-Jazeera delivered news updates on Libya against a backdrop of the country’s pre-Gaddafi flag, which had been adopted as a standard of the rebellion.
The network took a similar position in its coverage of the events in Syria, marking its preference with displays of the green, white and black emblem of the opposition. Those symbolic gestures opened Qatar to criticism. Why was al-Jazeera treading so lightly in its coverage of human-rights issues in Qatar? Or in neighboring Bahrain, where Qatari troops helped quash a popular revolt?
Those criticisms have died down, largely because of a growing perception in the region that Qatar’s foreign policy is following al-Jazeera’s reporting rather than the other way around. To back up the Emir’s populist trip to Gaza, Prime Minister Jassim al-Thani took a strong stand at a recent conference in Cairo, pushing for Arab nations to work together to make progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
A cache of U.S. diplomatic cables released on the WikiLeaks website shows that the Prime Minister has long worked behind the scenes on an Israeli-Palestinian accord. Though Qatar’s leadership denies taking sides, the Emir’s visit to Gaza, controlled by Hamas, was widely interpreted as a snub of its political rival, Fatah, further marking Fatah’s irrelevance within the Arab world.
A cityscape from Doha the capital city of Qatar in the night
A SUBTLE STRATEGY
Gerges of the middle east centre suggests that Qatar, in rewarding Hamas, has been playing a much subtler strategy, one that could paradoxically help Western interests. Hamas, he notes, had long been supported financially and militarily by Iran and Syria, and Syria hosted Hamas’ exiled chief Khaled Mashaal. But Hamas was sympathetic to the uprising in Syria, straining that alliance. Qatar invited Mashaal to move to Doha, neatly severing those vexing links to Syria. Hamas needs hundreds of millions of dollars a year to run Gaza. By stepping in with funding, Qatar not only rewarded Hamas for relocating Mashaal but may also have helped reduce the militant group’s economic reliance on Iran. “Qatar has managed to wean Hamas from Iran’s orbit, steering it to a pro-West axis,” says Gerges. “This is a major development, one that could even weaken Iran.”
Despite these maneuvers, Qatar has not managed to change the U.S. position on Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization. Asked whether Qatar’s influence has successfully weaned Hamas from Iran, a State Department official said, “No, Iran continues to back Hamas as well as to attempt to destabilize the region.” Still, the U.S. and Qatar maintain a close alliance. Qatar is home to the largest U.S. military air base in the region, and the Emir visited the White House with the Sheika in April 2011 in part to discuss the Arab Spring.
Qatar’s interventions have not always been well received or well understood within the region it hopes to lead. Both Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and Yemen’s then President Ali Abdullah Saleh complained to U.S. officials about Qatari meddling in 2008 and 2009, according to leaked diplomatic cables from their countries’ embassies. Al-Jazeera’s populist celebration of the anti-authoritarian uprisings in the region has infuriated Qatar’s neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia. Even Libyans, who benefited most from Qatar’s assistance, are now suspicious of its intentions.
Syria’s Assad, however, laid bare Qatar’s true vulnerabilities in a scathing attack in an Egyptian magazine, dismissing Qatar as a parvenu. “Those who have suddenly become wealthy after a very long period of poverty … They imagine they can use their wealth to buy geography, history and a regional role,” he said. As a target of Qatar’s pressure, Assad has an interest in trying to belittle the upstart emirate. But his comments also hint at a bigger picture: in the centers of power in the Arab world, as in Europe and the U.S., the nouveau riche will always struggle to be taken seriously by the old guard. And so far, Qatar’s wealth has yet to purchase lasting diplomatic influence. The nation’s most recent foray into regional affairs, a conference in Doha designed to unite the Syrian opposition, managed to force an ungainly alliance, but the success was short-lived.
These setbacks are to be expected for a country just starting to flex its diplomatic muscle. Qatar may have been the first country to break the Gaza blockade, but it will never have the same clout as Egypt, which shares a border as well as a long history with Gaza. And that is Qatar’s biggest problem. It has the ambition, but it is simply too small, too young, its pool of leaders too shallow to effectively achieve its vision. Qatar certainly has the cash to make waves, but until it develops a new generation of forceful diplomats to go along with those reserves, it won’t have the momentum to ride them all the way to shore.
Aryn Baker is the Middle East Bureau Chief for TIME, a role in which she covers politics, society, the military and the regional war on terror. She also covers both Pakistan and Afghanistan, for which she was Bureau Chief from 2008 to 2010.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ‘Wonders of Pakistan’. The contents of this article too are the sole responsibility of the author(s). WoP will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this post.
YOUR COMMENT IS IMPORTANT
DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF YOUR COMMENT