By Isida Tushe
The dilemma the Arab world faces is one of combining plurality, unity, culture and religion while modernizing as a nation. But unlike the rest of the Arab nations, Qatar has managed to create a region with a richness of diversity where the freedoms that once used to be limited now have become boundless.
By digging deep into what Qatar is as a society, it has grounded its roots into a proactive foreign policy which the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani began with an internal stability in domestic affairs. At the heart of Qatar’s foreign policy is “money” that turns into investments in the world, where in turn the profits make their way back into Qatar to raise the standard of living for its people. Before Qatar started playing the role of an interlocutor in the world of political and economic affairs, it first secured that the domestic affairs were foolproof.
Qatar is today a country that has resurrected a positive old culture, without changing the culture or traditions, which reflects the true foundation of Islam. By creating an oasis of wealth and happiness for its people, while spreading Qatar’s reputation globally by financial and political moves, Qataris are now in a position where they are viewed as intelligent and friendly. This is a similar foreign policy approach that the United States pursued diligently for years. But friendship, can only get Qatar so far in the game, it is their strategic use of their wealth and profits that has allowed for their tremendous success. This is what separates the foreign policy of the U.S. and Qatar and Qatar from other Arab nations.
While citizens of other Arab nations are overthrowing their leaders through bloody revolutions, Qataris are working to build a future for their children and future generations. How did Qatar, a sovereign Arab state, a constitutional monarchy, Islamic, and ruled by Shari’a law manage to avoid the fate of destruction like its other Arab nations such as Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.
The answer lies in its leader of a few words, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. A man that in 1995 overthrew his own father in a peaceful coup and began developing a positive and liberal image by consolidating the hostile environment of supporters of the old regime, by balancing their wants and needs, where they had no choice but to accept hopes for restoration of a new Qatar. What resurrected once the Emir gained power, was a freer and more open press, high and equal standard of living, and most importantly, a focus on creating equal opportunities for women. Qatar had its revolution a very long time, in 1971 to be precise when Qatar gained independence from British rule. It is now re-revolutionizing in a positive way.
The Emir opened the communication channels by purchasing Al-Jazeera, a news media that has been a key factor in the Arab spring, by covering the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, in its most altruistic form. This hub of communication is a strong example of how Qatar is moving towards the end of censorship, while establishing facilities of cultural and economic exchange, relevant and readily accessible education, and progressing human rights. On December 1st, it captured protesters in Qatar calling for climate change, asking for “Arabs to lead; time for change”.
These climate change talks with world leaders are currently being held in Doha. Qatar’s change in regime is seen in the daily life of Qataris. You see women driving and dressing as they wish. You see women voting and holding office. You see women walking along men. Qatar is leading the integration in the Arab world where freedom and equality are balancing themselves.
Another key factor that allows for domestic stability is the standard of living. Qataris are the richest in the world, with a GDP reflecting their per person capita of $80,000-plus at purchasing power parity; this is for the privileged few who hold citizenship. For immigrants from the Philippines, Qatar has become their home, as you see them working and living with the Qataris in peace to build a better Qatar. The most basic needs, that people around the world struggle to afford, Qataris don’t have to worry about. Qataris don’t pay taxes, they have free electricity, free or highly subsidized healthcare (1) and most importantly, free education which leads to bigger and better opportunities. It is these very basic needs and opportunities that Arab people didn’t have in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya that led to the Arab spring. Qataris are taken care of from cradle to death.
The Emir has created a world class education system that is the most powerful tool that a leader can invest in for its people. By educating Qataris, he is guaranteeing the future of Qatar. In 1996, Qatar opened the doors to the world for universities to come and set up their educational plans free. This is the most significant investment that a nation can do for its citizens. All Qatar asks is that these universities teach the same curriculum they would teach in their own countries.
Today, Qatar is home to world renowned universities such as Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown University, Northwestern, Texas A&M, University of Calgary, Weill Cornell Medical College and several more where programs have been opened specializing in journalism, science, education, agriculture, and foreign policy. They have partnered with think tanks, such as Brookings Institute. They have created opportunities for their citizens to study English in the U.S., and this is seen firsthand in Kaplan English programs in Washington, D.C.
While the rest of the world is going through a fiscal austerity, Qatar’s spending seems to increase and appears untouchable by outside economic factors. These economic moves are the best way to boost their economy and they have been able to sustain their growth for years. Qatar owns large stakes in financial institutions such as Credit Suisse and Barclays and Harrods of London. In London, the Shard Tower, Europe’s tallest skyscraper, is owned by Qatar’s central bank. It purchased France’s premier soccer team, Paris-Saint Germain, which positioned Qatar as the first Arab nation to host the World Cup 2022.
Qatar has spread its hands all over the world in order to insure profits, which instead of being stored, they are going to boost their internal domestic affairs. Qatar has moved from being the poorest nation in the Gulf to now being one of the wealthiest of the Arab nations along with the UAE. But you can’t argue that the wealth of Qatar lies solely on the oil and gas resources, because that is not the reality of the situation. The wealth coming from the oil and gas industry, is being invested all over the world, touching the financial, sports, education, hospitality, power and climate, airline and automotive industry. Qatar has been able to maintain its wealth by growing its wealth.
Once the foundation was laid for the domestic affairs of Qatar, the Emir began developing and placing its nation on the map of world affairs. Qatar first reached out its friendly hand to the United States and signed the Defense Cooperation Agreement in 1991. When the U.S. withdrew the military base from Saudi Arabia, it was in Qatar that it found a new home. The Al Udeid As Sayyliyah Air Force base guarantees Qatar’s security. This partnership also allowed for the U.S. to end supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2011, it was the second nation to account its recognition of the Libyan opposition’s National Transitional Counsel as the new legitimate government of Libya. It was the only Arab country that supported NATO to establish a no-fly zone and provide rebels with military assistance by providing hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel, food, and cash transfers to insurgents of Libya. It sent its Mirage jet fighters and supplied the insurgents with modern anti-tank missiles and rifles which speed up the process of the falling of the old regime in Libya (2). Today even the small Libyan child knows the role Qatar played. They helped in the Lebanon peace process which fostered a national government involving pro-Iranian Hezbollah and a pro-Western faction.
Qatar continues to play a huge role in the mediation efforts in countries such as Darfur, Indonesia, Somalia, and Ethiopia by hosting armed rebels, refugees, and tribal leaders in luxury hotels in Doha for peace talks. It is a key leader in attempting to negotiate between the Palestinian authorities, Hamas and Fatah. More recently, it has played a detrimental role in influencing Syria’s rebels by allowing for uniting them under one coalition, which has led to supplying Syrian rebels with heavy weapons to counter air and tank attacks by Bashar Assad’s forces.
Qatar has a puzzling relationship with Iran, and in 2010 it signed a military defense agreement with Tehran (3). These two nations are both members of OPEC and hold (with Russia) an estimated 50% of the world’s natural gas reserves (4). Furthermore, the shipping and ship building sector between the two nations is a strong part of their economy boost. By being at the center of world affairs, although at times upsetting the rest of the world, Qatar is securing a peaceful living for its people. Although, no two states in the world will ever possess the same interests at all times, there is a fine line between balancing your differences and going to war with them.
While the burgeoning influence of Qatar in the Arab world arouses respect, doubt and perplexity, Qatar’s motives are pragmatic while simultaneously peaceful. “For most of its history, Qatar has been an afterthought of an afterthought in global politics, an impoverished backwater that had often fallen prey to the schemes of stronger powers” (5); for the last 41 years, it has fed itself, nourished its people, and is now a rich, flourishing metropolis, a key player in the Arab world.
By using Qatar’s natural resources wealth to better the internal domestic affairs of the nation, opening the ports of communication with Al-Jazeera as the voice of freedom and democracy, the Emir has created an oasis of tranquility building Qatar’s domestic affairs through peaceful cooperation while finding the equilibrium of soft power and friendship, to morph the nation into an Arab leader in the world. Qatar is a great example of what an Islamic nation can accomplish and how being Muslim isn’t an ideology that restrains people but rather liberates them, as long as plurality, unity, culture, religion and modernization are balanced delicately.
Qatar’s hegemony appears to align only with what serves its own national interests, an approach that has served them well for years. Qatar’s world alliances with almost zero problems with its neighbors, foreign policy focus, and the expansion of its soft power throughout the country, are a great example of a positive re-revolution that began years ago and will no doubt continue for years to come.
(4) Natural Gas – Proved Reserves,” CIA World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world- factbook/rankorder/2179rank.html (accessed July 21, 2011
(5) Quoted by Blake Hounshell