Jewish Ideas Daily has been succeeded and re-launched as Mosaic. Read more...

Qatar's Game

On the map of the Middle East, it is easy to overlook the peninsular state of Qatar, bordering Saudi Arabia and jutting into the Persian Gulf opposite Iran. Yet, as the dominant exporter of liquefied natural gas, it is one of the world's wealthiest countries. Nor is it easy to pigeonhole. Already home to a world-class museum of modern art, it will host the World Cup soccer games in 2022; its national airline has inspired some of the most creative commercials on television; and through its sponsorship of the broadcast dynamo Al-Jazeera, it punches considerably above its weight in global media.

Relevant Links
Qatar Report  Bertelsmann Stiftung. For all Qatar’s preaching, its own so-called democracy ranks in the bottom third of countries surveyed by a recent German project on “Shaping Change.”
“Worst" on Counterterrorism  Elizabeth Weingarten, Atlantic. Qatar has allegedly funded Islamic movements in order to save itself from their wrath.
Al-Jazeera's Agenda  Pinhas Inbari, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The Qatari station has sought to advance the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In 1996, Qatar invited Israel to open a trade mission and welcomed a visit by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. In 2008, it allowed the Israeli tennis star Shahar Pe'er to play in a Women's Tennis Association tournament, and Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni to address its Doha "Democracy Forum." (Shimon Peres had made his second visit to Doha a year earlier.) Considered an American ally, Qatar also hosts, rent-free, the U.S. military's command overseeing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

All of this—both the spectacular economic development and the cultivated cosmopolitanism, in a country where native Qataris, practicing a "liberal" form of Wahhabi Islam,  comprise but one-seventh of the total population of 1.4 million—is attributable to Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and his family. The family includes his first lady, Sheikha Mosah Bint Nasser al-Missned, one of the most influential women in the world and a spearhead of local reform, and Prime Minister Hamed bin Jaber al-Thani, whose recent corporate flirtation with Israeli entrepreneurs has been interpreted in some quarters as a political overture to the Jewish state.  

There is, however, a darker side. During Israel's 2008–2009 military campaign to put a stop to Hamas rocket-fire from Gaza, Qatar broke off relations with Jerusalem and coordinated with extremist Arabs, plus Iran, to mobilize support for the Hamas regime. Subsequently the Qataris offered to resume relations on condition they would be allowed to funnel reconstruction money directly to Hamas authorities. In addition to thus helping bankroll one terrorist organization, the al-Thanis have played a key role in facilitating another, Hizballah, in its rise to suzerainty over Lebanon. To complete the circle, in December 2007 Qatar invited Mahmud Ahmadinejad to address the Gulf Cooperation Council in Doha, the first Iranian leader ever to do so.

And then there is Al-Jazeera, created by Sheikh Hamad in 1996, based in Doha, and a key tool of Qatar's foreign policy. In an Arab world where, until recently, dissent was forbidden, the channel's readiness to criticize Arab autocrats (excluding, naturally, the ruler of Qatar) has been undeniably exhilarating. Al-Jazeera has also played a critical role in setting, or codifying, the notion of contemporary pan-Arab unrest. At the same time, however, it has consistently disseminated the fulminations of al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden, spread the radical views of the Muslim Brotherhood, provided a bully pulpit for the extremist preacher Yussuf al-Qaradawi, championed Hamas over Fatah (by, among other things, broadcasting the "Palestine Papers"), promoted the Hamas-Iran-Syria-Hizbullah agenda, and glorified as martyrs those killed "resisting" Israel.

To a Western observer, Qatar's foreign policy can seem merely incoherent. On the one hand, the ruling family professes to promote reform and democratization; on the other hand, it is a friend to medievalism, rejectionism, and violent pan-Islamism. At Al-Jazeera, when Qatar's rulers don't know what to make of a crisis, the network, too, can vacillate—for instance, by at first downplaying the current disturbances in Egypt, only to become the nexus of anti-Mubarak agitation. But on closer inspection, the incoherence begins to look deliberate. Through Al-Jazeera, and unlike the BBC's World Service shortwave broadcasts or the Radio Free Europe of yesteryear, Qatar not infrequently exercises its soft power in the service of tyranny.

No doubt, there is a self-protective impulse at work here. In return for not being targeted by terrorists, Qatar has come to an arrangement with Islamist groups. For years it has given safe haven to members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and since 2003 has reportedly been paying al-Qaeda to spare it from attack. Such "neutralist" playing-off of contending forces and values might even be excusable were the ultimate goal to bring the principles of modernity to the Arab world. Regrettably, there is slim evidence that Qatar's Swiss-like inscrutability has any purpose beyond self-preservation, consequences be damned. 

Tags: , , ,


Independent Patriot/Elise on February 8, 2011 at 9:49 am (Reply)
This is nothing new. Qatar is just playing both sides down the middle. It worked with Israel while they had a strong American government and strong American presence in the region. Basically they felt protected when they wanted to join the rest of the world. However, once Obama came into power they realized that they had to protect themselves from the radicals and the Islamists so they turned back the "clock" on relations with Israel and the west. Just another outgrowth of the ignorant foreign policy of this present American administration.
Ron Broxted on February 8, 2011 at 10:42 am (Reply)
Is this a Jewish version of "reds under the bed"? Qataris are basically nice but may have nasty elements? Welcome to Earth!
nelsonsamuel on February 8, 2011 at 2:16 pm (Reply)
Those who light both ends of a candle will eventually get burnt.
H Lewis on February 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm (Reply)
Its refreshing to read such a professional analysis which neither demonizes nor advocates, at a time when most "news" is shaped by the opinions of the newscasters and writers.
David Sternlight, Ph.D. on February 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm (Reply)
Chances are Al Thani and his family take Israeli-manufactured (Teva) medicines and use Israeli-invented (Intel) computers, among other contributions of israel to the world, He should think carefully before supporting Israel's enemies, who would, if they had their way, destroy the source of this science and technology,
Leonard on February 8, 2011 at 6:25 pm (Reply)
In reference to the comment of Elise the Independent Patriot, nowhere does this article state the facts that she presents nor reach her conclusions, but being the rightwinger that she evidently is, she manages to blame it all on the President based on the figments of her imagination. Obama probably wishes that he has all the power that these rightwingers ascribe to him.
David Sternlight, Ph,D, on February 9, 2011 at 4:30 am (Reply)
It is no figment of the imagination that when Israel's protector the President of the U.S. starts pulling out of the defense of freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan, betrays the Poles by puling the missile shield, sues for "peace" in Cairo, while all but ignoring our oldest and closest friends the Brits and Canadians, and starts throwing our closest Mideast ally, Israel, under the bus, other heads of State run for cover. Obama revealed his true colors (and I don't mean Black) during the campaign, when he gave a speech to AIPAC declaring Jerusalem the sole, undivided capital of Israel, only to take it back the next morning when the Arabs didn't like it.

Middle East rules (I have studied the region, consulted with experts, and visited often, over 45 years) are drawn from strength. Step on my toes and I'll drop a house on you. The Arabs never had the renaissance and still operate according to (enlightened) medieval rules, An old proverb is "Me against my brother; me and my brother against my father; me, my brother and my father against my tribe; me and my tribe against the world." The Arabs' progenitor, Ishmael, was described thousands of years ago as having "his hand turned against every man", Expecting the Arab polity to respond like post-Renaissance men who value compromise is futile. Every concession is seen as weakness to be further exploited. The liberal and left wing fantasy of negotiation is a chimera, and "land for peace" has proven over and over again to lead to more violence and further demands, not peace. Obama's policies have produced exactly the opposite of what was expected by the Left, and since he is very smart and can draw on the world's best experts, some of us are unable to attribute the predictable consequences of his policies to any ignorance on his part.

This is not ancient history; look at inter-Arab politics and inter-Arab wars over the past century.

For insight on how the enlightened medieval mind operates, read Shakespeare's Histories. This lesson also applies to the Russians, who likewise never had the Renaissance but rather when the rest of Europe was becoming enlightened, were killing each other off to see who would become Tsar.
Esther Marcus on February 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm (Reply)
I remember reading somewhere that Qatar refused to invite Shachar Pe'er to play in the tournament....Venus Williams threatened not to participate and defend her title unless Shachar was included resulting in an invition.....but I could be wrong???!!
mark cheval on February 11, 2011 at 10:04 am (Reply)
RE: Esther Marcus' comment-I remember that the government of Qatar didn't want Ms. Pe'er to play, and one or more tennis stars said that they wouldn't, either.

I don't recall if it was Ms. Williams, but do recall that.

Comments are closed for this article.

Like us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Pin us on Pintrest!

Jewish Review of Books

Inheriting Abraham