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Blowback for Qatar 25, October 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa, Qatar.
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At some stage the adulation and praise that Qatar received was always going to give way to some grumblings of one flavor or another.

Initially, Qatar was praised ad nauseum for their actions:

  • First Arab state (second overall after France) to recognise the TNC
  • Contributed 6 Mirage fighter jets to the NATO no fly zone mission
  • Leading proponent in the GCC and the Arab League of the no-fly zone
  • Sold free Libyan oil on behalf of the rebels
  • Shipped gasoline and other key items to the rebels
  • Shipped tonnes of weapons to the rebels
  • Trained the rebels in Libya and back in Doha
  • Economic aid

The first real signs of griping regarding Qatar’s role [from Libyans: I’m sure the Saudi’s were moaning about their ‘upstart’ neighbour long ago] was last week when Al Tarhouni, Libya’s Oil and Finance Minister pointedly remarked that

To any country, I repeat, please do not give any funds or weapons to any Libyan faction without the approval of the NTC.

This was a clear message to Qatar. Since the start of the conflict, Doha has been funneling arms, money and support to Libya via its contacts there. These included Bejhaj and the Al Salibi brothers. The militias associated with these groups became exceedingly well resourced and thus prospered.Yet now that the fighting is largely over and the TNC are trying to assert their authority and begin the long and slow process of returning Libya to some state of normality, the elite are obviously concerned about cash and weapons potentially still being funneled to one particular faction over another. It is reasonable that they want control over such matters

The second issue is one that has been latent for some months. Moussa Koussa left the UK for Qatar in April. It was becoming far too difficult for him to stay in the UK given his murderous past. Now in Qatar he has, I am sure, proved exceedingly useful to the Qataris and thus indirectly to the NATO alliance in working out who is who in Libya, what Gaddafi is was likely to be up to and where he was most lilely to flee to. Plus a host of other bits and pieces that only long time close confidant of Gaddafi could know. This was the price for his residency in Qatar. Yet now – on the ball as ever – the BBC doorstepped him after after miraculously ‘tracking him down’ to the Four Seasons in Doha (it’s not like it’s been written in numerous articles, or anything x x).

It is likely that there will be a sizable push to bring Koussa to some kind of justice, perhaps in Tripoli, perhaps in the Hague. This will put Qatar in a difficult position, as it will be difficult for Qatar to give up Koussa. Not only would such a notion go against deep-seated notions in this part of the world of hosting a guest (whomever that may be) but Qatar will not want to set a precedent of cow-towing to other powers to hand over someone with whom they have had dealings. Indeed, Qatar sees itself as something of a refuge for various international misfits ranging from one of Saddam Hussein’s wifes  to one of Osama Bin Laden’s sons.

Yet if Qatar does not hand over Koussa as demanded by ‘the Libyan people’ (such a demand is surely not far off) then it risks frittering away the credit that it has built up. Indeed, the TNC’s pointed remarks are already chipping away.

Overall, I don’t really think that Qatar is trying to push its Islamist allies (for that is who most of them are) because they are Islamist per se. I see Qatar’s support of Belhaj et al as mostly a factor of simple connections: they already had relations with Al Salibi and Bejhaj and thus they supported them. Certainly, Qatar is a proud, religious and conservative state and would want to support moderate Islamists, as they are doing, but it is hardly the case that they would refuse to support liberals or someone else. The fact is that if the West is expecting liberals and explicitly non-Islamist candidates to win offices after the Arab Spring, then there will be a lot of disappointed people in London and Washington.

Certainly, Qatar must take into account the TNC’s growing power and their wholly understandable and justified desire to control the weapons going in and out of their country. Yet I also detect a simple pang of jealousy as a motivating factor for the jibes against Qatar. No, I’m not trying to castigate those complaining about Qatar, just point out that it is logical for those without Qatari support to feel irked that someone else is getting truck loads of cash and arms. And if and when such people complain that they are not getting funded because Qatar are funding their own Islamists or some such notion, then I think they are being a bit cheeky and trying to pressure Qatar to stop using the wholly bust Western-created trope and specter of ‘Islamists gaining power’.

This is not to say that Qatar does not have some master plan to push one particular Islamist strand or whatever, just that I don’t know anything about such a plan and it sounds unlike the Qatar that I do know.

As for Koussa, Qatar’s best bet would either be to send him economy class to the Hague now, sticking up for justice and all that, or send him off to some tin-pot African country that wouldn’t care a jot about ICC demands. No, this is not an edifying conclusion, but this is high politics that we’re referring to, after all, not never-never land.

 

 

On Qatar and Libya 13, April 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa, Qatar.
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I’ve penned an article in Foreign Policy looking at Libya and Qatar. The tantalising strap line/little summary of the article is

Could tiny Qatar send ground forces to Libya?

And before anyone tries to sling me out of Qatar, can I point out that this is a mooting article; a thought piece. I’ve not been listening in at the windows of the Army HQ here. Honest.

Arab involvement in Libya 23, March 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Qatar.
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On 12 March the Arab League, having suspended Libya’s membership, voted in favour of supporting a United Nations (UN)-backed military action against Libya in the form of enforcing a no-fly zone. Limited and careful as their wording was – Syria and Algeria balked at the phrase ‘foreign intervention’ – it is still extraordinarily rare for Arab states to come together to support any kind of international military campaign against a fellow Arab state.

The official reason that the Arab League supported some kind of intervention or involvement was for the need to ‘protect the civilian population’.[1] Yet this is hardly an adequate explanation. Humanitarian concern is rarely – if ever – the ultimate arbiter of decisions in the international arena, where notions of absolute sovereignty are habitually prized above all else.

Shifting Focus

The more international and local media focuses on shots of a Libyan plane crashing to the ground or Tomahawk missiles being launched from Western battleships off the Libyan coast, the less the media is focusing on other simmering conflicts around the region. For example, because Saudi Arabia voted for some kind of action against Libya there has been, ipso facto, less coverage of its own sporadic domestic protests and intervention in Bahrain.

Moreover, at a time of ferment throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, it may be considered opportune and useful for leaders, wary for their own sake, to show that they are aware of the prevailing mood and will ‘combat injustice’ when they see it. As long as these sentiments can be harnessed and focused externally, it may be felt – rightly or wrongly – that such actions will go some way to establishing revolutionary credentials with minimal domestic reforms. Or, more to the point, given the near-universal popular support for the opposition against Qadhafi’s onslaught, maybe Arab leaders were afraid of not supporting some kind of action and the potential domestic ramifications thereof.

A leader cognisant of the prevailing mood, aware of the potential dangers of fighting against the current of international opinion and consequently supporting action against Qadhafi, may also garner support from America and other Western countries. This, in and of itself, given Western proclivities for favouring change in Iran but not Saudi Arabia, in Libya but not in Bahrain, would be a savvy path to tread.

Qatar and the UAE

Initially, American officials noted that the Arab League would have to ‘participate’ – simply offering rhetorical support would be insufficient.[2] Curiously, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates emerged as the Arab states taking the lead in supporting the no-fly zone.

Most assumed that Qatar, for example, would support efforts by allowing America to use Central Command – based near Doha – to oversee operations. However, it now appears that Qatar is contributing six of its Mirage 2000 fighter-jets along with two cargo planes. The UAE was also expected to contribute twelve F-16s and twelve Mirage jets for use against Libyan targets.

Motives

It is theoretically easier to understand the UAE’s desire to join in with this operation. In recent years the UAE has spent tens of billions of dollars on importing a wide variety of armaments, so much so that from 2006 to 2010 it accounted for nearly a quarter of all major weapons deals in the Middle East.[3] Given the UAE’s strategic location, it is logical to assume that these weapons were bought explicitly for defence purposes. Therefore, a high-profile demonstration of their potency may, in addition to their acquisition in the first place, contribute to the UAE’s deterrence.

In contrast, Qatar’s security is not based on the deterrence value of their own military, which has received but a fraction of materiel as compared to the UAE, but on the presence of America’s Central Command. Rather, in sending fighter aircraft to Libya, Qatar is pursuing its default policy of the past fifteen years, consistently seeking the international limelight, usually in a humanitarian or educational context. Certainly, this is the first time that Qatar has used such raw, hard power, for it typically concentrates on far softer methods, but the underlying reasoning is the same: to take part in a popular action to assuage, for example, a humanitarian crisis.

Cold Feet

Yet as Qatari jets near Libya, Arab support wavers. Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League, complained on 20 March about the scale of the attacks on Libya.[4] The loss of Arab support, given existing issues with Russia and China, would be highly damaging. However, the very next day Moussa, in conjunction with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, reaffirmed Arab support for the action. His earlier wavering has been widely ascribed to his expected candidacy for the Egyptian Presidency, hence decrying the loss of civilian life from Allied attacks for domestic Egyptian consumption.

Even with Moussa’s renewed support of the mission, there are growing murmurs of discontent throughout the Arab world and beyond.[5] Fundamentally, in addition to growing casualties, even with the need to appear to ‘understand’ and ‘support’ the will of the people in the face of Qadhafi’s onslaught, many governments fear the precedent that they may be setting by allowing – nay supporting – regime change.

Moreover, the latest reports to emerge regarding the UAE deployment suggest a key shift in policy. The National, the UAE’s flagship English language newspaper, reported that the UAE would limit its support to humanitarian aid and not military action over ‘disagreements with the West over Bahrain.'[6]

This is an interesting move. Despite the official reasoning, the core motive of this change has nothing to do with the West’s attitude towards Iran’s involvement (or lack thereof) in Bahrain’s troubles, but instead highlights just how sensitive the Emirati government is towards the prevailing sentiment. When the Arab consensus was pro-intervention, they supported it. Yet now that such sentiment is wavering and – crucially – civilians are being inadvertently killed, the calculus has evidently changed. The cost of Emirati pilots mistakenly killing civilians in an increasingly unpopular conflict where Qadhafi is reportedly ‘recruiting’ civilian shields for installations means that they will eschew the potential benefits (bolstering their deterrence, etc.) for fear of prompting domestic unrest.

Qatari Contribution

Qatar has a similar calculation to make. Yet not only has the state historically been quite a contrarian, often eschewing the typical consensus, but it is not a federation with demonstrably poorer relations within it. In short, there is a greater opportunity for unrest in the UAE, specifically in the northern Emirates, than there is in Qatar. The risk of causing civilian casualties must be weighed against the potentially iconic and positive footage on Al Jazeera of a Qatari jet spearing through the air on a ‘humanitarian mission’, acting as the very personification of Arab support.

Moreover, it is important to point out that Qatar’s contribution is far from token. Though specific figures are difficult to obtain, Qatar’s deployment probably accounts for the majority of its operational fast-jet wing and the transport wing of its Air Force. Clearly, Qatar is making a strong, public and Western-oriented statement in joining in with the military operations.

Nevertheless, there are risks. While Western allies will be extremely grateful for this significant show of support and there is much kudos to potentially garner, Qatari jets causing collateral damage could be highly damaging. Indeed, it would make sense for, if operationally possible, the Qatari Mirage jets to attack the most inanimate of inanimate targets or to strictly enforce the no-fly zone, minimizing the risk of civilian casualties. Such an outcome would be best not only for Qatar and the coalition, but potentially for Libya as well.

Notes

[1] Ethan Bronner & David Sanger ‘Arab League Endorses No-Flight Zone Over Libya’ New York Times 12 March 2011

[2] Ibid

[3] Gavin Davids ‘UAE is top weapons importer in Middle East’ Arabian Business 16 March 2011

[4] Donald Macintrye ‘Arab support wavers as second night of bombing begins’ The Independent 21 March 2011

[5] Colin Randall & Kareen Shaheen ‘Cracks begin in international anti-Qaddafi coalition’ The National, 23 March 2011

[6] Kareen Shaheen & Ola Salem ‘Ex-airforce chief says no to UAE planes in Libya’ The National, 22 March 2011