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December 16, 2012, Sunday

Qatar’s Golden Age

The current times should become known as “Qatar's Golden Age.” This Arab state with a tiny population is becoming a key factor in global politics. Qatar is everywhere: Qatar mediated the dialogue between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels in 2008; Qatari army officers trained the Libyan rebels; Qatar was the main mediator of the border dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea in 2010; Qatar's ruler was welcomed as a hero in Gaza after this tiny state poured hundreds of millions of US dollars into Gaza.

Russian analyst Sergei Balmasov writes: “The Qatari example disproves the old belief that the main indicators of a country's influence are the size of its area and population, and the power of its armed forces.”

Evidence of Qatar's Golden Age is not limited to diplomacy. As Zamila Bunglawala, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, notes in NewStatesman, Qatar follows a careful strategy in other fields also: “We have seen Qatar burst to the forefront of the international agenda with its savvy and ambitious portfolio through winning the 2022 World Cup bid and investment in brands we all know, including Barclays, the London Stock Exchange, Harrods and the 2012 Olympic Park, and rumors of buying football clubs surface periodically. It has also established major international institutions in media through the Al Jazeera news network, banking through the Qatar Financial Centre, technology and R&D through Qatar Foundation and the Qatar Science and Technology Park attracting leading universities and think tanks from the US and UK to have bases in Doha.”

Undoubtedly, the main base of Qatar's rising power is money. Its residents are the richest in the world, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $80,000 per person. Nevertheless it is not the sole instrument of Qatar's rise. Pragmatism should quickly be underlined as another.

Qatar is among the few states in the Middle East that correctly and swiftly realized that the region is becoming post-modern, a condition in which states deploy contradictory and convergent strategies simultaneously. The region is moving from moral consistency to strategic consistency. Strategic consistency depends on one state's ability to practice many contradicting tactics to procure its national interest. Seen this way, Qatar's foreign policy is a set of contradicting goals and strategies but all are designed to support Qatar's survival: Having a military agreement with the US, Qatar approaches Iran “politely”; Qatar made the isolation of Gaza a lucrative issue for its own status in the Middle East; Qatar, with its different brand of Wahhabi doctrine, has emerged as a reliable EU partner.

Of course, the huge chaos in many other Arab states, like in Egypt, is of assistance to Qatar. Arab states like Iraq and Syria have almost lost their state apparatuses, and that opened doors for states like Qatar. Excluding North Africa, who has the most functioning statehood in the traditional Arab heartland: Iraq? Egypt? Saudi Arabia? Big Arab states like Syria, Iraq and Egypt are in very poor situations. Thus, it is not surprising to see that many small groups are very active everywhere. A simple question resides in this: Who will benefit from the collapse of statehood in major Arab states like Syria and Iraq?

Certainly, Qatar is not the Schumpeterian investor who brings its money for purely economic concerns. Qatar's money has a strong political color. That is why Qatar is not risk free. New regimes in Libya and Egypt are likely to be critical of Qatar. A Libyan minister warned Qatar recently “Anyone who wishes to come to our house should knock on the front door first,” alluding hereby to Qatar's links with various Islamic groups in his country. The fate of Turkish-Qatari relations in the case of Syria is yet unclear. It is also not clear what the reaction of the Saudis, the main promoters of Wahhabism, will be.

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