Contemporary Islam and IR
Professor Shadi Mokhtari
Analysis of Qatar’s Foreign Policy Towards the Middle East
Qatar is located in Arabian Peninsula in boarders with Saudi Arabia, with only 225,000 citizens in a population of 1.7 million. Qatar follows a conservative religious ideology, Wahhabism. While some refer to Qatar as the “ Second Wahhabi Emirate,” it is traditionally known as “the most boring place in the gulf” or “the country known for being unknown (Roberts, 2012).” However, Qatar emerged as a strong state actor with extended networks of alliances in the world. The mediator role that Doha plays today is crucial in the region, particularly after the Arab Spring (HRW, 2013). Indeed, Qatar supported the Arab Uprisings across the region in 2011. In addition, Qatar invested between $65 billion and $100 billion to the FIFA world cup that it will be hosting in 2022. The Emir founded a number of humanitarian projects in Sudan, South of Lebanon, Gaza and Asia. In this paper, I attempt to answer the question of what are the driving motives of Qatar’s foreign policy in the Middle East? And why, unlike its neighboring countries, Qatar’s leadership supported the Arab appraisals of 2011? Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, stated, “we support those who demanded justice and dignity,” when asked about his country’s role in the Arab revolutions in an interview in 60 Minutes .In response, President Barak Obama thanked the Emir for promoting democracy in the Middle East (Al Thani, 2012). Ironically, Qatar is an absolute monarchy described as an “ authoritarian regime” that is ranked 138th out of the 167 countries by Democracy Index 2011. In addition, the Freedom House lists Qatar as “ not free” (freedom house), (Democracy Index, 2011).” Therefore, Qatar’s lack of rule of law, freedom of speech and political rights contradict “the Emir’s efforts to promote democracy” and delegitimizes his political statements. In relevance to this hypocrisy, Qatar’s foreign policy in general and its support of democratic transitions in the Arab region in specific serves its ambitions to secure itself from threats, maintain its status quo of an independent state and take a leadership role in the region. Political Emancipation and the Saudi Threat:
Al Thani family ruled Qatar for more than 150 years. Qatar attained its independence in 1971, when the British-mandate came to an end and after its refusal to join the United Arab Emirates federation. Since that date until the 1990s, Saudi Arabia acted as the de facto protector of Qatar. Consequently, the Emir took policy directions from Al Saud. However, this relationship witnessed a change in the early 1990s as tensions in bilateral relations between the two countries began to arise. After the invasion of Kuwait and Sadam’s threat to attack the Suadi kingdom, Saudi quickly reached out to western coalitions in aim of protection. As Suadi presented itself as weak and unable to defend itself, the Qataris began to doubt Saudi’s ability to protect the Qatari entity and decided to pursue a strong alliance with the US. Therefore, between 1990-1992, Qatar signed a military agreement with the United States to host its military base in Al-Odead. In response, Saudi worked to block Qatar’s pipeline exports of gas to United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman. As a result, tensions between the two countries intensified. Later, in 30 September 1992, Saudi attacked the Qatari boarders leaving three soldiers dead (2012). However, the clashes did not stop there. In1995, Shiekh Hamad Al Thani, the Crown Prince back then, seized power after a bloodless coup d’etat against his father. Of course, Saudi Arabia did not welcome the coup d’etat because of Hamad’s known strong motives to maintain his country’s autonomy. Instead, Saudi financially supported another coup against the current Emir. Then, Qatar detained a number of Saudi and...