Table of Contents
Recently, a small state of Qatar began to play a major role on the political map of the Middle East. With the process of coming to power of Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani (June 27, 1995) in a coup, during which he dethroned his father, the main task of Qatar was the formation of the image of one of the most progressive Arab states, active involvement in solving the most important regional conflicts, and the development of partnerships with countries around the world (Nuruzzaman, 2015).
However, the greatest success in foreign policy of the Qatari leadership has been achieved in the last years, i.e. with the advent of the “spring” in the region. It was the 'Arab Spring' that emerged in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt and spread to almost the entire region. It was decisive that Qatar becomes the crucial factor as one of the main member states of the Arab League later used by external forces and one of the leaders in the Arab world. At the same time, these processes, heated by Qatar and its most important partners, the United States and Western Europe, led to the destabilization of the situation in the Middle East. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to investigate the role Qatar played during the Arab Spring.
The Background of Arab Spring
The second decade of the twenty-first century was the beginning of the global changes in socio-political and socio-economic structures of many countries, especially in the Arab East. Sweeping the entire Arab East events of the Arab Spring which attracted the attention of the international community cannot find its reflection on the linguistic level (Nuruzzaman, 2015).
Due to these new means of communication, people receive the information at first that they could not otherwise have because all the media were almost completely under the control of the authoritarian police leadership. Without these new opportunities, no one probably would not even know about the self-immolation in Tunisia that was the starting point of the first Arab revolution. New information technologies put an end to the monopoly of power in the information. Secondly, due to these technologies, the communication capabilities of the disparate opposition dramatically increased (Nuruzzaman, 2015). They formed a network of clubs. Next, thirdly, the internet and mobile phones have made it possible at the crucial moment to inform, mobilize, and bring people to the streets.
There were also anti-government speeches of the general population in several Arab countries that differ significantly from one another. Certainly, each of these countries has developed its own characteristics in revolutionary situations. However, the mentioned speeches had something in common, which gives reason to use it in relation to the collective image of the Arab Spring or a brutal metaphor of the “Arab Revolt”.
Another reason for the Arab Spring was the general discontent of, for instance, pervasive corruption and nepotism, especially in the higher echelons of power. For example, in Tunisia, half of business leaders in the field of trade (“business elite”) were personally related to President Ben Ali through his adult children and close relatives. For example, a brother of his second wife owned aviation company, car assembly factories, hotels, radio channel network,
and automotive dealer Ford. By the standards of Tunisia, it is a fortune. Other relatives were also not in poverty. A clan was formed from the adult children of Ben Ali from his first wife and their numerous relatives.
All these fact has been known. In Egypt, the information about the situation of President Mubarak and his family having at least $40 billion was widely circulated. Moreover, about 40 high-ranking officials and businessmen close to the president's son Gamal had more than 1 billion dollars each (Nuruzzaman, 2015). In Libya, Syria, and other countries, no one doubted that the rulers and the people from the clans close to the former are enriched at the expense of the national treasury.
The difficult situation was compounded by corruption and nepotism arbitrariness among police. Furthermore, the impunity of the authorities made it impossible to get justice in court. Everything was under control and stable for the following decades. Finally, the growing compensation caused quite shameless falsification of the elections. Finally, the opposition was just pulled the plug. The ruling party, picking up 70 to 90% of the vote, won the elections on a regular basis (Nuruzzaman, 2015).
The Relation Policy of Qatar During Arab Spring
It is worth noting that because of the Arab Spring, a small emirate in the Gulf, Qatar, figuratively speaking, received more dividends than the US, France, and Britain combined. In the circumstances as for the Middle East and North Africa situation, Doha managed to reduce the role of such “heavyweights” as Egypt, Syria, and Libya. Along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar is now the leader and the main driving force behind all the initiatives of the League of Arab States. In fact, these two countries were the only ones that could save the mentioned states from the bankruptcy at that time, Egypt in particular (Nuruzzaman, 2015). Thus, the recent leaders of the region were based on small Gulf states.
Another important factor in the growing influence of Qatar is the Islamization of the region. In the countries of the Arab Spring, the representatives of Islamist groups came to power (Yetim, 2014). The Qatari leadership has had a great financial and ideological influence on them. In Egypt's parliamentary election, the victory was in fact divided by the “Muslim Brotherhood” and the Salafists.
In Tunisia, where “Ennahda” party won, R. Gannushi has also had strong positions. In Syria, a recognized part of the “Friends of Syria” meeting of the opposition is the “Brothers Moslems.” In Palestine, where Hamas and Fatah were actively financed by the Qatari leadership, the pressure on Israel increased. In this context, it is important to mention that the Wahhbi circles and private funds of Qatar were related to the financing of terrorism in the North Caucasus (Yetim, 2014). In this regard, the growing influence of the emirate and its 'success' in the destabilization of the situation in various countries of the Middle East pose a threat to the world’s security.
It is worth noting that it is not necessary to be interested in prospects of the external Qatar's policy, which is dependent on the political situation in the region to an extreme degree because of the small size and the helplessness of the state in military terms (Clark, 2012). This is especially under the threat of open conflict in the Persian Gulf because of the 'contribution' that Qatar has made to the destabilization of the already most 'explosive' region in the world while pursuing its own selfish goals and hiding behind the guise of a 'mediator' and a ‘defender’ of the interests of all Arabs.
To do this, it is important to consider a number of country-specific examples of the relation policy that Qatar led during the Arab Spring. In order to observe the chronological order, it is possible to start with Tunisia. The state was previously noted by the international community as the most democratic, secular, and progressive one in the Arab world because serious socio-economic problems turned the first of those who were destined to 'wake up.' As a result of massive popular protests and the overthrow of the regime of Ben Ali Islamists, “An-Nahda” came to power (Clark, 2012). The role of Qatar in these events was not so obvious in comparison with what happened later in Egypt, Libya, and Syria. However, it seems to be very interesting at the moment. As it was already noted, the main layers of the population (particularly the poorest) are Islamists (Yetim, 2014). However, surprisingly, it is the fact that the Tunisian mosques are dominated by Salafists nowadays, who are either, in principle, do not mention the “An-Nahda” in the context of the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime or call R. Gannushi and other representatives of the party's “infidels” (unbelievers), accusing them of deviation from true Islam. It is known that the Salafis receive substantial financial aid from the Qatari leadership and private funds of Qatar. Thus, it is possible to predict the “Islamization” of Tunisia, and then of the whole Maghreb. At the regional scale, it will result in the emergence of vast new sources of tension and create a favorable environment for strengthening the role of Al-Qaeda, Hizb-Tahrir, and other terrorist groups operating around the world (Clark, 2012).
To a much greater extent, the role of Qatar has manifested in the events of Egypt. One may note several factors behind the active behavior of the Qatari leadership. Initially, it is the desire to weaken a key regional player and a personal dislike for the Emir Hamad Mubarak as well as the factor of Sheikh Y. Aliyev-Qaradawi, the head of the World Union of Muslim theologians, living in Doha. Thus, it is worth looking in more detail. Sheikh Y. Aliyev-Qaradawi, a representative of the Egyptian “Muslim Brotherhood”, is the most influential theologian, who regularly issues fatwas and is actually an ideological generator of “Al Jazeera.” He became a key figure in the information war against the regime of Mubarak. Y. Aliyev-Qaradawi also prompted former colleagues of the “Muslim Brotherhood” how to act in order to enjoy the fruits of popular protest. It is worth noting that Qatar currently provides financial and ideological support for the “brothers” and Salafis. According to the forecasts, despite the possible differences between these two groups, Islamized Egypt and Qatari leadership, the latter will continue to provide financial assistance to those who has come to power at the moment (Clark, 2012). This will affect both internal political situation and foreign policy. As expected, the protest process will continue in the country. Three conventional centers of power are military, Tahrir, Square, and the Parliament, many of whom are Islamists who are unable to agree themselves between each other (Abu-Munshar, 2012). This will result in open conflicts, instability, and the persecution of the Copts, who have already taken place. In foreign policy, it is expected to cause further weakening of the role of Egypt in the Middle East, a complication of relations with Israel, and the deterioration of the security situation on the border with the Gaza Strip as well (Yetim, 2014). This, in turn, strengthens the position of Hamas and puts more pressure on Israel, which will exacerbate tensions in the region.
A Qatar's crucial role in the overthrow of Gaddafi has been impossible to hide for a long time. British “Guardian” newspaper became the first one that openly illuminated not only financial but also 'physical' war where Qatar participated in the revolution in Libya (Abu-Munshar, 2012). As it turned out, Qatari special forces helped Libyan rebels in the organization of military operations. Qatar has also supplied arms to Libya in order to overthrow the Qaddafi regime. With regard to the political component, Emir Hamad, along with Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron, appeared before the international community as the main initiator of the military operation in Libya (Bonnefoy, 2016). After the operation, Qatar has become the “second home” for the Libyan rebels led by M. Jalil. At the same time, it is worth noting that the warmed Qatari civil war in Libya continued.
Recently, it was reported on the establishment of semi-autonomous Barka region in the east of Libya (Cyrenaica). Further development of the situation in the country under this scenario will lead to destabilization of the situation in North Africa at the regional level (Bonnefoy, 2016). Already, it aggravated the situation in Mali, where rebel supporters of Gaddafi are located (Yetim, 2014). However, many Malians are trying to take refuge in Mauritania, which, in turn, leads to increased tension in the country.
This policy of “intervention” of Qatari leadership is evident in Syria. Qatar is a major initiator of the 'humanitarian' corridors and introduction peacekeeping plans to Syria. Emirate Guide sponsors the insurgents by supplying weapons and fiighters for the Free Syrian Army (Bonnefoy, 2016). Along with this, the Al-Jazeera channel creates a favorable background for such a policy in the international community by reporting lawlessness on the part of the Syrian authorities, and they say nothing about the killings of civilians, looting, and persecution of Christians by insurgents. At the same time, with the previously mentioned Sheikh Y. al-Qaradawi and “Al-Jazeera,” Qatari leadership is trying to set up the whole world not only against the Assad regime but also against Russia. If Qatar and the West will be able to implement their plans – there will be a full-scale civil war (which is already in progress, in fact), the exacerbation of the Kurdish issue, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Shia-Sunni conflict, and many other issues that will affect the entire region from Turkey to Iraq (Bayoumy, 2012). Syria, as we know it, may cease to exist. The territorial integrity of the country will be under the threat.
It appears that Qatar, albeit being a satellite of the United States in the region, is playing its own game (Bonnefoy, 2016). On the one hand, the events that took place in the Arab world partially met Washington's interests. On the other hand, the Americans cannot be met by those who come to power after the Arab Spring. The Islamization of the Middle East and rising prices for hydrocarbons due to instability – all this is in the interests of the Qatari leadership.
The position of Islamism in Qatar is very strong. Moreover, those who defend it, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Jassim H. Ben, do everything possible to mitigate the 'traditional players' in the region, destabilize the Middle East, and strengthen the position of radical Islamists and Sunnis Shia counterweight supported by Iran as well (Bayoumy, 2012). If one takes a look at the map of the emerging 'new' Middle East, it will be possible to see the 'Sunni arc', which will stretch from North Africa through Egypt to Palestine, Syria, and even beyond. Arabian monarchy will be at the first place comprising of Qatar and KSA. The entire region is covered with numerous ethnic, clan, and religious conflicts.
In the Gaza Strip, Qatar broke relations with Israel, and gave even more active support to both Fatah and Hamas. Meanwhile, the latter was intended to support not only to win over the most part of the Arab umma, but also to demonstrate the fact that Qatar is independent of the United States in its foreign policy (Bayoumy, 2012). In this context, the figure of Y. Aliyev-Qaradawi appeared once again to the fore. Back in 2001, he suggested that the Hamas suicide bombers are the heroes, and that everyone has the right to blow himself up in Israel. Cleric still urges Arab leaders to use all forces and means to deal with the “Zionist entity.” In October 2000, he organized the so-called “Union of Good”, whose main purpose was to financially aid Hamas. In 2002, Israel declared that the organization is a terrorist one; and the United States recognized it as such at the beginning of 2008 (Yetim, 2014). The “Union of Good” raises funds and sends them to the accounts of Hamas.
For example, in 2009, Yu al-Qaradawi gave Hamas through this organization, according to various estimates, about 21 million dollars for the purchase of villas, homes, and construction of charity institutions in Jerusalem (Yetim, 2014). In recent years, Qatar has stepped up activities in the Palestinian-Israeli track despite certain 'attenuation' of the subject in the international context due to the urgency of 'the Arab awakening'.
Frequent guests in Doha are Abbas, H. Mashal, and I. Haniya. Qatar supported the Palestinian authority's application for membership in the United Nations in the autumn of 2011. With the mediation of Doha, Hamas and Fatah led active talks on reconciliation and agreed on the establishment of a national unity government. At the same time, Emir Hamad strongly criticizes Israel and accuses him of disrupting the negotiations and the continuation of the settlement policy. Moreover, at the recent Conference on the Protection of Jerusalem in Doha, he called on the UN to establish a special committee in order to investigate Israeli crimes since 1967 (Yetim, 2014).
Democratization in the Middle East is very often associated with the relevant policies of the West, which has become a symbol of the coalition forces invasion in Iraq (2003) and its subsequent “democratic reconstruction.” Certainly, the policy of democratization in the region has considerable importance; however, the direct US and EU influence on the political processes in the Arab world by the end of the first decade of the 21st century has been not siggnificant. It began to decline gradually.
The theory of waves of democratization in the world trends developed many political scientists depending on the interpretation of historical events and the various embodiments of periodization of the ups and downs of democracy (Bonnefoy, 2016). The special features of the concept include its minimalist understanding of democracy (such as political participation, elections, competition, significant association between major political parties and the electorate) and the inclusion of the wave of cases of “incomplete transitions” – the liberalization or partial democratization.
All actions of the Qatari leadership, first of all, have the purpose of the Qatari image formation as one of the main defenders of the Arab interests and the leader of the Arab world. However, the result of this activity will be increased tension between Israel and Palestine. The former will not sit down at the negotiating table under the pressure from outside. This pressure will only intensify the position of 'right' in the country. In this case, it is not clear who should represent the Palestinians in the negotiations. After all, despite the efforts of the Emir Hamad, Hamas and Fatah cannot share power. It should be noted that tightening all these processes is in the interest of Doha, which will allow Qatar 'advertise' themselves longer as a peacemaker, defender of the Arab Ummah, and enemy of “Israeli occupation”.