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Al Jazeera mark II 6, May 2014

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It has been known for some time that Qatar has been planning to launch a new news channel based in London. Half of the ‘Al Arab Al Jadeed [The New Arab]’ venture began on 30th March 2014 with the news website, while the expected TV channel is still in the works. Many have puzzled as to why Qatar, which has already spent untold billions on its main broadcaster, Al Jazeera, would sink money into another venture, while other have mocked the decision.

The driving force behind the whole venture is Azmi Bishara. The colorful Doha resident who has seemingly been influential behind the scenes in Doha for some time now and is the head of the Arab Centre for Policy Studies, which is in the process of expanding to become a Masters degree-awarding institution. Under Bishara’s leadership, AL Arab Al Jadeed is thought to provide a counter weight to Al Jazeera Arabic, which unabashedly tows a pro-Muslim Brotherhood line. Despite the mockery, there is a certain logic to this. It strikes me as perfectly sensible for Qatar to attempt to balance out its image as a slavish Ikhwan-supporting state, for that is how it is viewed by some, though the truth is inevitably much more nuanced.

Aside form Al Jazeera, Qatar has long sought to boost its ‘soft power’ – to use the hackneyed phrase – using media. Aside from Al Jazeera, one of the ways that it wanted to boost the Libyan opposition was by establishing  Libya al-Ahrar TV station. Qatar is also believed (or rather rumored) to be behind a range of other media ventures elsewhere in the Middle East, such as the Al Jadeed channel in Lebanon. Qatar’s elite clearly feel that as a small country with a minimal ability to project power because it is such a physically small place, using its key resource – cash – to buy asymmetric soft power is a wise investment. This is not such a bad calculation.

As for the more conspiracy minded notions that Emir Tamim is pursuing this Al Arab Al Jadeed venture because his hands are tied when it comes to altering Al Jazeera because it was started by and is somehow still under the ‘protection’ of his father, Hamad bin Khalifah Al Thani, there are more persuasive (and likely) if less entertaining reasons afoot. Firstly, purging Al Jazeera may be too vocal or obvious a sign that Qatar has given in to the Saudi-led tub-thumping, some of which has allegedly demanded that its coverage be altered. Clearly Qatar needs to give some ground, but it wants and needs to do this in as quiet a way as possible. Clearing house at Al Jazeera, though I have argued that it would be a beneficial idea overall, would understandably be an obvious sign of change. Secondly, it is practically impossible to change bureaucracies. They have a profound inertia all of their own. Even in Qatar where the Emir is relatively unconstrained, the leadership has shown over and over again that it prefers to duplicate bureaucracies rather tackle them head-on. Hence the creation of the Supreme Councils over the years to actually make meaningful, effective institutions as opposed trying to reform the old bureaucracies in charge of the same fiefdoms.

 

 

The drive-by Qatar article 29, April 2014

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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I can almost hear the editor haranguing the journalist:

Yes, Qatar is interesting, but it’s all been done before…we need a new angle…find me something new.

And so the journalist comes to Qatar. Another in a long series of drive-by articles. Even the late, great Anthony Shahid wrote a stinker of an article back in 2011 for the NYT (an ephemeral skyline, Al Jazeera, World Cup, Moza, etc., etc.) on a 36-hour trip to Doha. Perhaps it’s Qatar’s fault that it somehow elicits such articles?

So the premise of this new BBC article is that Qataris are unhappy because they’re the richest people on earth. Quite the counterfactual, alternative way of thinking: bonus points from the editor.

It starts as ever with the contractual skyline note: seemingly it’s rising like an ‘artificial forest’ at the moment. Then – kudos! – a Qatari is interviewed. She notes that Qatar’s economic life has changed. Certainly it has. And that families have become separated. Well, absolutely speaking, I suppose this is the case: more Qataris have their own houses now so don’t all live together, so they are more separated. What else could be complained about with this logic? That kids going to school means less ‘quality time’ at home with the family eking out an existence? That modern medicine deprives families of spending weeks mopping each others’ brows when they are sick thanks to its ‘advances’ quickening recovery times?

The article continues.

You can feel the pressure in Doha. The city is a building site, with whole districts either under construction or being demolished for redevelopment. Constantly snarled traffic adds hours to the working week, fuelling stress and impatience.

No you can’t. Qatar is like any other growing city in the world: there is traffic and there is construction. And is working in Doha any more stressful than in London or New York? I suspect not; working hours are, on the whole, not comparable to such places.

The article then stumbles on a genuine and concerning change: divorce rates rising and the obesity problems. But this gets 23 words only noting that there is a problem. That’s it.

We then learn that Qataris get lots of stuff for being Qatari and Qatari students – unlike all students all over the world?? – feel pressure when leaving education looking for work. Indeed, what a nightmare it must be for graduating Qataris to “be faced with 20 job offers.” Really, with this sentence, the article jumps the shark in a naked attempt to magic up controversy where plainly none exists.

More moaning ensues about the Qatari-ex-pat divide. Sure, this is worth discussing, but I suspect that not much more than a couple of conversations went into the article so when we get deep, meaningful quotes like:

The sense is deepening that, in the rush for development, something important has been lost.

I become suspicious that in the yearning for profundity all we’re getting is more trite clichés.

The problem of Qataris being raised by maids is a genuinely interesting topic and one that needs extensive study.

As for a  sexagenarian Qatari woman complaining that life used to be “beautifully simply”, I don’t know where to start. Suffice to say that I imagine that today’s air-conditioning, education for her children, exponentially wider opportunities for all, trips to London for holidays, and trips to Frankfurt for medical treatment might begin to help her reconcile her awful modern existence.

The article then jumps the Orientalist shark (again). We’re off into the desert to drink camel milk “fresh from the udder”. The noble Qatari “chewing thoughtfully” reminiscing about back in the day when things were “much better”. Naturally.

There is something to be said about Qatar’s sense of siege, but perhaps with less sense of drama. But it is deeply wrong to suggest that Qataris want to keep the kefala system in place in order to avoid undermining their “cultural values” or some such guff. Qataris want to keep it because it offers them control over foreigners so they can be evicted and because it is cheap. There are no noble reasons behind it.

After half a sentence on regional politics we are told that cleanliness is an obsession in Doha: I must have missed that. And the article is finished off with the most stupid quote yet, noting that Qataris have “lost almost everything that matters.”

Suffice it to say that Edward Said is gyrating in his grave.

 

Qatar, the Ikhwan, and transnational relations in the Gulf 24, April 2014

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The following article was first published by POMEPS on 18 March 2014 after having been prepared specifically for a workshop in Venice (‘Visions of Gulf Security’) earlier that month. The original article can be found here.

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Qatar has often found itself at the heart of intra-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) disputes. From the early 1990s to 2008 Qatar was involved in a cold war with Saudi Arabia, while its Bahraini bilateral relations have been fractious for more than a century. More recently Qatar’s relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have ebbed and flowed, while Saudi Arabia’s leadership is becoming, once again, increasingly irritated with Qatar. The latest iteration of these regional difficulties was crystalized when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain took the unprecedented step of withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar en masse in early March.[1]

The roots of the difficulties are clear: Qatar’s evident preference for channeling its support through and therefore bolstering the Ikhwan (the Muslim Brotherhood). Given how increasingly difficult and costly this policy is becoming for Qatar with its regional relations, it is worth re-examining existing understandings as to why Qatar supports the Ikhwan. Subsequently, recent bilateral issues will be examined to draw conclusions to inform a cost benefit analysis of Qatar’s continuing Ikhwan-supporting policies.

Qatar and the Ikhwan: the roots

Understanding Qatar’s links to the Ikhwan typically relies on quasi-academic, short articles in lieu of any notable academic sources. While many articles note that, for example, Yusuf al-Qaradawi – arguably the Ikhwan’s most prominent cleric – left Egypt for Qatar in the early 1960s, few note the scale of the influx of Ikhwan (or Ikhwan associated) scholars to Qatar around that time. [2]

Abdul-Badi Saqr arrived in 1954 from Egypt to be the director of education and subsequently run the Qatar National Library after being recommended by a prominent Cairo-based religious sheikh.[3] Under his leadership an influx of Ikhwan teachers “stamped the education system with their Islamic ideology.”[4] When Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani (r.1972-1995) took charge of the education portfolio in 1956 to 1957 he was concerned about increasing Ikhwan domination of education so he sacked Saqr and replaced him with the Arab nationalist Syrian Abdulrahman al-Samrah. However, he didn’t last more than a year thanks to the pressures of the British resident keen to evict such an ardent pan-Arabist. Even while trying to avoid the domination of Ikhwan or pan-Arab thinkers, Khalifa still oversaw significant recruitment from Cairo. In 1960 the head of Islamic sciences at the education department, Abdullah bin Tukri al-Subai, went to Al-Azhar to recruit teachers and thinkers. Ahmed al-Assal arrived in Qatar in 1960 and taught in schools, lectured in mosques, and helped form Ikhwan groups. Abdel-Moaz al-Sattar – Hassan al-Banna’s personal emissary to Palestine in 1946 – went to Qatar to be a school inspector and then director of Islamic Sciences at the ministry of education and co-authored numerous textbooks for the nascent Qatari school system in the early 1960s. Kemal Naji took on various roles including the director of education from 1964 to 1979, the head of the publication committee, and was also the foreign cultural relations advisor of the ministry of education. Qaradawi left Egypt for Qatar in 1961. Initially he ran a revamped religious institute and subsequently established and became dean of the College of Sharia at Qatar University. Today he is widely considered to be one of the most influential and well-known Ikhwan intellectuals; a facet helped since the mid-1990s by his popular talk show “Sharia and Life” broadcast on Al Jazeera, which afforded him a large pan-regional audience.

Despite the prevalence of Ikhwan or at least Ikhwan sympathetic thinkers throughout Qatar’s various bureaucracies – but particularly its education system – few would suggest that today’s policies are a result of domestic pressure from Qataris inculcated into an Ikhwan ideology. The lack of apparent transference of Ikhwan ideology stems from a variety of factors.

Qatar is a country where the Wahhabi creed of Salafi, Hanbali Islam prevails. Qatar’s ruling family hails from the same central Arabian tribal group (the Bani Tamim) as Wahhabism’s founder, Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab and Qatar’s leaders have long adhered to its scriptures. Even in the 21st century when nothing about Qatar’s orientation or policies chimes with a typical understanding of the puritanical Wahhabi creed, the national mosque opened in 2012 was named after al-Wahhab himself. Though the state overall was receptive to the influx of the Ikhwan, the ground for proselytization was not so accepting.

Indeed, the Ikhwan is “barely [actively] involved in Qatari domestic affairs.”[5] In distinct comparison to Saudi Arabia, Qatar has limited the institutional opportunities available for religious scholars of any description to exert influence domestically.[6] Religious schools as founded by Qaradawi in 1961 remain niche and in 2008 to 2009 only taught 257 students, the vast majority of whom were not Qatari.[7] Institutionally not entertaining the notion of religious influence on politics, there is no office of Grand Mufti in Qatar and the ministry for Islamic affairs and endowments was only established in 1993.[8]

The Ikhwan’s lack of penetration in Qatar is also explained by its inability to perform a variety of its usual social functions. Running local sports clubs or operating food banks – typical Ikhwan activities elsewhere in the region – are popular but inevitably undercut the state’s legitimacy.[9] In 1972 when Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani took over seamlessly from Ahmed bin Ali al-Thani, he augmented his wider legitimacy and diversified his support from nigh on exclusively based on the al-Thani to a far wider base. He did this through a budget splurge creating jobs, building houses, augmenting pensions, and increasing wages.[10]

The Ikhwan, therefore, though having little discernable direct effect on policy in Qatar was an important part of the background makeup of the state. The two entities came to develop a mutually beneficial relationship so long as the Ikhwan in Qatar were, inevitably, outward facing. It is no surprise that the Ikhwan soon began to use Qatar as “a launching pad for its expansion into the Emirates and especially Dubai” from the early 1960s.[11] The Ikhwan search for an outward focus found real traction with the influential Al Jazeera platform afforded to Qaradawi from 1996 onward and is personified in the official closure of the Ikhwan branch in Qatar in 1999.[12]

Utility of Ikhwan links for Qatar

In the 1950s, 1960s, and subsequently there have clearly been those in the Qatari elite who have been motivated to a degree by a religiously-inspired agenda. This in and of itself is a motivating factor explaining the push for the influx of Islamic scholars to Qatar alongside the prosaic need to staff emerging bureaucracies with educated functionaries. The same impulses explain Saudi Arabia’s reliance on Ikhwan teachers and professionals from the 1960s.[13] Equally, for some in Qatar there may have been wider motivating factors, some of which prevail to this day.

Qatar’s status as a Wahhabi country was firmly established by the modern-day founder of the state, Sheikh Jassim.[14] As such this was an inviolable plinth of the state’s makeup. Yet it was not one that could be actively used to augment legitimacy or to promote Qatar as a state for Wahhabism that is indelibly linked to Saudi Arabia. To augment the status of Wahhabism in Qatar, to explicitly instil it through education systems in schools or to give its religious scholars an official place in government, would have been to intractably instill the necessary deference of Qatar to Saudi Arabia as the custodian of the two holy places and the al-Wahhab legacy.

Instead, supporting the Ikhwan allowed a different group to develop Qatar’s systems. This avoided a reliance on Saudi-scholars or jurists to design and staff Qatar’s systems in a Wahhabi image inevitably tilting toward Riyadh. Also, Qatar’s leadership was in a stronger position and could set and enforce guidelines as to the group’s limitations to a greater degree.

Otherwise, this hosting of Ikhwan scholars allowed Qatar to augment its regional status with Ikhwan ideology being more widespread than Wahhabi thought. This allowed Qatar to fashion for itself a place as a key spoke in the Ikhwan wheel. Ikhwan members that Qatar attracted over the years with its “open door” policy were to prove useful in the Arab Spring.

Recent problems: A changing calculation?

For the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Ikhwan is – today – anathema. It has not been forgiven for supporting Iraq President Saddam Hussein in 1990, is blamed for radicalizing Saudi youth, and is something of a threat as a large, well organized religiously-driven group.

The UAE too harbors deep suspicions about the Ikhwan and has consequentially taken a hard line and sentenced dozens of Ikhwan to jail sentences. For the UAE’s de facto leader, Muhammad bin Zayed, the Ikhwan is an issue of abiding importance; indeed leaked U.S. diplomatic cables give an unvarnished, personal view of his steadfast concerns about the group’s activities in the UAE.[15] That the Ikhwan profited from the Arab Spring, gained power, and proved that they can effectively mobilize tens of thousands of citizens could only augment Zayed’s suspicions and concern.

There have been numerous spats involving Qaradawi in recent years, but recently there has been an escalation. On January 31, in a Friday sermon broadcast as usual by Qatar television, Qaradawi criticized the UAE describing it as being “against Islam.” Amid a furor on social media, the UAE’s foreign ministry summoned the Qatari ambassador to account for why his ministry had not denounced Qaradawi’s comments though Zayed subsequently insisted that relations were fundamentally sound nevertheless. Qaradawi did not give a sermon on the next two Fridays, leading to speculation that he had been censored by the Qatari government or even stripped of his nationality. However, his absence was due to illness and he returned on February 21[16] to once more criticize the UAE, albeit in a more conciliatory manner, drawing on the predictable Emirati editorials bemoaning Qatar’s inability to muzzle Qaradawi.[17]

Qaradawi also irked Saudi officials at the end of January, when he accused them of supporting Defense Minister Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi et al in Egypt who were “far from God and Islam.”[18] Contemporaneously, accounts of Qatar’s support of Houthi rebels against Saudi Arabia’s interests are reportedly the last straw for Saudi’s leadership, increasingly angry over a litany of other issues,[19] to the extent that according to Al Arab, Saudi Arabia was considering closing the Qatari-Saudi land border, Saudi airspace to Qatar, and scuppering the imminent Qatar Airways deal to operate flights in the kingdom.[20] Scurrilous social media exchanges also indicated the possible excommunication of Qatar from the GCC.[21]

Mediation by the emir of Kuwait has reportedly calmed the situation and this is not the first time in recent years that Qatar has been publically rebuked: There was a February 2012 GCC meeting about Syria and Iran without Qatar because it “is considered unreliable when it comes to Iran.”[22] However, that such threats are emerging to the public sphere is at least a cause for concern. While their implementation may be highly unlikely, Saudi Arabia has recent evidence of undertaking a surprising, complete reversal of policy directed by the king in the rejection of the U.N. Security Council seat in October 2013.

Conclusion

Qatar’s support of the Ikhwan is not as much of a preference as it may seem. It originated as the result of a structural necessity to staff positions without inculcating any systems that would automatically defer authority to Saudi Arabia. Equally it also continues to make Qatar an important spoke of the wider Ikhwan wheel, expanding its importance regionally. These networks played the central role in Qatar seeking to augment its influence during the Arab Spring. Though many of these gambles subsequently misfired, this strategy could be recycled at some stage in the future.

However, this entire policy thrust leaves neighboring countries uneasy. The Ikhwan’s importance has transcended from a potentially influential group to one with demonstrable capabilities in a revolutionary era. Qatar’s policies seem to underestimate the depth of antagonism they create. For Qatar, a country with a small native population where there has typically existed a strong ruler-ruled sociopolitical bargain, the Ikhwan has never posed any kind of threat. To the UAE, which is convinced it has found plotting Ikhwan elements with relatively poorer Emirates in its federation, the Ikhwan is seen as a genuine threat to its leadership. Similarly in Saudi Arabia, a country that had to employ an Arab Spring-inspired budget of $130 billion and continues to struggle with a slow burning insurgency in its critical eastern region, stoking or supporting Ikhwan actors is seen as a deeply grave concern.

The emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, cannot submit to regional pressure, for this would look weak, send the wrong signals as to Qatar’s status under his charge, and it would also be difficult to overturn his father’s policies. Yet some accommodation needs to be made. Tamim was the first leader to sign and ratify the GCC security pact, which likely contains draconian provisions related to the censure of speech and the extradition of citizens that Tamim himself would not propose, so he is willing to compromise.

In the current climate many of Qatar’s Ikhwan links have either been checkmated or otherwise degraded in utility. It would be beneficial, therefore, to keep these relations on a low profile. Qaradawi is virtually untouchable because he was so supported by Tamim’s father – a facet Zayed may well understand – and because any such move would be seen as a capitulation. But to show a willingness to tackle Gulf states’ concerns, Tamim could direct a clearing-house in Al Jazeera Arabic: the channel whose reputation has sunk lower across the Arab world as its clear support of the Ikhwan has grown. Restoring balance to Al Jazeera would not only show Qatar’s willingness to act, but could lead to the slow resuscitation of the channel’s credibility and as one of the key fonts of Qatari soft power this is a worthy goal.


[1] Simeon Kerr, “Diplomatic Crisis as Gulf States Withdraw Ambassadors from Qatar,” Financial Times March 5, 2014.

[2] Haykel’s short brief on Qatar and Islamism being a noted exception. Bernard Haykel, “Qatar and Islamism,” in Policy Brief (Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, February 2013).

[3] Abdullah Juma Kobaisi, “The Development of Education in Qatar, 1950-1977″ (Durham University, 1979), p. 123.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ahmed Azem, “Qatar’s Ties with the Muslim Brotherhood Affect Entire Region,”  The National (May 18, 2012)

[6] Steven Wright and Birol Baskan, “Seeds of Change: Comparing State-Religion Relations in Qatar and Saudi Arabia,” Arab Studies Quarterly 33, no. 2 (Spring 2011).

[7] Ibid., p. 98.

[8] For a discussion of the influence of Saudi’s clergy on politics see Nawaf E. Obaid, “The Power of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Leaders,” The Middle East Quarterly V1, no. 3 (September 1999). Wright and Baskan, “Seeds of Change: Comparing State-Religion Relations in Qatar and Saudi Arabia,” P. 109.

[9] Alexus G Grynkewich, “Welfare as Warfare: How Violent Non-State Groups Use Social Services to Attack the State,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 31, no. 4 (2008).

[10] Jill Crystal, Oil and Politics in the Gulf : Rulers and Merchants in Kuwait and Qatar  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 156-7.

[11] Tarek Al Mubarak and Amr Al Turabi, “Al Masar Al Mukhtalifah Fee Al Khaleej [Different Paths in the Gulf],” As Sharq Al-Awsat (6/11/2013)

[12] Haykel, “Qatar and Islamism.” Sultan Al Qassemi, “Qatar’s Brotherhood Ties Alienate Fellow Gulf States,”  Al Monitor (January 23, 2013).

[13] Ondrej Beranek, “Divided We Survive: A Landscape of Fragmentation in Saudi Arabia,” in Middle East Brief (Brandeis University January 2009).

[14] Rosemarie Said Zahlan, The Creation of Qatar  (London, New York: Croom Helm 1979), p. 54.

[15] “UAE Minimizing Influence of Islamic Extremists,” Wikileaks (November 10, 2004). “Strong Words in Private from Mbz at Idex,” Wikileaks(February 25, 2009).

[16] Haj Salmeen Ibrahim, “‘Al Qaradawi’ Yaawd Li-Minbr Al Jmaaah Mntqadah Askar Misr Wa Al-Imarat [‘Qaradawi’ Back to the Pulpit on Friday, Criticising the Egyptian Military and the UAE],”  Al Quds Al Arabi (February 21, 2014).

[17] Aisha Al Marri, “Tyraan Sadyqah Min Qatr [Friendly Fire from Doha],”  Al Ittihad (2/24/2014)

[18] Amena Bakr, “Influential Cleric Urges Saudis to Stop Backing Egypt’s Dominant Military,”  Reuters (January 28, 2014)

[19] “Al Alaqat Al Saudiyah Al Qatariyah Mutazmah Jidan Wa Al Harb Al Alamiyah Tshtaal Bayn Al Biladayn Qa Amir Al Kuwayt Ytwasat Lil-Thdah Qa Ttwyq Al Tawatr  [Qatari-Saudi Relations in Crisis as a Media War Flares up between the Two Countries; the Emir of Kuwait Mediates to Calm Tensions],” Al Rai Al Yaum (November 22, 2013)

[20] “Sabr Al Saudiyah Yunafth Wa Ijraat Mutwqaah Dud Al Dawhah [Saudi Arabia’s Patience Is Running out and Action Is Expected against Doha],” Al Arab (February 19, 2014)

[21] For example, follow the Twitter hashtag ‘ السعودية على تتآمر قطر‘# to see the toing-and-froing of accusation and counter accusation.

[22] Clemens Von Wergin, “Iran Schmuggelt Waffen Übers Meer an Die Hisbollah [Iran Smuggles Weapons across the Sea to Hezbollah],” Die Welt (February 15, 2012)

 

References

Al Alaqat Al Saudiyah Al Qatariyah Mutazmah Jidan Wa Al Harb Al Alamiyah Tshtaal Bayn Al Biladayn Qa Amir Al Kuwayt Ytwasat Lil-Thdah Qa Ttwyq Al Tawatr  [Qatari-Saudi Relations in Crisis as a Media War Flares up between the Two Countries; the Emir of Kuwait Mediates to Calm Tensions].” Al Rai Al Yaum (November 22, 2013).

Al Marri, Aisha. “Tyraan Sadyqah Min Qatr [Friendly Fire from Doha].” Al Ittihad (2/24/2014).

Al Mubarak, Tarek, and Amr Al Turabi. “Al Masar Al Mukhtalifah Fee Al Khaleej [Different Paths in the Gulf].” As Sharq Al-Awsat (6/11/2013).

Al Qassemi, Sultan. “Qatar’s Brotherhood Ties Alienate Fellow Gulf States.” Al Monitor (January 23, 2013). http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/01/qatar-muslim-brotherhood.html

Azem, Ahmed. “Qatar’s Ties with the Muslim Brotherhood Affect Entire Region.” The National (May 18, 2012).

Bakr, Amena. “Influential Cleric Urges Saudis to Stop Backing Egypt’s Dominant Military.” Reuters (January 28, 2014).

Beranek, Ondrej. “Divided We Survive: A Landscape of Fragmentation in Saudi Arabia.” In Middle East Brief: Brandeis University January 2009.

Crystal, Jill. Oil and Politics in the Gulf : Rulers and Merchants in Kuwait and Qatar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Grynkewich, Alexus G. “Welfare as Warfare: How Violent Non-State Groups Use Social Services to Attack the State.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 31, no. 4 (2008).

Haykel, Bernard. “Qatar and Islamism.” In Policy Brief: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, February 2013.

Ibrahim, Haj Salmeen. “‘Al Qaradawi’ Yaawd Li-Minbr Al Jmaaah Mntqadah Askar Misr Wa Al-Imarat [‘Qaradawi’ Back to the Pulpit on Friday, Criticizing the Egyptian Military and the UAE].”

Kerr, Simeon. “Diplomatic Crisis as Gulf States Withdraw Ambassadors from Qatar.” Financial Times, March 5, 2014

Kobaisi, Abdullah Juma. “The Development of Education in Qatar, 1950-1977.” Durham University, 1979.

Obaid, Nawaf E. “The Power of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Leaders.” The Middle East Quarterly V1, no. 3 (September 1999).

Sabr Al Saudiyah Yunafth Wa Ijraat Mutwqaah Dud Al Dawhah [Saudi Arabia’s Patience Is Running out and Action Is Expected against Doha].” Al Arab (February 19, 2014).

“Strong Words in Private from Mbz at Idex.” Wikileaks (February 25, 2009). http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09ABUDHABI193_a.html

“UAE Minimizing Influence of Islamic Extremists.” Wikileaks (November 10, 2004). http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/04ABUDHABI4061_a.html

Von Wergin, Clemens. “Iran Schmuggelt Waffen Übers Meer an Die Hisbollah [Iran Smuggles Weapons across the Sea to Hezbollah].” Die Welt (February 15, 2012). http://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article13870565/Iran-schmuggelt-Waffen-uebers-Meer-an-die-Hisbollah.html

Wright, Steven, and Birol Baskan. “Seeds of Change: Comparing State-Religion Relations in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.” Arab Studies Quarterly 33, no. 2 (Spring 2011).

Zahlan, Rosemarie Said. The Creation of Qatar. London, New York: Croom Helm 1979.

– See more at: http://pomeps.org/2014/03/18/qatar-the-ikhwan-and-transnational-relations-in-the-gulf/#sthash.gKhYWMTZ.dpuf

Gulf Troika Troubles 23, April 2014

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, The Emirates.
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The following article was published on 13 March 2014 by the New America Foundation. The original article can be found here.

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It had been coming, some might say, for years. The announcement of the removal of the Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini Ambassadors from Qatar is the latest step in worsening relations between the brotherly Gulf States. The Gulf troika are angry that Qatar supported the Muslim Brotherhood during the Arab Spring, angry that Qatar has typically taken a conciliatory line towards Iran, angry that Qatar did not support Saudi sponsored groups in Syria, and angry overall that Qatar just will not do as it is told.

This dispute remains – at the moment – limited to individually unimportant acts of political showmanship. Yet, the Gulf is a region that does not need any more complications. If clashes in the region that supplies much of the world’s oil and gas transcend from rhetoric to reality, they could undermine economic recovery efforts around the world.

How did we get here – and how likely is this to blow up into a larger, regional conflict? First, a little background on the Gulf: At first glance, one might expect the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to get along better. They are united to varying degrees by broad religious beliefs with Sunni Islam serving as the dominating denomination. The same families, tribes, and economic systems spread across the GCC states; hydrocarbon industries dominate, which has contributed to the creation of similar political systems. And in the face of Iran, an ideologically, historically, politically, and religiously antithetical state menacingly close by, it would be natural to assume that GCC states would overcome their differences and coordinate their action. In fact, the Iranian threat was the instigating factor behind the formation of the GCC.

Aside from a lack of the necessary maturity of the GCC states to overcome their differences, the key reason for their divisions lies in US protection agreements. Coddled with security agreements and reassured with the presence of huge US military bases in the region, the GCC states don’t feel the pressure to overcome disagreements at the behest of overarching security concerns and are insulated from the realities of their region.

The announcement of the removal of the Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini Ambassadors from Qatar is the latest step in worsening relations between the brotherly Gulf States.

The subsequent bickering has ebbed and flowed over the years. In the early 1990s it reached the level of border clashes between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and in 1996 Riyadh is alleged to have support of a counter coup against former Emir Hamad Al Thani after he took over from his father in 1995. This sour bilateral relationship limped on until 2002 when Saudi Arabia finally had enough and removed its Ambassador from Doha. He did not return until 2008, symbolic of Saudi Arabia finally coming to terms with the independence of Qatar. Though it became independent from Britain in 1971, Saudi Arabia’s rulers still saw the Qatari Peninsula as essentially part of Saudi Arabia: it had extracted taxes from those on the Peninsula, it commanded the loyalty of large tribes draped across the ‘border,’ and Qatar’s leadership in the 1970s and 1980s had shown deference to the Kingdom.

The post-1995 leaders were different. They sought to carve out Qatar’s independence, implementing a raft of policies that served to simultaneously antagonize Saudi Arabia and ram home Qatar’s independence. It worked: Qatar riled the leadership in Riyadh and unequivocally established Qatar’s independence.

Eventually, with the return of the Saudi Ambassador to Doha, the countries reached a compromise:  Saudi Arabia understood that it could not control Qatar anymore, but the more egregious examples of Qatar’s behaviour – notably Doha-based news organization Al Jazeera’s pointed Saudi-focused exposés – had to stop, which they did.

The Arab Spring upset this negotiated truce. Qatar used the links that it had been cultivating for decades with the Muslim Brotherhood to channel most of its support and it was initially successful. It played an important role in the removal of at least two entrenched leaders in the Middle East: Colonel Gaddafi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

Mubarak was a stalwart who had friends in the Gulf. Worse still, he was replaced by a Muslim Brotherhood Government: a movement that had long been anathema to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

In particular, both countries feared the group’s influence domestically. Now, their brotherly state, Qatar, was directly boosting an organization that had created a movement with the power to marshal the support of hundreds of thousands of Muslims.

Qatar used the links that it had been cultivating for decades with the Muslim Brotherhood to channel most of its support…It played an important role in the removal of at least two entrenched leaders in the Middle East: Colonel Gaddafi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

As Qatar’s support for various Muslim Brothers became increasingly a problem for neighbouring Gulf states, so too the speeches from Qatar by the Muslim Brotherhood’s most prominent cleric, Yusuf Al Qaradawi, were becoming symbolic of the burgeoning differences. In late January 2014 he accused the UAE Government of being ‘against God’, which drew a predictable reaction on social media and led to the summoning of the Qatari Ambassador to the UAE Foreign Ministry for an explanation. This occurred around the same time that he was also uncomplimentary about Saudi Arabia’s links to the military junta in Egypt and rumors surfaced about deep anger in Riyadh as to Qatar’s meddling with Houthi rebels in Yemen. These exact issues have antagonized before, but in this new climate, they have taken on a new importance.

Diplomatic relations haven’t improved much since the start of the Arab Spring. But the recent withdrawal of the Saudi, UAE and Bahraini Ambassadors doesn’t indicate big change if it is merely symbolic. What Qatar’s leadership needs to work out is whether this is instead one more step along a continuum of escalation.

Because it could be that the UAE and Saudi are in the process of escalation, or they could simply be trying to change Qatar’s discourse and direction; to cow the independent streak that it has displayed for two decades. They may be trying to take advantage of the young Emir in his first year in office.

Emir Tamim is now stuck between the Scylla of not being able to capitulate in the face of such pressure and the Charybdis of needing to normalize relations to a degree lest the situation escalate even more. The closure of Qatar’s border with Saudi Arabia, for example, would be devastating in the short term at least for Qatar’s economy, which is hugely dependent on this link in lieu of a port of sufficient size.

The closure of Qatar’s border with Saudi Arabia, for example, would be devastating in the short term at least for Qatar’s economy, which is hugely dependent on this link in lieu of a port of sufficient size.

So what’s Qatar to do? Emir Tamim’s options are limited. In private and over time, Qatar can promise to quieten down its support for its various Muslim Brotherhood contacts around the Middle East. Many of them have in any case been outmaneuvered in recent months and are less useful today. Restoring a semblance of non-biased reporting and editorial control at Al Jazeera Arabic by redefining its editorial line or removing some journalists, could restore the channel’s image, which has plummeted recently as its Muslim Brotherhood-supporting policies have gathered strength. This would be good for Al Jazeera’s wider reputation, good for Qatar, and placatory to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

In the coming weeks, the Emir of Kuwait will launch a mediation effort, a reminder that Kuwait and Oman have not joined in this boycott: That’s not surprising given Kuwait’s fractious domestic politics and Oman’s independent stance. It also underscores an important point: This is not a united GCC front against Qatar.

Since the initial Ambassadorial withdrawal, Emirati and Saudi journalists have been pressured to stop writing for Qatari newspapers: I am sure that that Qatari press will survive. If relations remain at this nigh-on puerile level, then we can hope that Saudi and the UAE have finished for this round. Though the Kuwaiti Emir may offer a shorter-term palliative, for a lasting truce, we might have to wait for leadership changes in the two antagonistic states: something that is likely not that far away in both states given the ages and ill health of their leadership.

 

On Qatar and its LNG competition 21, April 2014

Posted by thegulfblog.com in LNG, Qatar.
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LNG Tanker

 

Robert Tuttle – a solid reporter when it comes to financial-type things in Qatar and the Gulf – has written a good article on Qatar’s LNG future. Indeed, it’s one of the best I’ve seen recently offering a reasonably rounded snapshot of a crucial issue for Qatar going forward.

He rightly notes that Qatar will face stiff competition in coming decades, notably from Australia. As CNN reported back in 2012 in a snazzy slide-show, six out of the world’s ten most expensive energy projects revolve around Australian LNG. Tuttle’s suggestion that Qatar will be surpassed in 2018 as the world’s largest LNG supplier is entirely plausible. However, it is not quite that simple. The bureaucratic and particularly the environmental red tape in Australia are fearsome and while the investment and political will to push through Australia’s impending LNG domination is formidable and will doubtless win out eventually, the cost and the timescale are open to debate.

Tuttle does not touch on the LNG boom in East Africa, which, though utterly beset with institutional and governance issues, is still probably of a potential magnitude worth considering in such an article [though I should note that apparently the full length article is due out with Bloomberg soon].

The US shale revolution is certainly of relevance to Qatar going forward. Qatar’s decision to invest in a range of ‘competitors’ is a reasonable reaction to this, though its investment in the Golden Pass terminal in Texas is less a savvy assessment of trends and a subsequent engagement in a strategy of diversification as the result of investing in (i.e. building) an importing terminal, which subsequent to the Shale revolution became redundant.

In terms of grumbles about his article, there are a few. Very little started in 1971 with the discovery of the North Field (the world’s largest gas field that Qatar shared with Iran). Indeed, at the time the entire field was dismissed as irrelevant such was the myopic desire for oil. Quoting the Gas Exporting Countries Forum based in Doha makes some sense, but it is entirely unclear as to whether the organisation is of any meaningful, practical use whatsoever.

More importantly, the question of demand is not addressed at all. Certainly, articles have word limits and irascible editors and such, but this issue is not only about supply. Indeed, without considering the potential changes in demand, it is difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions as to the effects of greater supply on Qatar. If demand from East Asia keeps on rising then it is entirely possible that the new supply will meet the demand and the net result will be negligible as far as Qatar is concerned.

Qatar’s Foreign Policy Adventurism 27, June 2013

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The following article was published by Foreign Affairs on the 25th June 2013.

Earlier this month, the Taliban opened an official office in Doha, landing Qatar once more in Western headlines. That might have been part of Qatar’s plan: the decision to host such a controversial office is symptomatic of a desire to play a central role in a wide array of important diplomatic issues. Yet the debacle of the office’s first 36 hours shows just how far Qatar still has to go.

No sooner had the office opened, on June 18, than the trouble began. Despite assurances from the Americans and Qataris to the Afghan government that the office would be relatively low-key and would not resemble an embassy, the Taliban spokesman who opened the office did everything in his power to imply that he was representing a state. The Taliban anthem was played, an official plaque outside referred to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Afghanistan’s name under Taliban rule), and the flag of the Taliban in Afghanistan was raised at a mini opening ceremony. The media circus around the events did nothing to dispel the images of nationhood and power.

Karzai reacted furiously [1], recanting [2] on promises to send negotiators and pulling [3] out of talks with the United States. The U.S. airbase at Bagram also came under Taliban fire [4], leaving four U.S. personnel dead. After some frantic diplomacy on the part of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the Qataris forced the Taliban to lower the flag — apparently by cutting [5] the flagpole in half and then removing it entirely. But the damage had been done, and the Taliban had scored a significant diplomatic victory.

The Qatari authorities could never have been expected to have total control over the Taliban, but they could have been expected to at least extract some guarantees that the Taliban would behave itself on opening week. (After all, what else would funding the office in its entirety have been for?)

Like the opening of the Taliban office, the talks that are supposed to take place there in the coming weeks do not inspire much confidence. It is true that both sides are exhausted from over a decade of fighting, and that both realize that neither can ever fully win. But there is still a deep gulf to bridge. The Taliban are fragmented, with no agreement about the extent to which the office in Qatar officially represents them. And, on the other side, Karzai hates the Taliban, mistrusts Qatar, and acquiesced to the talks only because he had no choice: after all, how could his High Peace Council refuse to go to peace talks? Meanwhile, James Dobbins, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan who will head up negotiations in Doha, will be dismayed to find that he has to cool tempers and coax the partners back to the table before he has even arrived there.

Qatar’s role in all this was simply to provide a forum where the key protagonists — the Taliban, the Afghan government, and the United States — could come together to talk. Although that task might sound relatively mundane, it is critical given that in peace talks in 2010, a Taliban impostor posing as a negotiator walked off [6]with “a lot of money,” and, in talks in 2011, another impostor killed [7] the Afghan government’s lead negotiator.

For the Qataris, how the talks actually turn out is almost beside the point. Never lacking in ambition, the government has gone into overdrive in recent years. After dipping its toe into mediation and international engagement, notably in Lebanon in 2008 and in ongoing talks on Darfur, Qatar jumped into diplomacy in earnest during the Arab Spring. It began by supporting the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt before most other countries, particularly with its assiduous coverage of gathering protests on al Jazeera, the state-funded satellite channel. Subsequently, Qatar gave support [8]to opposition forces against Libya’s Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi and was the first Arab state to officially recognize the opposition after that. Although Western support was critical, the relatively quick removal of the entrenched dictator was interpreted as a confidence-building victory for Qatar’s foreign policy adventurism.

The Qataris hoped that the same trick would work in Syria. After informal elite-to-elite negotiations failed in 2011, al Jazeera began to cover the growing conflict in depth. By Spring 2012 Qatar was one of the leading suppliers of light arms and other supplies to the opposition. But the fears that the world had initially held about intervention in Libya — that the state would fragment, that the body count would rise, and that the government would ruthlessly repress its people — are now being realized hundreds of miles away.

A desire to make bold policy moves — be it quickly and overtly supporting Libya’s opposition, funneling arms to Syria’s opposition, or hosting a Taliban office — is almost unique to Qatar. An unusual combination of the state’s intrinsic security, which is provided and guaranteed by the United States, its great wealth, and its rulers’ desires to make Qatar a useful international actor, has transformed the state’s foreign policy. Not only, therefore, does the United States implicitly facilitate many of Qatar’s key foreign policies, but some policies — particularly those aimed at establishing discussions with a variety of groups with whom the United States has difficulty interacting (Hamas, the Taliban) — are aimed at making Qatar uniquely important to the United States.

Yet Qatar’s leadership is learning that operating at such a high and politicized level requires a level of preparation, planning, and execution that Qatar struggles to meet. After all, there are only 250,000 Qataris, and the state has had modern bureaucracies for barely a generation. It is no great surprise, then, that it lacks certain capacities. Qatar’s elite are simply willing to take the risks that their policies might go awry. Recently, though, there has been a greater reliance on international allies, such as Qatar’s passing of its Syria file [9] to Saudi Arabia, which appears to be part of an appreciation in Doha that it must take more of a multilateral approach.

Complicating foreign policy-making, too, are the changes [10] in Qatar’s leadership. Unusually in the Arab World, under no domestic pressure, the Emir of Qatar stepped down on June 25 in favor of his son and heir apparent, Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani. At the same time, the foreign minister, who is also the prime minister and has long been synonymous with Qatar’s foreign policy, is expected to step aside as part of a wider cabinet reshuffle. In one fell swoop, then, the two central architects of Qatar’s modern history will be gone.

The next generation of leaders is impressive and skilled at diplomacy. There is as yet no hard evidence that they will continue to make Qatar’s foreign policy as dramatic and interventionist as it has been in recent years. Yet it would be reasonable to assume some continuity: Qatar’s ultimate foreign policy goal will remain making itself as important as possible to a range of key international states. For Qatar, that is the key to living well as a small, wealthy state in an intrinsically unstable region. If the elite in Doha can marry the country’s desires with a nuanced appreciation of their own limitations and either take a more measured approach or act more multilaterally, Qatar could once more be a disproportionate force for good in its wider region.

Links:

[1] http://ti.me/10yCDRq
[2] http://on.ft.com/12i1DXh
[3] http://ind.pn/1c8Ho45
[4] http://bit.ly/14iuzS9
[5] http://bit.ly/12XJKUY
[6] http://nyti.ms/12l6zdN
[7] http://on.wsj.com/ogZi7i
[8] http://fam.ag/pad1NF
[9] http://atfp.co/16O6tnX
[10] http://on.ft.com/1aDtPvq

Qatar Emir Voluntarily Abdicates 25, June 2013

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The following article appeared on RUSI.org on the 25th June.

Once again Qatar leads its region and takes the world by surprise. After months of speculation and rumours, change is finally coming to Qatar. In stark contrast to leaders across the Arab World, without any popular pressure whatsoever, the Emir of Qatar, Hamad Bin Khalifah Al Thani, has passed power to his son and Heir Apparent, Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani. Like his father did 18 years ago when he took power from his father, Tamim will spend the next few days greeting his fellow citizens taking their oath of loyalty before beginning the work of establishing a new Cabinet and Government.

Changes

Thirty-three year old Emir Tamim is one of the youngest leaders in the world and is approximately sixty years younger than his contemporary in Saudi Arabia. Though Qatar has seen abdications before (though not in the last two changes of power) this change is deeply unusual and has no recent regional precedent. Emir Tamim is expected to instigate a widespread reshuffle in the Qatari Government, which many believe will include not only younger Qataris but perhaps even female Cabinet Ministers.

While a younger Government and Emir Tamim will have room to stamp their own personality on Qatar going forward and may well bring some needed impetus to proceedings, no one expects large changes. The strategic direction of Qatar is set: it is an international focussed country, inextricably linked to a range of key countries. Without the leadership of Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, one of many Ministers expected to lose or change portfolios, the more pointed nature of Qatari diplomacy may be smoothed and Qatar may not so readily launch itself into regional issues. Nevertheless, Qatar is unlikely to back away from its foreign commitments or significantly alter its approaches domestically.

Legacy

Emir Hamad has transformed Qatar. From a small backwater with no regional ambition or capability of extending its influence as it entered the 1990s, under his leadership, Qatar has become an often pivotally important country on the international stage. From hosting two huge, critically important US bases for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; becoming the world’s largest supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG); starting the Middle East’s media revolution by founding Al Jazeera; becoming one of the world’s most prominent investors; and more recently actively supporting the Arab Spring: the legacy of Qatar’s Emir is extraordinary.

The Emir could not have done all this without his key lieutenant, Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani, who has been Qatar’s Foreign Minister since 1992 and Prime Minister since 2007. HBJ as he is often known, has become one of the world’s most prominent diplomats and has overseen Qatar’s inexorable expansion in its foreign policy. He has also been the head of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority since 2005 and has led its key acquisitions around the world, but most notably in London.

Though in the recent past Qatar has enjoyed unusual success in its foreign policy, most notably in getting Lebanese factions to an agreement in 2008 and in the support of the Libyan rebels against Colonel Gaddafi, more recently Qatar has come unstuck. Like many actors, Qatar is at a loss of how to effectively support the rebellion in Syria. Their tactics thus far of supporting a motley group of opposition activists has not proven successful, while the Qatar-based Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf Al-Qaradawi has been exacerbating sectarian tensions from Doha with increasingly shrill speeches and sermons. While Qatar is not alone in being befuddled as to how to solve the Syrian crisis, this is an ongoing issue that Qatar’s new elite will have to cope with immediately.

Going Forward

The two Hamads cannot easily be replaced. They were unique individuals in the history of Qatar and of their region who shared a similar vision and drive. However, the Emir has steeped his children including the new Emir, Tamim, in this vision and his work will not be unpicked. Indeed, the Hamads have inextricably tied Qatar into a range of international countries through its energy supply, its investments, and its wider government-to-government agreements. It would be almost impossible to rewind and for Qatar to retreat to an introspective focus. The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is yet another marker in the sand compelling Qatar to continue with its grand infrastructure projects and maintain its open attitude towards the world.

Tamim’s mother, the hugely influential Sheikha Moza, is still – for now – head of the Qatar Foundation – the multi-pronged social and educational charity in Qatar under whose auspices Education City containing several foreign Universities are found. Even if Moza were to step aside soon, she has inculcated her children into the Foundation’s goals and has made four of them (out of six including Moza herself) Board Trustees.

As for Tamim’s personal political inclination, aside from generic rumours suggesting that he is of a conservative persuasion, he is a relatively unknown quantity. Yet there is little evidence to support such a conclusion beyond Doha-based gossip. While Tamim was the impetus for supporting the pay rise for Qatari public workers and military officers – a classically traditional policy of Gulf rulers – thus far his key portfolios in Qatar are related to vastly expanding sporting access, boosting Qatar’s sporting pedigree around the world and making Qatar more food secure in terms of increasing Qatar’s ability to produce a meaningful percentage of its own food requirement using technology and careful management. These are hardly concerns typically associated with conservative tendencies.

Instead we need to sit and wait to see what Emir Tamim will be like. There is huge potential for him to set initiatives using his personal judgement, which will be keenly watched to discern more of an inkling as to his personality. Yet Qatar’s position in the world and its core interests have not changed.

 

The Genesis of Qatar’s Foreign Policy 19, June 2013

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Egypt, Foreign Policies, Qatar.
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The following article appeared in Sada, Carnegie Middle East’s super online journal under the title ‘Qatar’s Global Bargaining Chips’.

The fundamental thrust of Qatar’s foreign policy stems from two interrelated factors: the limitations of its location and the elite’s appreciation of how best to overcome these constraints. Historically, Qatar has always been a small power among larger ones and this mismatch has forced the ruling elites to seek a range of protective agreements, while maintaining as much autonomy as possible.

The latest incarnation of an external guarantor for Qatar is America, whose protection was sought in the aftermath of the invasion of Kuwait. While Qatar gratefully accepts the US security blanket, its leadership nevertheless assiduously seeks to diversify its dependency on America. Not only does this potentially offer Qatar more freedom of action, lowering its ability to be pressured by the United States, but given that history clearly dictates that each and every suzerain will eventually leave, it is prudent for Qatar to prepare for this eventual possibility.

Qatar’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export strategy is a good example of this; it’s a savvy economic policy, a good use of Qatar’s prodigious gas supplies, and it ties Qatar into the economic-energy nexus of a range of important states around the world. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in 2011 Qatar delivered over 2000 million cubic metres of LNG to Belgium, China, France, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Spain, Taiwan, the US and the UK, while it delivered smaller quantities of LNG to Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Greece, Kuwait, and Mexico. This list includes four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and two temporary members. This is a useful set of countries with whom to have an energy relationship.

Countries like the UK, Japan, and China—who receive a significant percentage of their energy needs from Qatar—would be compelled to support the state if its energy security were threatened. In a volatile region where Iran frequently rattles the sabre, often threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, tying such important countries into Qatar’s continued prosperity is important. Similarly, whether Qatar wants support in international forums or with international investments, relations based on deep energy-interdependence can be a stepping stone.

This rationale can also explain to some extent Qatari-Egyptian relations in the aftermath of the January 25 revolution. Before the overthrow of Mubarak, the bilateral relationship was poor with Egypt blocking Qatari initiatives in the Arab League and in peace talks in Darfur, regardless of their merits. Yet now Qatar has restarted its relations using its connections with the Muslim Brotherhood to forge a close relationship with key actors in Egypt’s new elite. Moreover, Qatar has matched its rhetorical support with billions of dollars of aid for Egypt’s economy. By so overtly backing the new government in a time of crisis, for a short time at least the Qatari leadership can expect some combination of support for their diplomatic initiatives and plumb economic investment opportunities. While Qatar will not be buying the Pyramids or the Suez Canal as some scurrilous reports have suggested, it may have the opportunity to invest in the Suez Industrial Zone. Similarly, there are rumors that Qatar may obtain favorable exemptions from investment laws in Egypt in much the same way that it avoided certain property taxes in France.

While it may seem unlikely for a state to operate in such a way and to expect some kind of reciprocity, the Qatari perspective assumes otherwise. Policy is perennially made at the very top of the elite structure and the personal convictions, discussions, and agreements of the Emir can have profound effects on Qatar’s policies.

Indeed, as unfashionable as it is to note the importance of an initial humanitarian impulse, given the personalized nature of Qatari politics, it may have been of key importance when Qatar so assiduously and quickly supported the opposition forces in the Libyan uprising. Yet it is not the only factor in the equation. Aside from potential understandings of reciprocity, Qatar also boosts its image and soft power immensely by being so closely associated with the revolutionary movements, which is a potential boon, both externally and internally. And if Qatar can establish normal or perhaps privileged relationships with the new governments across the region, replacing the previously fraught relationships (i.e. with Mubarak’s Egypt and Gaddafi’s Libya) then this too may bring economic benefits with greater trade and investment.

The highly personalized nature of Qatar’s politics and foreign policy is why the recent rumored changes in Qatar’s elite (allegedly involving the Emir and the Foreign Minister) are so important. While Qatar’s strategic direction has been set by the Emir, with Qatar resolutely focusing on this international arena, always seeking to involve itself where possible, there is still significant room for personal conviction to alter trajectories. For example, the Crown Prince of Qatar, the son of the Emir and his influential wife, Sheikha Moza, will sooner or later guide Qatar’s policies by himself and has been imbued with the Qatari vision. In the areas where he has had control of policy, notably in the sporting arena and Qatar’s food security project, he has pursued innovative and striking policies, striving to place Qatar in the midst of international discussions and events focusing these topics. Initial assumptions, therefore, can only conclude that while a future Emir Tamim may not have the zeal of his father or the current Foreign Minister to controversially propel Qatar into ever more international incidents, he is unlikely to retrench Qatar’s internationalist position.

Qatar and rule by its people 25, April 2013

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The following article appeared on Muftah.org.

__

It is no secret that Qatar is not a democracy. While municipal officials have been elected since 1999, increasingly small popular participation in these elections reflects a widespread belief that the work of these officials is mostly insignificant. Indeed, the reality is that a small handful of people in Qatar make the majority of important decisions with relatively little external input.

The realm of foreign policy clearly exemplifies this kind of modus operandi. The Foreign Minister (who is also the Prime Minister) Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani is the key decision maker. Although trusted key lieutenants, such as the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Khalid Al Attiyah, also play an important role, all critical decisions must, as a matter of course, be sanctioned by the Emir or the Crown Prince.

While Qatar’s foreign policy is undertaken in the name of the Qatari people, it is unsurprising that there are no signs Qataris have ever really taken an active role in its formulation. Aside from perennial concerns with the Palestinian issue, the Foreign Minister does not pursue a given policy because of domestic opinion. Indeed, there is no evidence that Qatar’s foreign policy activism in recent decades is reflective of an approach, a whim, or an active desire among Qataris for their country to assume such a posture.

In fact, popular sentiment would appear to point in the opposite direction. Qatar is a small, conservative society and always has been. Until the 1990s, the state’s horizons were perennially limited to the region with brief forays into the greater international arena through involvement in international aid efforts, the non-aligned movement, and relations with non-regional countries as and when oil revenues permitted in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nevertheless, in recent decades, Qataris appear to be broadly content with their state’s foreign policy pursuits. Certainly there has been no active, widespread domestic movement denouncing Qatar’s various initiatives. Instead, there appears to be something of a tacit understanding that foreign policy should be left to the rulers.

Of course, this does not mean Qataris are uninterested in their country’s foreign policy positions. Indeed, as Qatar continues to receive regional criticism for its financial aid and investment activities from across the Arab world, especially Egypt, many Qataris are increasingly angry at what they see as a rude rebuff of their financial support. Equally some Qataris privately question the wisdom of spending so much money on foreign policy activities or, for example, the country’s decision to provocatively unseat Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Yet, still, the majority do not display a discernible desire to affect the country’s foreign policy positions.

While internationally Qatar’s leaders may get something of a free ride, domestically the story is quite different. Even though Qatar is not a democracy, democracies do not hold an exclusive prerogative on reflecting the desires of their people. Indeed, Qatari citizens can and do have a significant impact on domestic politics.

Qatar is a close-knit society with only 250,000 citizens. News, gossip, and anger spreads like wildfire throughQatar’s majlis (the informal, regular, social meetings held in the evenings by many Qataris). The elite – though inevitably moving in privileged circles – are keenly aware of how their policies are received by the people.

Qatar has no history of systematically repressing its citizens, nor would such a move be tolerated. Instead, when issues potentially affect and anger citizens, the government inevitably reacts, often times by slowing the pace of legislation.

A recent article in the New York Times neatly highlighted one example of this strategy. The article profiled the appalling state of migrant worker rights in Qatar. Qatar is but one of several Gulf states that has discussed reforming its draconian kafala system for controlling workers in the country. Since at least 2010 reforms have been under consideration, recognising the need to make the system more equitable and to establish laws and procedures to stop widespread abuses that characterize the kafala system.

These efforts to open up and safeguard the system for workers have been blocked by domestic business entities in Qatar. Just as happened in Kuwait, both the local Chamber of Commerce and Qatari citizens, 95% of whom have a housemaid and over 50% of whom have more than two domestic servants, oppose the reforms.

The Times article quotes research undertaken by Qatar University’s Social and Economic Survey Research Institute finding that 9 out of 10 Qataris do not want the kafala system changed and 30% want it strengthened. With some understatement, Qatar’s Minister of Labor noted that while he recognised the need for change, it “must go slowly.”

There are other examples of direct government responses to public pressure, notably in the social and educational sphere. In 2012, for instance, the government issued a decree changing the language of instruction in several courses at Qatar University from English to Arabic. That this change went against Qatar’s national strategy, which prioritized the development of an English-speaking workforce to compete in the future economy, was ignored. Given the lack of suitable and relevant Arabic-language texts for these subject matters, the legislation also did not take into consideration that challenges to meaningfully implementing Arabic-based courses.

As the number of expats has increased and Qataris have become even more of a minority in their homeland, there has been an inevitable dilution in the traditional aspects of Qatari life. This process has been further exacerbated by Qatar’s headlong pursuit of international trade. As a result, popular desire to ring-fence certain aspects of Qatari culture and education are unsurprising. Indeed, it can be seen in the most curious of places, including a law signed into effect in 2011 to mandate that Arabic be the primary language for advertising on billboards in Qatar.

This leaves Qatar’s Shura Council elections (literally an ‘Advisory’ Council, which technically serves as a legislative body), scheduled for 2013 in a curious place. Assuming that elections go forward (quite the assumption given that they have been pushed back on several occasions) the thirty elected Shura members will join the Council’s fifteen members who are appointed by the Emir. Undoubtedly, their priorities will center on Qatar’s domestic arena. Money spent building the campuses of eight foreign universities as a part of Qatar’s Education City project, as well as on-going costs associated with their upkeep, will doubtless be a focus of discussion. Equally, controversial educationalreforms to Qatar’s primary and secondary education system, led by the RAND corporation, are still a sore topic as are a variety of other matters that reflect attempts to preserve Qatari heritage and culture in an ever changing country.

Given the population’s traditionalist tendencies and the progressive policies supported by the Qatari elite, it will be interesting to see how boisterous Qataris become once their representatives are officially elected to the legislative body. To pursue their vision for Qatar amid popular backlash, the elites will have to carefully marshal support for initiatives to drive Qatar forward and keep the country globally competitive.

It will also be interesting to see if the Qatari elite can continue to dominate foreign affairs without any challenge from the population. While some elected officials are likely to become more vociferous, current trends suggest that overall the international arena will remain almost exclusively under elite control.

Another Qatar football debacle 7, February 2013

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Sp Uru

When the World and twice-running European football champions are in town and playing the Copa América Champions, it would be rude not to go along and watch teams stuffed with the world’s best players. As much as I was looking forward to last night’s showpiece there was always a certain cynical reticence expecting the organisation around the event to be a mess.

It has been years since I saw England-Brazil in Doha, which was a disaster of planning including giving every fan in the stadium hard glow sticks to wave around in the dark, which soon became a rain of missiles pelting the front rows (who’d have thought?). Still, since Qatar has won the right to host the 2022 World Cup it must surely have learned how to organise one match by now…

Or not.

Traffic

There’s not a whole lot the 2022 folks can do about the traffic. But the fact remains that for 5k around the stadium the traffic was a complete disaster with a 15 minute journey to the Aspire complex (stadium area) taking over an hour. I don’t expect a subway system to be installed overnight but how about a park and ride system from key points in Doha? How about traffic police monitoring the road and stopping the hard-shoulder becoming the fast lane? How about advertising a few bus services? How about doing anything whatsoever aside from just ignoring the problem?

Entrance to stadium

‘Take your seats by 20:00’ the ticket said for the 21:00 kick-off. Sound advice but had anyone passed this nugget of information on to anyone working at the stadium? Walking around the stadium more or less each gate had long queues of people trying to get in as early as 19:30 (and doubtless before). My particular queue was a special one at somewhere around 200 metres long. I started queuing before 20:00 and didn’t get into the stadium until around 21:25, 25 minutes after kick-off and after the first goal.

I simply cannot fathom how they messed this up so badly leaving thousands of fans outside in interminably slow queues to miss the kickoff. You have x amounts of tickets sold and x amounts of seats (let’s leave the 2011 Asian Cup final debacle to one side for the moment) and the staff presumably know kick-off time. From there it is surely a fairly straight-forward formula?

I just can’t understand why all the major leagues in the world can manage this process on a weekly basis – checking tickets, checking security, etc – often for much larger crowds and yet Qatari authorities can’t manage this once every year.

Do they not realise they can’t actually organise a football match effectively yet? Surely they have an inkling in which case why not get Man Utd or Bayern Munich to show them how it is done – the teams are here often enough, get the ground staff too.

Adding to the rancour in the long-suffering queues was the usual issue of people pushing in left, right and centre with Qatar staff replete with red glowing batons standing around, having a chat doing – precisely literally – nothing.

By the time we got to the gate they weren’t even checking tickets and were just waving people in: lessons not learnt, it seems.

F&B

I arrived looking for a quick bite to eat before getting into the stadium; how foolish of me not to factor in the necessary waiting time (half an hour or more at a guess; I didn’t bother).

The trestle tables setup for the drinks were exactly like I remember from my school sports day complete with paper tickets for ‘water’, ‘drink’ and so on; a system they had abandoned. The people serving had no system (I serve, you do cash, etc) but it was just a free-for-all and – obviously – the person I dealt with couldn’t add up, stuffing the wrong amount of money into a torn cardboard box as the cash register.

Again, I just can’t understand the utter amateurism of this whole affair. Why not get a proper catering company in to do the job? Why not think a bit differently and have shawarma and karak stands dotted around instead of a couple inside the tents? I could have organised that myself in half an hour.

I am sure some things went right. They paid $4m to get Spain; well done. But I was far from alone in being utterly demoralised by this farce. I simply have no comprehension as to why Qatar continually spurns these opportunities to show that it can run a successful and largely trouble-free football match. Doubtless these things will be sorted by 2022 – though I said exactly the same thing two years ago – for at some stage someone will get around to experiencing a match in Qatar as a normal fan and not a VVIP…

PS

Incidentally, I can’t describe the contempt that I have for the Goebbels-esque reporting from an Al Jazeera correspondent gushing at the organisation; what a shamefully bad snippet of journalism.