Monday,27 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)
Monday,27 May, 2019
Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The EU and Qatari blood money

Many European Union governments are still playing politics with terrorism in the Qatar crisis, risking their own national security for economic gains or political influence, writes Hany Ghoraba


In the midst of the Arab quartet’s feud with Qatar, a dubious and controversial stance by several European Union governments has been displayed that seems to favour the terrorism-supporting regime of Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. This has left many baffled in the Middle East, especially in the four countries representing the anti-terrorism coalition, namely Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

It is a stance that has been neglecting the fair demands of the quartet, which seeks to stop the Qatari government from further endorsing terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State (IS) and various other Al-Qaeda affiliates. The activities of these groups have wreaked havoc in the quartet countries along with others including, but not limited to, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

For countries that have been under constant attack from the likes of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups such as IS and Al-Qaeda, it has seemed unfathomable that EU governments would take such a passive stance and avoid pressuring Qatar to cease promoting terrorist groups and activities.

However, the reason for such a lenient stance takes us beyond political or security considerations towards financial reasons.

Regarding Qatari investments in the United Kingdom, on 12 June this year British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson urged Qatar to clamp down on the funding of terrorism, thus acknowledging the destructive Qatari role in the region. However, he also added that the quartet should ease its blockade on Qatar in a contradictory statement aiming to appease both sides in the conflict but failing to do so and instead triggering quartet disappointment at the weak British position.  

It is no secret that UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is facing tough economic conditions at present, and the UK cannot afford to anger any of the belligerents in the Qatar conflict because they all have stakes in the British economy.

When countries face terrorism threats and manage to identify the financiers of them they usually take stringent measures to monitor and punish those financiers, as the British government did back in 1980s and 1990s against the former Qaddafi regime in Libya that sponsored the Lockerbie airplane bombing along with other terrorist activities. However, the case with Qatar seems to be different, and Britain has been unwilling to take a stand against this Gulf state’s support for terrorism.

Following the UK referendum decision to leave the EU, the so-called Brexit, the British government has been desperate for every penny it can get to cover the growing bill of the forthcoming Brexit. Qatar, being one of the biggest foreign investors in the British economy, receives special treatment despite its well-known ties to terrorist groups worldwide. It has already invested over 35 billion pounds sterling in the British economy, and it is expected to add another five billion in investment in the coming five years.

Over recent years, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) has bought major British assets and infrastructure projects in Britain that include chunks of Heathrow Airport owner BAA, the Shard skyscraper and sections of the Canary Wharf financial district in London, and major names in the British retail and hospitality sector including the Harrods stores and the Claridges Hotel in London.

These economic interests keep British politicians silent and even complacent in protecting Qatari aggression against its Gulf neighbours and other countries in the region. However, that policy is already backfiring on the UK, with more threats of attacks resulting from terrorists affiliated with IS, a group the Qataris have long endorsed and have even blatantly hosted some of its supporters on the Qatari TV channel Al-Jazeera.  

PRO-QATARI STANCE: In Germany, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has a notorious history of supporting Islamist governments in the region that have included the ousted Muslim Brotherhood Morsi regime in Egypt, the ill-fated Al-Nahda government in Tunisia, and the Islamist dictatorship led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey until the recent feud between the two countries.

The German government has been comfortable dealing with Islamist governments across the Middle East, and it has protected the Muslim Brotherhood presence across Germany.

It was thus not surprising that German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel should label the demands of the Arab quartet “very provocative” despite his government’s full knowledge of the ill deeds, conspiracies, and plots of the Qatari regime against the four members of the quartet. Unashamedly, Gabriel is sympathising with the aggressor and calling the victims’ demands “provocative” — something that renders his statement extremely provocative in itself.

However, Gabriel’s views seemed to change after a tour of the Arab Gulf and meetings with his Saudi counterpart Adel Al-Jubeir. After these occurrences, Gabriel said that his country no longer perceived the 13 demands made by the quartet as infringing on Qatar’s sovereignty, contrary to his earlier statements a week before.

Germany remains another recipient of Qatari investments. The Qataris have substantial investments in German economic giants such as Deutsche Bank, Hochtief, Siemens and Volkswagen. The Germans would hate these investments to be affected by the current crisis, so they are taking a very cautious position and are attempting to endorse a political solution to it. This, they believe, will avert Germany’s losing any of the belligerents’ business, considering the huge business interests the country has in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.

It is unfortunate that many EU governments are still in the business of playing politics with terrorism, while risking the national security of their own states over economic gains or political influence. The quartet vs Qatar crisis has shown that the old politics of acquiring gains from terrorism still prevail in Europe, where European politicians have mimicked the actions of other European officials who have handed the keys to international sporting events to the Qataris on a golden platter.

Thanks to disgraced world football figures such as former FIFA officials Michel Platini and Sepp Blatter, the Qatari-owned network BeIN Sports is monopolising international sporting events broadcasting in the Middle East and many other regions. Such is the calibre of the European officials who helped in awarding one of the smallest countries on the planet the honour of hosting the biggest sporting event in the world, namely the FIFA Football World Cup in 2022.

With European leaders positioning themselves in the crisis and their keenness to keep Qatari investments rolling in despite their own national security interests, it is unlikely that Europe will witness an end to the rising tide of IS and Al-Qaeda-related attacks on its soil any time soon. In fact, the UK has extended a courtesy to Qatar by rejecting a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, a group openly supported, propagated and financed by the Qatari government.

In the light of the above, the quartet leaders cannot sit idly by in the face of EU leaders’ stances towards Qatar and their lack of comprehension of the reasons behind the firm stance of the quartet against it. The British and German governments must realise that they are also dealing with regional players that hold much bigger assets and investments than Qatar will ever do. British economic ties with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are much more important than those with the Qataris. The combined economic, strategic and political weight of these countries renders Qatar negligible in comparison despite its gas wealth and large investments in the UK.

The same thing applies to Germany, whose investments and commercial ties with the quartet countries are enormous. Both these European countries and others that choose to follow suit may risk major losses to their interests in the region should they decide to side with a terrorist-supporting regime against the fair demands of the quartet alliance. This message must be clear to EU leaders because during a war on terrorism countries must choose sides and accept the consequences of their choice.

For the time being, it seems that legendary UK pop group The Beatles have been proven wrong when they sang “money can’t buy me love” because Qatari blood money is buying a lot of love from EU officials and politicians.

The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road for Democracy.

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