Qatar’s emir and the country’s soft-spoken minister of foreign affairs truly deserve an Oscar. They invariably speak about the rift with Doha’s neighbours in Western capitals with reason stating their openness, nay eagerness, for dialogue to end the dispute. They are currently pushing for a US-mediated summit to be held later this year but this request may have been made in an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of President Donald Trump who seeks reconciliation.
The oil-gas-rich state paints itself as a victim via the costly agencies of American PR companies and political lobbyists with an entree into Congress. Yet actions speak louder than words. The Qatari government’s behaviour runs contrary to any hopes of a resolution in the short or medium term.
First, its mouthpiece Al Jazeera constantly attacks Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt with distortions and such falsehoods as the kingdom blocked Qataris from registering for the Haj. In reality Saudi established a designated website for Qatari pilgrims and those who defied the scaremongering warnings issued by Qatar’s foreign minister were warmly welcomed.
Second, it has cemented a cosy relationship with the GCC’s regional protagonist the Islamic Republic of Iran whose officials have boasted about Tehran’s domination of Arab capitals.
This unlikely club of two now has a new member — Turkey, which was on its financial knees until Qatar pledged $15 billion (Dh55.1) in direct investment. Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, dismissed the hefty offering as an attempt on Qatar’s part to “buy sovereignty”.
Third, it continues to fund the Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian arm Hamas. One of the most prominent Brotherhood figures wanted by Cairo who basks in Qatar’s literal embrace is Yousuf Al Qaradawi, an Egyptian who has called for jihad against his own country.
It seems that Qatar’s ‘pious’ ruling family has no problem with his recent controversial tweeted fatwa that reads: “Allah has no need for the Haj …” which is a pilgrimage constituting one of the immutable five pillars of Islam. Put simply, he shamefully exploited his faith in order to curry favour with his Saudi-hating protectors.
Qatar’s regime stuck the knife even deeper by supporting Iranian-backed Al Houthi rebels in Yemen. “Qatar has played a very negative role in destabilising the situation in Yemen by offering the Al Houthis and other terrorist groups all the support needed to remain alive to serve Iranian agendas, which aim to destabilise the Arab world,” said a spokesman for Yemen’s Southern Transitional Council, Salem Thabet Al Oulaq.
Trump’s instincts were spot on when he accused Doha of funding terrorism “at a very high level” last summer. Fast forward a year and the president characterised Qatari Emir Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamid Al Thani not only as a friend but also an ally in the fight on terrorism.
Could the leader of the Free World’s change of heart have resulted from Qatar’s stated plan to up its investments in the US to the tune of $35 billion, added to which its purchases of Boeing aircraft and fighter jets in deals worth over $14 billion? Ostensibly the White House wants Qatar and the Saudi-led quartet to patch up to avoid Doha falling into Iranian arms.
The British government stays predictably mum on Qatar’s wrongdoings too. A report by Damien McElroy published in the National highlights the UK Foreign Office’s reluctance to thwart Qatari intelligence and propaganda operations out of the British capital targeting Arab states.
Naturally, the fact that Doha has pumped £3 billion into the UK property market over the last year-and-a-half and has pledged to invest £5 billion more over the coming three years in a show of post-Brexit confidence has nothing to do with Number 10’s silence.
Qatar’s vast wealth and readiness to spread it around is bearing fruit in the short term but as soon as the global leadership deckchairs are rearranged it is likely to find itself either joined at the hip to rogue states or alone.
To quote Gargash, “Full sovereignty cannot be bought with money but is achieved by establishing sincere and reliable relations with surrounding countries.” Shaikh Tamim is ignoring that avenue and will one day surely regret it.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.