Qatar is a very conservative country

Qatar : Small country, big impact

In Germany, many first heard of the emirate of Qatar when the tiny desert state on the Gulf surprisingly won the hosting of the 2022 World Cup in 2010. The Arab television station Al Jazeera was already a household name - but it hadn't really put Doha on the map in the West. Since the outbreak of the uprisings in the Arab world, things have changed: Qatar appears in the news almost every day because its emir Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani has a hand in all conflicts in the region. The country with 1.7 million inhabitants, of whom only around 300,000 are native, has developed into the most dynamic force in the Arab world: It was Qatar that pushed the Arab League in March 2011 to support NATO intervention in To deploy Libya. In the case of Syria, the Emir of Qatar is the driving force against President Bashar al Assad. But what are the goals of the emir, who rules his empire as an absolutist monarch, when he supports the revolutions in most of the Arab countries?

Damascus, Moscow and Hanover

Some attribute a Napoleon complex to the 59-year-old, who deposed his father in a bloodless coup in 1995, others suspect an Islamist agenda. Irrespective of the West, Qatar has played an intermediary role in the region since the mid-1990s. The emirate always had to come to terms with its powerful neighbors Saudi Arabia and Iran and relied on good relations with all regional powers. And the USA, to which it entrusts its security. Qatar, for example, is home to the most important air force base of the US Army in the region, but at the same time is dependent on cooperation with Iran, with which it shares its largest gas field. In the opinion of Guido Steinberg from the Foundation for Science and Politics (SWP) the emirate wanted to present itself with its crisis diplomacy “to the West as an actor who can offer valuable services for the solution of the numerous conflicts in the region”. He also managed to step out of the shadow of Saudi Arabia. Qatar successfully arbitrated the Lebanon conflict in 2008. Qatar rebuilt southern Lebanon, ruled by the Islamist Hezbollah, after the war with Israel in 2006.

The fact that Qatar has exiled Islamists of all stripes for years is now paying off. The influential Egyptian TV preacher Youssef Qaradawi is at home here, and the prominent Libyan Islamist Ali Sallabi found refuge here until he founded an Islamist party in the new Libya. Sallabi's brother's rebel group supported Doha with weapons and training, as did other Islamist forces. Hamas's Khaled Meshaal is now in Doha, and ties are also close to the Tunisian Islamist leader Raschid Ghannouchi. His son-in-law, who worked in Qatar for a few years, is now Foreign Minister in Tunis. Qatar thus has the closest ties to the new Islamist ruling class in the Arab states in transition, which it actively supports. The emir seems to believe that the “Muslim Brotherhood and many Salafists represent an interpretation of Islam that is compatible with the teaching prevailing in Qatar,” says Steinberg. In any case, the emirate has more in common with the conservative forces than with the overthrown “republican regimes”. In Bahrain, however, Qatar has sided with the regime and sent soldiers out of fear that the Shiites, who are seen as Iran's fifth column, will seize power. But the “traditional balancing act” between the USA and Iran threatens to fail in Syria, according to Steinberg: In the conflict, Iran and Qatar are diametrically opposed. He also sees the mediating role in the region in danger in the long term: "Many opponents of the Islamists in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt have also become opponents of Qatar in the last few months."

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