By Ray Hanania
The cost runs into hundreds of billions of dollars — but has it been money down the drain for Doha?
Qatar has over the past years spent big on so-called “soft power” moves, from the launch of Al Jazeera English in 2006, to the controversial bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, to its investment in the Paris St-Germain football club, which just sealed the record-breaking $263 million transfer deal for Brazil forward Neymar.
Yet the recent survey carried out by Arab News and YouGov, published today, suggests such bids for international favor are proving deeply unsuccessful.
It is telling that Qatar and Al Jazeera — despite the latter having a presence in America for more than two decades — continue to be dogged by serious image problems in the US.
According to the YouGov/Arab News survey, nearly half of Americans polled are unsure about whether Qatar is a friend or foe, while 31 percent consider it “unfriendly” or an “enemy.”
A further barometer of Qatar’s image problem comes in the findings about what US citizens associate with Qatar.
Half of respondents said they do not know enough about the Gulf state to pass judgement. Yet the next highest response rate — at some 34 percent — reflects those whom associate Qatar with the accusations of terror financing made against it. Only 16 percent of Americans associate Qatar with the 2022 FIFA World Cup, one of the biggest sporting events in the world.
The poll highlights a very important point that the battle for American hearts and minds is still an open playing field.
And this is significant given that America maintains a major military presence at the Al-Udeid Air Force Base in Qatar. Half of Americans polled said they do not know enough to decide whether the US should keep the base open in the face of growing concerns, with a fifth saying it should be relocated elsewhere.
The poll also shows that most Americans, at 63 percent, recognize Al-Jazeera as a news source, but they do not believe that the network reflects professional journalism standards, which means many Americans do not trust Al Jazeera’s reporting.
Half believe Al Jazeera promotes a negative images of the US, while 44 percent remember that it served as a platform in promoting terrorist groups linked to Osama bin Laden.
There is no doubt over the reliability of the findings of the poll, which was conducted from July 19-21 by YouGov, one of the world’s leading market research companies.
Nor is there any doubt over one of the key takeaway points: That Qatar’s soft-power plays have been nothing but own goals.