Tiny, Wealthy Qatar Goes Its Own Way, and Pays for It

NY Times – Tiny, Wealthy Qatar Goes Its Own Way, and Pays for It

This New York Times article, published this morning, by Declan Walsh presents a snapshot of the Gulf crisis from perspectives not necessarily endorsed by Qatar-America Institute. QAI encourages the reader to do their own research on this topic, including with the links at the end of this post.

HH the Emir proclaimed Qatar’s independent foreign policy as the true explanation for an ongoing blockade that cut off his country from its Gulf neighbors:

“They don’t like our independence,” he said in an interview in New York in September. “They see it as a threat.”

Qatar’s foes accuse it of financing terrorism, cozying up to Iran and harboring fugitive dissidents. They detest Al Jazeera, Qatar’s rambunctious and highly influential satellite network. And — although few say it openly — they appear intent on ousting Qatar’s young leader, Tamim, from his throne.

Tamim denies the accusations, and chalks up the animosity to simple jealousy.

The blockade turned out to be the first strike of a sweeping campaign that has electrified the Middle East:

[Saudi Arabia] has shaped the Trump administration’s approach to the Middle East and his endeavors could have far-reaching consequences, potentially driving up energy prices, upending Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and raising the chances of war with Iran.

The Qatar dispute is perhaps the least understood piece of the action, but it has a particularly nasty edge.

Sheikh Tamim’s young, steadfast rule is markedly different than that of his Gulf neighbors:

His rise to power in 2013, at the age of 33, offered a stark contrast with the gerontocracy of Saudi Arabia, where rulers clung to their thrones till reaching their deathbeds. And his easy manner belies a stubborn streak that his neighbors see as the mark of a dangerous gadfly.

Qatari society has been a boon for transformative changes in the region:

While Saudi women will finally be allowed to drive in June, Qatari women have been driving for decades. In Qatar, there are cinemas, bars and even female race jockeys. Christians can worship openly.

Tamim lauds his country’s democratic values. In 50 years, he recently predicted, Al Jazeera will be seen to have “changed the whole idea of free speech in the region.” In many respects, it already has.

In the Middle East, though, Qatar’s rulers have deployed their wealth to assert their independence from their larger neighbors:

For decades, Saudi Arabia, which is 186 times as large, treated Qatar as a virtual vassal state. In the 1940s, Saudi rulers took a slice of Qatar’s modest oil revenues; later they nibbled at Qatar’s territory and dictated its foreign and defense policy.

Tamim’s father, Hamad, accused the Saudis of trying to oust him in a failed coup in 1996 — a bitter episode that has framed the decades of simmering rivalry ever since.

Striking out on their own, the Qataris at first played the role of regional peacemaker, turning Doha into a sort of Geneva-on-the-Gulf where protagonists from wars in Sudan, Somalia and Lebanon could hash out their differences in five-star hotels. They embraced America, hosting a vast air base since 2003, the year of the Iraq war, and won popular influence through Al Jazeera, whose provocative style irked just about every Arab government.

U.S. officials determined the Qatar News Agency hack, a precursor to the June 2017 blockade, originated from the one of the blockading nations:

American intelligence officials determined that the planting of the fake news story had been orchestrated by the Emirates, which had been quietly pushing for a boycott of Qatar since 2016, a United States official told The New York Times.

Qatar has responded to the blockade with unprecedented ingenuity and resourcefulness, as well as a renewed national patriotism:

[Sheikh Tamim’s] ministers, making a virtue of necessity, are developing new trade and transportation links. To make up for lost Saudi milk, they created a new dairy industry from scratch in the desert. In a surreal tableau one day in July, German cows toddled down the ramp of a Qatar Airways Airbus at the Doha airport, the first arrivals of around 4,000 cattle flown in from Europe, Australia and California.

The Emir’s image adorns billboards draped off skyscrapers, and he is lionized in saccharine songs hailing his steely leadership. “He’s the embodiment of the philosopher king,” said Dana al-Fardan, one such balladeer.

Is Qatar soft on terrorism? Some of the charges are red herrings, American officials say:

Tamim cut funding to most extremist militias in Syria and Islamist groups in Libya in 2015, at the urging of the Obama administration.

Fact Sheet: Qatar Combatting Extremism at its Source

Report: Qatar Takes Aggressive Action Against Terrorism Finance


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