[The writer in the following JP post blames every problem in the Middle East on Qatar or Iran, nothing at all is said of the assistance Israeli forces routinely give to Syrian/International Islamists fighting in southern Syria. Likewise, nothing is said in the article to link the violence to Saudi Arabia, or Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the author of the entire Arab Spring/Jihadi conspiracy against Syria. The Saudis washed their hands of the Islamist file when Obama and the West turned on the Saudis for failing to oust Assad.]
For decades, the term “Middle East peace” has referred almost exclusively to the two-state solution that has been advocated by Westerners. The false belief that Jews building houses in Judea & Samaria has caused jihadism around the world is now being challenged. After all, these “settlements” are not responsible for the civil wars in Syria, Iraq, or Libya, nor are they causing the battle in Yemen between an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia against Iranian-supported militants. However, there is indeed one threat that is affecting all of these conflicts and preventing peace in the region–Qatar. In every conflict in the Middle East, Qatar is somehow involved, from Libya to Syria, from Egypt’s uprising to the spread of Islamists throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Despite its small size, Qatar is an influential middle power in the world, and in particular, in the Gulf region and Arab World. Its wealth, derived mainly from oil, has allowed Doha to buy influence and spread its power around the Middle East and the world.
In 2016, Marc Lynch published his book The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East. In it, Lynch goes into depth with analyzing the cause of the 2011 Arab Uprisings, as well as the subsequent civil wars and foreign interventions in a number of Arab countries. In particular, he details the role of Gulf Arab states, especially Qatar, in fomenting unrest and violence and supplying extremist groups throughout the region. With the outbreak of civil war in both Libya and Syria, Qatar took advantage of a weak and destabilizing situation to spread its own influence in those two countries. In Libya, there were three main backers of regime-change to oust Moammar Qadafi, the brutal dictator who ruled the North African country at the time: The United States, the European Union (and NATO at large), and the Gulf Arabs. Each of these three power blocs had their own reasons for wanting Qadafi gone. The Americans claimed that it was largely due to the human-rights abuses by Qadafi, and that he was somehow committing genocide against Libyans (never mind the fact that the use of the term “genocide” in this context is inappropriate and false). The Europeans claimed the same thing, although new evidence has emerged suggesting that Qadafi’s pan-Africanism, which threatened European neo-colonial goals in Africa, were the real motivation for his toppling. And the third power bloc came from the Gulf Arabs. Lynch explains in his book that the Gulf Arabs were interested in expanding their influence in North Africa, and had called upon the UN, EU, and others to impose no-fly zones to protect civilians and rebel groups from the brutality of the Qadafi regime. By early April, Qatar had already begun its process of dropping or delivering arms shipments to rebel groups in Libya. Rebel groups, in their victory over regime forces, began raising the Qatari flag over outposts they held.
Qatar’s interventionist and imperialist policies did not end in Tripoli–in fact, they go beyond the borders of the Middle East. In Tunisia, perhaps the only successful example of rebellion in the Arab Uprisings, Qatar continued to shape politics of the region by assisting Ennahda–the “moderate Islamist” party in taking power. And Moncef Marzouki, while a secular leftist, also was backed by Qatar and rose to power in Tunis. In Egypt, Qatar joined Turkey with backing Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate for president, after the outset of the rebellion and ousting of the oppressive Hosni Mubarak. Using its media empire, Al-Jazeera, Qatar positioned itself “as the champion of not just the Muslim Brotherhood but also of Tahrir itself”, according to Lynch. Israel and Saudi Arabia (along with its close Gulf partners) were alarmed by the fall of Mubarak, whom they’d relied upon to counter Iran, keep Hamas and other Palestinian militants in check, and maintain the peace treaty with the Jewish state. In Yemen, Qatar increased its presence as well, trying to mediate between then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthi rebels, backed by Tehran. Ultimately, however, Saleh was ousted and Qatar threw its weight behind the Islah Movement, a radical organization with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Doha began using Al-Jazeera to inspire protests on the “Arab street” by dedicating extensive airtime to the Arab Spring and trying to garner support from the international community. In the case of Egypt and the United States, it was successful. Despite Mubarak being a close partner of the Americans in the region for decades, then-president Barack Obama abandoned him in the name of democracy, allowing an Islamist backed by Qatar to take power in Cairo, emboldening the Muslim Brotherhood-related Hamas movement and threatening the cold peace with Israel. Qatari proxies and partners were well represented in transitional government and new governments (mainly Islamist ones) in Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, the Syrian National Council, and Libya. After Hamas rejected Assad’s brutality in Syria, it faced a troubled relationship with Iran, which was replaced by warmer ties with Turkey and Qatar. Since then, Egypt has fallen away from the Muslim Brotherhood and back into a traditional authoritarian-yet-stable model supported by Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States, and a gulf (pardon the pun) has emerged between Qatar and its neighbors, namely Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (which are more concerned with stability and have no interest in seeing protestors in the Arab streets demanding more rights). Yet Qatar’s power and influence has expanded nonetheless, making it one of two expansionist countries in the Middle East that is threatening peace; the other, obviously, is Iran.
In Syria, Qatar, like Turkey, invested heavily in the Syrian economy and developed strong personal relationships with Bashar al-Assad, the dictator. But as soon as the uprisings in Syria began in 2011, Qatar smelled another opportunity. It connected numerous protest leaders and activists within the Arab Republic to Al-Jazeera, hosting them and giving them interviews numerous times. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Muslim Brotherhood figure based in the Qatari capital, gave prominent speeches denouncing the brutality of the Assad regime. Numerous sermons given by clerics in Qatar included the human rights abuses in Syria and denouncements of the Damascus regime, while the government was among the first to cut ties with Damascus, implement sanctions against Syria, and lobby the Arab League and United Nations to take action against Assad. In November 2011, it expelled Syria from the Arab League, and also intensely lobbied for the United States and the UN to use force to remove Assad from power. However, the war-weary Western World and Russian-Chinese opposition to regime change foiled these plans, leading to Qatar’s more direct role in sending arms and cash to a number of rebel and Islamist organizations within Syria to topple the government.
As I mentioned earlier, while Qatar’s meddling and expansionism is most obvious in the Middle East itself, it has used other mechanisms to be more subtle about doing so abroad. In Western countries, college campuses are recording a rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment in general. Much of this has to do with the money received by Middle East/Arabic/Islamic Studies programs in numerous campuses–money that often comes straight from Qatar and its neighbors. Its use of Al-Jazeera, a news network accused of sexism, pro-terrorist sentiment, and anti-Semitism, to penetrate Western media outlets and spread Qatar’s propaganda, should also raise alarm. India has criticized Al-Jazeera for showing disputed territories such as Jammu as Kashmir as being part of Pakistan. Israel has accused Al-Jazeera of encouraging Palestinian terror against the Jewish state and being biased against Jews more generally. Some officials in Iraq, especially in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion, accused it of fomenting sectarian violence and of holding anti-Shiite and anti-Iranian views. Egypt, too, has cracked down on Al-Jazeera due to its seemingly pro-Muslim Brotherhood stance and some of its commentators speculating that President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is of “Jewish origin” and is involved in a “Zionist plot to divide Egypt”. On Facebook, the more youthful AJ+ tries to attract young liberals and activists outraged about things like police brutality, the war on drugs, assaults on women’s and gay rights, and economic inequality with video clips of around 30-60 seconds. But like Al-Jazeera, this is nothing more than Doha’s propaganda. Such clips would have real meaning and legitimacy if they weren’t so blatantly opposed to Israel, apologetic towards terror, or hypocritical. AJ+ is right to slam bigotry and unfairness in the Western World, yet it fails to mention or critique the human rights abuses (often more serious, by far) of its own government or that of its neighbors. This use of media and funding of programs on colleges related to the Middle East serve to influence and shape the minds of a politically vocal and active generation in favor of Qatari policy—one where the West and Israel’s survival or interests have no legitimacy, and where human rights violations in theocracies or autocracies are either unknown/nonexistent or excusable and accepted.
Despite what many Israel critics claim, Zionism is not an expansionist, European colonial project. Rather, it is the national liberation movement of the Jews, an aboriginal group from the Land of Israel. That isn’t to say there are no imperial/colonial projects happening in the region, however. There are two. One is the more blatant and immediate threat of Iran’s attempt to recreate the Persian Empire at the expense of Israel’s existence, Arab security, and Western interests. The other is the Qatari approach, more carefully cloaked, to change the mindset of young, progressive Westerners into blaming all that is wrong in the world and the region on the Jews (sound familiar?) and the West, and engaging in the soft bigotry of low expectations when it comes to human rights in Arab countries. If the West and Israel don’t counteract both of these threats, and quickly, their values and existence may soon come under attack.