Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1204, (3-9 July 2014)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1204, (3-9 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Qatar’s thirst for power

Playing the enfant terrible, Qatar could care less about hypocrisy as it jostles its way onto the regional stage, writes Mohamed Salmawy

Al-Ahram Weekly

In a recent episode of the well-known American talk show Charlie Rose, the former Qatari prime minister, Hamad Bin Jassem, admitted that his country actively supported the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements. “We support the Islamists because they are influential in the region from Iraq to Morocco. They are an important political force that can not be ignored,” he said. He then asked: “If Saudi Arabia backs Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi (who was still a presidential candidate at the time) and Qatar backs the Muslim Brothers, who has the right to say which of the two is right or wrong?”

Curiously, until very recently Qatar had persistently denied that it was supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. During the time of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, Qatari officials would say, “we support Egypt, not the Muslim Brothers.” In fact, these were the precise words of that guest on the Charlie Rose show at the time he was serving as his country’s prime minister.

The remarks by the Qatari ruler, Emir Tamim, during the recent Arab summit in Kuwait still ring one’s ears. “We can not describe the Muslim Brothers as terrorists because terrorists kill civilians.” His defence of the Muslim Brotherhood was all the more shocking because they contrasted starkly with the positions of other Arab nations present at the summit, most notably Qatar’s next-door neighbours.

The question of Qatar’s political and material support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups is particularly relevant now. As the siege around them tightens in many Arab countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, they are fighting back by escalating their terrorist attacks in other parts of the region. The most recent instance is Iraq. The developments that have been unfolding there require not just political support but also a lot of funding.

What does Qatar hope to gain from its support for such groups, which would naturally trigger much opposition among other Arab countries? To begin with, that opposition is probably one Qatar’s reasons for backing the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots. Qatar has chosen to play the enfant terrible as its way of asserting its presence on the Arab political stage. An Arab foreign minister told me that a senior Qatari official told him that Doha was working to carve out a place for itself between Egypt’s political influence and Saudi Arabia’s financial influence.

Of course, Doha has other reasons for pressing its support for Islamist movements. In 1999, the Muslim Brotherhood Organisation was dissolved in Qatar. Its operations inside the country had grown too extensive. So an agreement was struck in accordance with which Muslim Brotherhood activities inside Qatar were banned and, in exchange, Qatar would back the group abroad, politically and financially. This is what Doha has been doing for the past 15 years.

 To the foregoing we should add one of Qatar’s fixed foreign policy guidelines. This is to adopt the political positions and carry out the policies that the US tells it to pursue. It is important to bear in mind that the US has a military base in Qatar, giving Washington a major say in the affairs of that little emirate that is forever working to elbow its way in amongst the grownups.

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