By Felix Imonti
The first concern of the Emir of Qatar is the prosperity and security of the tiny kingdom. To achieve that, he knows no limits.
Stuck between Iran and Saudi Arabia is Qatar with the third largest natural gas deposit in the world. The gas gives the nearly quarter of a million Qatari citizens the highest per capita income on the planet and provides 70 percent of government revenue.
How does an extremely wealthy midget with two potentially dangerous neighbors keep them from making an unwelcomed visit? Naturally, you have someone bigger and tougher to protect you.
Of course, nothing is free. The price has been to allow the United States to have two military bases in a strategic location. According to Wikileak diplomatic cables, the Qataris are even paying sixty percent of the costs.
Having tanks and bunker busting bombs nearby will discourage military aggression, but it does nothing to curb the social tumult that has been bubbling for decades in the Middle Eastern societies. Eighty-four years ago, the Muslim Brotherhood arose in Egypt because of the presence of foreign domination by Great Britain and the discontent of millions of the teaming masses yearning to be free. Eighty-four years later, the teaming masses are still yearning.
Sixty-five percent of the people in the Middle East are under twenty-nine years of age. It is this desperate angry group that presents a danger that armies cannot stop. The cry for their dignity, “I am a man,” is the sound that sends terror through governments. It is this overwhelming force that the Emir of Qatar has been able to deflect.
A year after he deposed his father in 1995, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani established the Al-Jazeera television satellite news network. He invited some of the radical Salafi preachers that had been given sanctuary in Qatar to address the one and a half billion Muslims around the world. They had their electronic soapbox and the card to an ATM, but there was a price.
The price was silence. They could speak to the world and arouse the fury in Egypt or Libya, but they would have to leave their revolution outside of Qatar or the microphone would be switched off and the ATM would stop dispensing the good life.
The Muslim Brotherhood, that is a major force across the region, dissolved itself in Qatar in 1999. Jasim Sultan, a member of the former organization, explained that the kingdom was in compliance with Islamic law. He heads the state funded Awaken Project that publishes moderate political and philosophical literature.
How Qatar has benefited from networking with the Salafis is illustrated by the connections with Tunisia where Qatar is making a large investment in telecommunications. Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafiq Abdulsalaam was head of the Research and Studies Division in the Al Jazeera Centre in Doha. His father-in-law Al Ghanouchi is the head of the Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood party.
Over much of the time since he seized power, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani has followed the policy of personal networking, being proactive in business and neutral on the international stage. The Emir is generous with the grateful, the Qatar Sovereign Wealth Fund bargains hard in the board room and the kingdom makes available Qatar’s Good Offices to resolve disputes.
Qatar’s foreign policy made an abrupt shift when the kingdom entered the war against Qaddafi. The kingdom sent aircraft to join NATO forces. On the ground, Qatari special forces armed, trained, and led Libyans against Qaddafi’s troops.
The head of the National Transition Council Mustafa Abdul Jalil attributed much of the success of the revolution to the efforts of Qatar that he said had spent two billion dollars. He commented, “Nobody traveled to Qatar without being given a sum of money by the government.”
Qatar had ten billion dollars in investments in Libya to protect. The Barwa Real Estate Company alone had two billion committed to the construction of a beach resort near Tripoli.
While the bullets were still flying, Qatar signed eight billion dollars in agreements with the NTC. Just in case things with the NTC didn’t work out, they financed rivals Abdel Hakim Belhaj, leader of the February 17 Martyr’s Brigade, and Sheik Ali Salabi, a radical cleric who had been exiled in Doha.
If Qatar’s investments of ten billion dollars seem substantial, the future has far more to offer. Reconstruction costs are estimated at seven hundred billion dollars. The Chinese and Russians had left behind between them thirty billion in incomplete contracts and investments and all of it is there for the taking for those who aided the revolution.
No sooner had Qaddafi been caught and shot, Qatar approached Bashar Al-Assad to establish a transitional government with the Muslim Brotherhood. As you would expect, relinquishing power to the Brotherhood was an offer that he could refuse. It didn’t take long before he heard his sentence pronounced in January 2012 on the CBS television program, 60 Minutes by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.
The Emir declared that foreign troops should be sent into Syria. At the Friends of Syria conference in February, Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said, “We should do whatever necessary to help [the Syrian opposition], including giving them weapons to defend themselves.”
Why would Qatar want to become involved in Syria where they have little invested? A map reveals that the kingdom is a geographic prisoner in a small enclave on the Persian Gulf coast.
It relies upon the export of LNG, because it is restricted by Saudi Arabia from building pipelines to distant markets. In 2009, the proposal of a pipeline to Europe through Saudi Arabia and Turkey to the Nabucco pipeline was considered, but Saudi Arabia that is angered by its smaller and much louder brother has blocked any overland expansion.
Already the largest LNG producer, Qatar will not increase the production of LNG. The market is becoming glutted with eight new facilities in Australia coming online between 2014 and 2020.
A saturated North American gas market and a far more competitive Asian market leaves only Europe. The discovery in 2009 of a new gas field near Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Syria opened new possibilities to bypass the Saudi Barrier and to secure a new source of income. Pipelines are in place already in Turkey to receive the gas. Only Al-Assad is in the way.
Qatar along with the Turks would like to remove Al-Assad and install the Syrian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the best organized political movement in the chaotic society and can block Saudi Arabia’s efforts to install a more fanatical Wahhabi based regime. Once the Brotherhood is in power, the Emir’s broad connections with Brotherhood groups throughout the region should make it easy for him to find a friendly ear and an open hand in Damascus.
A control centre has been established in the Turkish city of Adana near the Syrian border to direct the rebels against Al-Assad. Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Saud asked to have the Turks establish a joint Turkish, Saudi, Qatari operations center. “The Turks liked the idea of having the base in Adana so that they could supervise its operations” a source in the Gulf told Reuters.
The fighting is likely to continue for many more months, but Qatar is in for the long term. At the end, there will be contracts for the massive reconstruction and there will be the development of the gas fields. In any case, Al-Assad must go. There is nothing personal; it is strictly business to preserve the future tranquility and well-being of Qatar.