Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

What does the west's public opinion miss about Qatar?

Western public opinion is being misled about what is at stake in the diplomatic moves taken by four Arab states against Qatar, writes Ezzat Ibrahim

In the midst of the diplomatic and economic confrontation between the four Arab countries of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, on the one side, and Qatar, on the other, it is important, especially in the case of Egypt, to explain to the world as a whole that the confrontation with Doha is not a short-lived political crisis or a quarrel among ambitious regional powers. 

A proper analysis of the situation involves a number of facts that have been absent from Western and global public opinion, and these need to be reviewed in an extensive and objective manner so that the situation can be presented in full on a crucial issue related to the war on terror.

What has taken place over the last two weeks confirms that financial, economic and political ties often overcome established realities as a result of the complex calculations governing international relations today. Instead of presenting Qatar as a state sponsoring extremist organisations and a banker of armed militias throughout the Arab world, the international media is still viewing the situation as a conflict within the Arab-Gulf family and the dispute as a split between two conflicting camps in the region.

Qatar’s funding for radical Islamist groups is not new since it shares the same Wahhabi platform with its neighbour Saudi Arabia. However, the recent boom in natural gas exploration has enabled Qatar to seek a long-term strategy for broad-based influence across the Middle East and to present itself as the sponsor of moderate policies in culture and the arts.

Yet, funding extremist groups, according to a leaked German intelligence report last year, has been part of the Qatari strategy to exert influence. The recent Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh stressed the need for all countries to combat the financing of terrorism, but the summit itself failed to address the definition of terrorism because of divergent views among countries that have direct interests in regional conflicts, especially in the Middle East.

In recent statements, the government of Qatar acknowledged that its definition of terrorism and its classification of terrorist groups were different from those of the Arab states that want to impose specific conditions in the recent crisis. At the UK-based think tank Chatham House, Mohamed bin Abdel-Rahman, the foreign minister of Qatar, talked recently about how Doha looks at terrorism.

“The allegation that Qatar supports terrorism was clearly designed to generate anti-Qatar sentiment in the West. We have been anything but soft on terrorism. We work with the intelligence and security services of the UK, the US and all of the countries in our region to bring terrorists and their supporters to justice,” he said.

Abdel-Rahman was taking an offensive position in describing the accusations against his government as false or fabricated and intended to tarnish the image of Qatar. At the same time, he was pushing Western governments to defend his argument on terrorism by showing that his country was collaborating with different parties in the fight against terror.

The quartet of Arab states currently taking action against Qatari policies and against funding terrorism finds it hard to counter Qatari moves in Western capitals because of the wide range of interests held by political, military and economic elites. For instance, major natural gas companies are working with Doha to increase the production of liquid natural gas by 30 per cent within five years, giving Qatar the edge in the global market.

Businessmen close to US President Donald Trump are working to defend Qatar in Washington circles. Based on a vast network of Doha-funded Websites and TV channels in Arabic and English, the arguments in favour of Qatar are hard to beat in the short term. The Qatari media have worked hard to propagate the policies of Doha and to make sure that the roles of the country, regionally and globally, are accepted by the West.

Before the recent diplomatic measures taken against Qatar by a number of Arab countries, Qatar was using its media to counter any pressure put by Western governments on the country.

But the world as a whole today is calling for real solutions to be found to terrorism, even as there are major gaps in the global fight against this growing phenomenon. In this context, Western public opinion has been unable to grasp the essence of the confrontation with Qatar because of the hypocrisy of Western governments. The US and the European countries know very well that Doha has sponsored destructive movements and figures across the Middle East and in many cases has been severely undermining international counter-terrorism efforts in the region.

Yet, the case of Qatar will not be unique as long as Western policies aim at serving narrow interests and deal with regional conflicts in the framework of self-interest even when these same Western governments raise slogans against terrorism and cry out for funding that supports it to be stopped.

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