Qatar Quiz

By Jeffrey Rudolph (September 2013; last update November 2017)

Qatar, once one of the poorest Persian Gulf states, has become one of the region’s wealthiest countries and also one of the most active in regional affairs. However, Qatar, like the other Gulf states, faces meaningful internal and external challenges, which require more than energy wealth to address.

The purpose of the following quiz is to examine the evolution of Qatar to an increasingly autonomous regional player in social and political affairs, and to relate this evolution to wider Middle East developments.


1. Why do Qatar and Oman generally have better relations with Iran than the other Gulf Arab states?

-“On a collective level, the [Gulf Cooperation Council] states of [Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates] have historically had geopolitical concerns with Iran” due mainly to Iran’s long existing goal of regional dominance. In fact, “the fears and prejudices about Iran…predate the [1979] Islamic revolution….[However,] Qatar’s relations with post-revolutionary Iran have…differed from the other GCC states…Qatar has enjoyed a more tempered relationship given the shared strategic asset of the vast North Field/South Pars natural gas field (the largest non-associated field in the world [at around 6,000 sq km, and holding an estimated one-quarter of global proven reserves]). Qatar and Iran’s mutual economic interests in the field have developed progressively, based on this shared resource, especially since the mid-1980s, when Qatar took the strategic decision to view its economic future as resting on the reserves held within the field. Given Qatar’s own strategic economic interests, its relations with Iran are grounded by this calculation and thus make Doha more willing to engage pragmatically with Tehran than its fellow GCC partners.” (David Held and Kristian Ulrichsen Editors, The Transformation of The Gulf: Politics, economics and the global order, Routledge, New York: 2012, 298-9. Hereinafter referred to as, Held 2012.)

-Iran and Qatar have both engaged with Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. “[However, they] have differed sharply…over relations with the United States. Doha has deep ties with Washington, a country Iran calls ‘the Great Satan.’ Since 2001, Qatar has been home to the largest US military installation in the Middle East. Al Udeid Air Base has hosted 11,000 American military personnel.”

-Qatar has “kept its Shia population significantly happier than, [say, Saudi Shias]. While not partners in the highest echelons of power, Qatari Shias are sufficiently integrated, economically and culturally, to not view their Qatari identity as a misfortune. This removes the thorny issue of sectarian differences that might have deterred [Qatar and Iran] from becoming friendlier.”

-According to WikiLeaks, “the US embassy was concerned by the lack of al-Jazeera coverage of the civil unrest in Iran after the disputed presidential election in the summer of 2009.” “When Iranian security forces were condemned internationally for attacking protesters after the disputed 2009 election, the Qatari prime minister asserted that it was an ‘internal matter’ and that ‘we must respect the right of each state to solve its own problems.’” (Al-Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar. And, Qatar is essentially run by the Al Thani family.) ;

-“[I]t was with the Iranian revolution in 1979 that Qatar, along with the other Gulf Arab states, coalesced behind their shared understanding of external and intra-state security from Tehran’s Islamic theocracy. Qatar predictably formed part of the collective security voice of the GCC based on its own national interest. This was particularly so given Iran’s apparent willingness to interfere in the domestic affairs of the Gulf states, as was evidenced by the Iranian-backed coup attempt in Bahrain in 1981. With the ensuing Iran-Iraq war commencing in 1980, and the threats posed by Iran to regional oil supply routes, it is understandable that on the basis of national interest Qatar’s foreign policies largely endorsed the collective GCC response.” (The GCC was established in May 1981.) (Held 2012, 300)

-“Iran quickly took advantage of [the 2017 Saudi-led political and economic blockade of Qatar]. [Iran] opened its airspace to Qatari flights that were barred from crossing the Arabian Peninsula. It shipped food to replace supplies lost by the closure of the Saudi-Qatari border. In gratitude, Qatar restored full diplomatic relations with Tehran after recalling its ambassador [in 2015]….[Thus,] the blockade has actually undermined everything that the Saudis and Emiratis wanted by pushing the Qataris” to develop closer ties to Iran, Turkey, Russia, and China. “It’s only natural that Iran, having long been targeted by Washington and its allies…tries to seize opportunities to defend its interests.”

-Oman, primarily for the same reasons as Qatar, has not been confrontational toward Iran as have Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE. Despite hosting western military “bases on its soil and its very high spending on western armaments”, Oman has cultivated working relations with Iran. “[W]ith Oman’s Musandam Peninsula stretching into the strategic Strait of Hormuz, [it] is the Gulf monarchy closest to Iran, and—perhaps most importantly—as with Qatar, Oman shares a major offshore gas field with the Islamic Republic. Indeed, 80 per cent of the Henjam field lies in Iranian waters, and the National Iranian Oil Company has earmarked $800 million for the field’s development—an investment Oman is unlikely to be able to match. Tellingly, in [a] 2008 conversation Qaboos bin Said Al-Said [Oman’s Sultan] commented to [a senior] US [Navy] official that the ‘Iranians are not fools’ and claimed that ‘Tehran realized there are certain lines it cannot cross [i.e. direct confrontation with the US]’. Most significantly, on the subject of the Gulf monarchies and Iran he stated ‘Iran is a big country with muscles and we must deal with it’ but that ‘as long as the US is on the horizon, we have nothing to fear’.” (It should be added that it has long been suspected that Iran and Oman engage in security and military cooperation.) (Christopher M. Davidson, After The Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies, Oxford University Press, New York: 2013, 173-4, 181.)

-“Muscat has never perceived the Islamic Republic as an existential threat and has often refused to toe Riyadh’s line on matters regarding Iran. Furthermore, in recent years, a wide range of factors has prompted Oman to invest in its relationship with Iran, most notably underscored by Muscat and Tehran’s plans to complete a subsea natural gas pipeline project, making Oman the first GCC member to develop energy infrastructure directly linking the Arabian Peninsula to Iran. Moreover, a major reason why Oman has turned closely to Iran is Muscat’s strategic thinking that deeper ties with Tehran affords the sultanate greater independence from the GCC’s powerhouse — Saudi Arabia — which the Omanis often see as an overbearing neighbor. Not lost in the equation is the fact that numerous Saudi clerics have promoted intolerant views of Ibadi Muslims, labeling them ‘heretics.’ Naturally this does not sit well with the Omanis, the majority of whom practice Ibadism, a characteristically peaceful and tolerant sect of Islam. Maintaining autonomy from the kingdom’s geopolitical and religious authority has always been a pillar of Omani foreign policy. [Therefore,] It is premature to conclude that by joining IMAFT [Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism, which Saudi Arabia excluded Iran and Iraq from] the Omanis have abandoned their longstanding regional neutrality in favor of a closer alignment with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.”

   “Assuming that Oman and Iran continue their own joint military exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, the sultanate will likely remain the only Arab state that conducts military drills with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, highlighting Muscat’s unique role in the Middle East’s geopolitical order.” (5 Jan. 2017)

-It is worth noting that Turkey and Iran have “had a fixed border and stable diplomatic and trading relationship for over five hundred years…” However, Turkey does oppose Iran in Iraq and Syria. (Essentially, Qatar and Turkey have similar, compartmentalized relations with Iran, and this strains their ties to Saudi Arabia.)

2. Which country is the leading producer and exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and gas to liquid fuels (GTL)?

-Qatar, “possesses the third largest reserves of natural gas [after Russia and Iran], and has emerged as the leading global producer and exporter of…LNG…and [the more environmentally friendly] GTL”. The result of this energy bounty is that Qatar has been able to play a role in international affairs disproportionate to its small size. (Held 2012, 296)

-“By providing a significant proportion of foreign countries’ energy needs, Qatar is creating ‘stakeholders’ in its own stability and security. While this does not necessarily translate to the hard-security guarantee that it enjoys with the United States, it is catering for profile-building, influence and stronger diplomatic ties with key countries that enhances its indirect security.” (Held 2012, 307)

-“On the international level…the major importers of Qatar’s LNG in 2008 were South Korea, Japan and India. However, by 2012, other leading importers…will include the United Kingdom and the USA…” As well, many European countries are “diversify[ing] their natural gas imports away from Russia…[Accordingly,] Qatar should, by 2012, provide in the region of 20 per cent of Europe’s natural gas imports.” (Held 2012, 307)

-“[T]he demand for natural gas (which burns cleaner than oil) is quickly increasing in Europe, where natural gas imports increased by 17 percent in 2015.” “The growth of natural gas from Qatar and Iran is the greatest threat to Saudi regional power today.” Furthermore, “[T]he US is becoming a net energy exporter.”  (17 March 2017)

3. Which country is the world’s richest?

-According to 2010 data, Qatar “ranks as the world’s richest country per capita…Adjusted for purchasing power, Qatar booked an estimated gross domestic product per capita of more than $88,000…”

-According to the widely respected Human Development Index, Qatar has the highest 2012 human development in the Arab World.

-Rapid economic growth, great wealth, and a conservative culture that promotes inter-marriage between close relatives pose many health challenges. For example, Qatar “is one of the most obese nations in the world, with residents fatter, on average, than even those of the United States…[R]oughly half of adults and a third of children in Qatar are obese, and almost 17 percent of the native population suffers from diabetes. By comparison, about a third of Americans are obese, and eight percent are diabetic….[Qatar’s] neighboring energy-rich states…which also have conservative social traditions and have developed rapidly over the last five decades, face similar challenges” of obesity, diabetes, and genetic illnesses.

-Qatar has “invested heavily in its infrastructure to liquefy and export [natural gas], as well as to diversify its economy, without overreaching as much as nearby Dubai. Qatar has lured multinational financial firms to the country, as well as satellite campuses of U.S. universities. The government is pouring money into infrastructure, including a deepwater seaport, an airport and a railway network, all with an eye to making the country a better host for businesses…”

4. What precipitating event led Qatar to forge much closer military relations with the US?

-“In 1990, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait made it clear that Qatar…needed a strong foreign policy to protect itself from a fate similar to Kuwait. Its leaders began forming a number of strategic partnerships. Among others, [Qatar] forged close ties to the US. The nation now hosts several key US military bases.”

-“Although Qatar participated in the 1991 coalition to liberate Kuwait from Iraq, the regional presence of the United States was concentrated at the Prince Sultan airbase south of Riyadh [Saudi Arabia]. Qatar signed a defense cooperation agreement with the United States in 1992 which allowed for the prepositioning of defense equipment and access to military facilities and joint military exercises, but it was not until Sheikh Hamad took power in 1995 that the foundations were set for a changed foreign policy strategy of seeking a long-term hard-security arrangement to offset the geopolitical threats that were being faced. In 1996 work commenced on the construction of an airbase facility in Al Udaid, which was widely reported as costing Qatar over US$1 billion. The decision to devote the financing to the construction of the Al Udaid airbase underlines a strategic decision that was made to entice the positioning of a significant portion of US forces away from Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan airbase facility in order to provide security for Qatar….In several respects, a parallel could be drawn with the calculation made by the Qatari leadership in 1916, when they entered into a special treaty relationship which afforded protection under the British security umbrella.” (Held 2012, 303)

   “[I]t was only in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the United States, and the onset of the War on Terror grand strategic context, that the Al Udaid [airbase] facility [in Qatar] took on a greater importance. The United States’ relations with Saudi Arabia were under intense scrutiny after the attacks, given that the majority of the hijackers and bin Laden himself were of Saudi origin. The redeployment of US forces from Prince Sultan airbase [in Saudi Arabia] to Al Udaid also saw the facility become the location for the Headquarters of US Central Command; and the willingness of Qatar to facilitate the United States military was in marked contrast to the situation in Saudi Arabia. Overall, for Qatar the positioning of US forces on its territory was a strategic accomplishment, as it now enjoyed the protection of the US security umbrella against the geopolitical threats it had been susceptible to since the British military withdrawal from the Gulf in 1971.” (Held 2012, 304)

   In May 2017, al-Udaid hosts “over 10,000 US military personnel, including the entirety of the Air Force’s 379th Air Expeditionary Wing. And with the start of coalition operations against the Islamic State terrorist group over the past year, the kingdom has become a key command and control node for the air campaign being waged against the group by Washington and its political allies….[However,] While it has deepened its strategic partnership with the United States, the Gulf kingdom has also served as a key sponsor of a bevy of Islamist groups deeply hostile to US interests.”

   The “huge American military installations [are] tucked into the desert” and therefore largely invisible to the average person.

-“Overall, relations with Saudi Arabia and the United States demonstrates how Qatar sought to achieve security, firstly through entering into a hard-security arrangement with the United States, and then using this platform to normalize its relations with Saudi Arabia.” (Held 2012, 305)

   “Riyadh could probably overrun [Qatar] militarily in a day. Thus Qatar is determined to establish a strong network of international ties, enabling the country to rally international support to protect its independence against Saudi domination or expansionism….We should not forget that Saudi Arabia is the regional hegemon on the Peninsula. It has twice in two centuries seen Wahhabi religious forces sweep across the Peninsula all along the Gulf; it could quite conceivably seek to assert eventual strategic control over the entire Peninsula as part of Wahhabi/Saudi manifest destiny.”  (13 June 2017)

5. Why did Qatar permit the opening of an Israeli trade office in Doha in 1996?

-In order to support its “strategic objective of developing ties with the United States” an Israeli trade office in Doha was opened “in May 1996: a clear break with the long-standing collective position of the [Gulf Cooperation Council].” The trade office opening was followed by a visit by then prime minister Shimon Peres. (The trade office was closed due to tensions over Israel’s destructive 2008-09 Gaza conflict.) “On a contextual level, the invitation to US universities to relocate to Qatar’s Education City further enhanced bilateral relations.” (The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), is a political and economic union of Arabian states bordering the Persian Gulf, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.) (Held 2012, 303-4)

-Qatar’s pragmatic foreign policy can reflect some awkward balancing. “In 2006, for example, after Israel’s war in Lebanon, the Qatari emir spoke of Hezbollah’s ‘victory’ over the Israelis and provided millions of dollars to help rebuild four heavily bombed Hezbollah villages. Yet only a few months later Qatar invited Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to the Sixth International Conference on New or Restored Democracies — a UN-sponsored forum — leading to a caustic rebuke from Saudi Arabia. (Livni declined, but later gave the keynote speech at the 2008 Doha Forum on Democracy, Development, and Free Trade.)”

6. Is Qatar a dictatorship?

-Yes. For example, CBS News includes Qatar in its series, The world’s enduring dictators, and notes that “Like many of its neighbors, [Qatar] is accused of many human rights abuses when it comes to its foreign workers, like setting them up in squalid labor camps separate from society, confiscating their passports upon arrival, and giving them a general lack of rights. That said, Amnesty International reports only sporadic instances of torture and abuse by state security forces….‘While Qatar calls for democracy outside its borders, democracy here is provisional at best. While there are municipal elections, and women can vote in them, the country has a Parliament building but no Parliament — or any other political institution, for that matter — that can challenge the royal family’s grip on power.’” (June 7, 2011)

   “[P]ublic gatherings are strictly regulated and rarely occur.”

   “Both women and men vote in municipal elections, though representatives have limited power.”

-“Like most of its near neighbors, Qatar is a hereditary monarchy; it has been ruled by the same family since” the early 19th century. Virtually “all major decisions emanat[e] from the…office of the emir.” “There is no independent legislature and political parties are forbidden; civil society groups outside the state are virtually nonexistent. Qatar is also the only country other than Saudi Arabia to be dominated by the conservative Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam, and its legal system is based in part on Sharia law.”

   “[Q]atar’s version of Wahhabism is more relaxed [than Saudi Arabia’s]—still theologically austere but in practice more flexible, open to cinemas, some mixing of sexes; women drive cars and run for local offices, Christian churches are open, alcohol is available in some public places, and modern art galleries help contribute to a lively public life.”  (13 June 2017)

-“In June [2011] Qatar’s Advisory Council approved a new media law that allows for criminal penalties against journalists who write critically on ‘friendly countries’ or matters pertaining to national security, but arrests require a court order.”

7. What percentage of Qatar’s private sector workforce are non-citizens?

-99 percent.

-“Qatar has the highest ratio of migrants to citizens in the world, with only 225,000 citizens in a population of 1.7 million. Yet the country has some of the most restrictive sponsorship laws in the Persian Gulf region, leaving migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Forced labor and human trafficking remain serious problems.”

-“Unlike Saudi Arabia, where expatriate workers represent an increasingly prohibitive luxury given domestic un- and underemployment, the smaller sheikdoms cannot sustain their productive economies without importing labor that outnumbers their citizenries. As the Arab Spring begins to redefine the traditional social contract between ruler and ruled, the Gulf states will have to contend with the implications of these changes for their huge expatriate populations.” (Suzanne Maloney et al., The Arab Awakening: America and the Transformation of the Middle East, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C.: 2011, 183. Hereinafter referred to as, Maloney 2011.)

8. True or False: Unlike its neighbours Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Qatar did not experience any domestic protests during the Arab Spring.

-True. “[I]t seems clear that [the] Qatari emir, enjoys unusual popularity. Bahrain, just twenty-five miles to the northwest, has roiled with violence; the United Arab Emirates, to the southeast, has jailed activists calling for liberalization and reform; Saudi Arabia has witnessed the greatest protests in thirty years in its nearby Eastern Province. By contrast, the only time in recent memory Qataris have taken to the streets was [in December 2010] when the country improbably won its bid to host the 2022 World Cup…” It appears that young Qataris are more interested in their country’s “sudden emergence as a ‘country that matters,’…than in its becoming more democratic. [In fact,] The Arab Youth Survey…found that 88 percent of young Qataris thought their country was ‘going in the right direction.’”

-To prevent fall-out from the Arab Spring, early on Qatar “expanded zero-interest housing loans and…set aside funds for wage hikes for public employees.” (Maloney 2011, 184)

-“Al Jazeera has proved a useful foil in [keeping popular unrest muted in Qatar], rallying public interest around dramatic events in North Africa while being relatively more circumspect on developments that strike closer to home, in particular the Shi’i uprising and subsequent Saudi-backed repression in Bahrain….[Yet, to Doha’s credit,] the rather modest top-down reforms initiated…over the past decade appear to have been a more successful inoculation against popular pressure than Abu Dhabi’s dogged refusal to open space for meaningful political participation or discourse.” (Maloney 2011, 182)

-“Thanks in large part to their considerable wealth, high living standards, and tradition of quietism, [Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and the UAE did not experience] the full frontal onslaught of unrest and popular mobilization that has engulfed other parts of the Arab world, although Oman certainly had a taste.” (“In Oman…several pro-democracy activists were reportedly kidnapped and beaten, hundreds (at a minimum) have been arrested and detained, and thousands more have been violently dispersed from demonstrations by baton-wielding security forces.”) “Nevertheless, all of the countries share some of the same vulnerabilities that have sparked dissatisfaction elsewhere in the region – disproportionately young populations with widespread access to communications technology and, in at least some cases, an increasing sense of discontent with the prevailing social compact primarily as a result of the lack of employment opportunities….Not surprisingly, given its relatively limited oil wealth and correspondingly more modest economy, Oman’s unrest was focused on economic grievances at least as much as on political ones.” (Maloney 2011, 180-1, 185)

9. Was Qatar an early supporter of the 2011 Libyan revolt?

-“In March [2011] Qatar was among the first countries to recognize Libya’s National Transitional Council, and was the first Arab country to contribute to NATO’s enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya.”

-“[Q]atar’s enthusiasm for the Libyan revolt had been on display from the outset. The emirate was instrumental in securing the support of the Arab League for the NATO intervention…, contributing its own military aircraft to the mission. It also gave $400 million to the rebels, helped them market Libyan oil out of Benghazi, and set up a TV station for them in [Qatar]….Not only did Qatar arm the rebels and set up training camps for them…its own special forces—a hitherto unknown contingent—helped lead the August offensive on the capital. (Although Qatar’s military is one of the smallest in the Middle East, with just over 11,000 men, its special forces were trained by the French and other Western countries and appear to possess considerable skill.)”

10. Which was the first Gulf nation to close its embassy in Damascus after the Syrian uprising began in early 2011?

-In July 2011, “despite Qatar’s good relations with the Assad regime before the Syrian uprising began, it became the first Gulf nation to close its embassy in Damascus.”

-One “important dimension of Qatar’s religious politics is that it has built a strong identity of interest with the ruling Turkish AK (Justice and Development) Party, which has itself also developed strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. One perceives the Turkish-Qatari alliance most prominently in Syria, where the Qataris and Turks are backing the same groups opposing the Assad regime. Most of these are allegedly affiliated with the Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia has been particularly annoyed by this development and it is now backing Salafi factions in Syria from across the borders of Lebanon and Jordan.” (Feb. 2013)

11. What was the critical objective of Qatari foreign policy concerning Hamas?

-An important foreign policy success for Qatar was its “ability to detach Hamas’s leadership from its alliance with Syria and Iran. Qatar had cultivated Khalid Meshal, the leader of Hamas, for some time before the Arab Spring, as part of its policy of mediation in Arab and Islamic disputes, which it has been pursuing, with varied success, since the early 2000s.” (Feb. 2013)

-“[A]lthough Qatar contains the principal overseas headquarters of the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) and was a key staging ground for the [2003] invasion of Iraq, it has also given support to Hamas and other militant groups [against US and Israeli objections].”

-The Syrian uprising, with its increasing sectarian overtones, greatly complicated (Sunni) Hamas’ relationship with (Shiite) Iran. Qatar’s ties to Hamas were only strengthened as a result of this complication. “Qatar stepped in to provide Hamas with money and arms once Iran reduced support for Hamas. Qatar’s influence over Hamas also increased after Khaled Mashaal moved to Doha in 2012….In October 2012, Sheikh Hamad became the first head of state to visit Gaza since Hamas took control in 2007. He pledged $400 million to build homes and rehabilitate roads.”

12. True or False: The Taliban has an office in Qatar.

-True. Since 2010, Qatar has helped organize meetings between Western officials and representatives of the Taliban. In fact, the Taliban opened an office in Doha in June 2013. (At this “de-facto embassy for the Taliban,” US diplomats meet with Taliban officials.)

13. What are Qatar’s motives for its dynamic role in regional affairs in recent years?

-Due to the highly personalized rule of Sheikh Hamad (who handed over power to his son in 2013), “the country’s foreign policy has an idiosyncratic and unpredictable quality. The emir should not be seen as firmly adhering to any particular religious or political ideology. He is driven by the motivation to secure his dynasty’s rule and the independence and autonomy of his tiny, but very rich country. Much larger and politically aggressive countries, such as Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, surround Qatar and the emir has to accommodate the military presence of the U.S. in the Gulf, which provides Qatar and the other Gulf Co-operation Council countries with protection from both Iran and eventually a resurgent, Shia-dominated Iraq. Qatar has had a long history of contending with imperial and regional hegemons, and this has made its rulers non-ideological and practical in their outlook and in the policies they pursue. But unlike its smaller neighbours, such as the United Arab Emirates or Kuwait, for example, Qatar has chosen a hyperactive style of diplomacy and foreign policy, acting as a mediator and financial supporter whenever and wherever possible in an attempt to make itself valuable to all sides. Qatar’s success overseas, moreover, translates domestically into greater popularity and legitimacy for the ruler and his family: success abroad has made the regime more popular at home. And when it comes to foreign affairs, rarely has Qatar adopted a position from which it cannot reverse direction.” (Feb. 2013)

-“By taking the lead in” promoting the Arab Spring in Libya and other states, “the emirate has not merely put itself on the side of revolutionaries…it has also allowed Qatar and other Gulf states that have followed suit to show they are responsible members of the international community, while deflecting attention from the Gulf itself. For Qatar, at least, promoting democracy abroad and investing lavishly in a comparatively young population at home have allowed the emir to stay ahead of the changes sweeping through the region, all the while strengthening his hold on power.”

-One factor that has permitted a more dynamic foreign policy is that “Qatar suffered from budget deficits from the mid-1980s until 2000. [Thus after 2000,] surplus wealth has allowed the country to engage in mediation, and also use ‘dollar-diplomacy’ as a foreign policy tool. This method was notably employed by Qatar in order to broker the Doha agreement on Lebanon in 2008. Further motivating factors…are the idiosyncratic motivations towards [regional] causes by Qatar’s elite decision-makers. It is clear the [former] Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has aspirations for Qatar to be not only a key regional actor, but also a prominent player on the international stage…, and he has also shown a great personal commitment towards the cause of the Palestinians, among others. The regional leadership role Qatar wished to take over the Israeli-Gaza conflict in January 2009 is a clear example of the deep commitment felt towards the Palestinian cause by elite decision-makers. Qatar’s engagement with and support of such causes is a clear expression of its autonomy; the challenge in Qatari diplomacy is therefore to balance the expression of autonomy against its cooperative relationship with the United States.” (Held 2012, 309)

-Qatar clearly used the Arab Spring to advance its ambitious foreign policy agenda and enhance its prominence on the regional stage. “‘A historical wave was unfolding across the Arab world, and…Qatar sought to position itself at the crest of the wave,’…[Yet by mid-2013,] Saudi Arabia appears to be retaking the point position for regional affairs. Immediately after the military coup in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates announced $8 billion of aid to Cairo. [And,] Saudi Arabia is quickly becoming the Arab lead for dealing with the Syrian opposition….Many Qataris now say that while they support their government’s policy abroad, they’d also be pleased to see some of those resources invested into their own infrastructure.”

-“Qatar underlines the potency of generational change on policies and outlooks; given the hereditary structure of government, and the manner in which decisions are typically formulated by a small number of elites, it is understandable that when succession of a leader takes place, a new agenda will be initiated which can markedly differ from that of its predecessor.” (Held 2012, 310)

14. True or False: Qatar has supported the Muslim Brotherhood but Saudi Arabia has not.

-True and false. “The Qataris, like the Saudis, welcomed members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were persecuted by the nationalist and socialist regimes of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt from the mid-1950s onwards and later by the Baath regime in Syria from the late 1970s (culminating in the massacre at Hama in 1982). Many of the Muslim Brothers became teachers and public servants in the religious institutions of both host states. [The Muslim Brotherhood was anti-communist and anti–Arab nationalist: two threats to the Saudi Royal family.] The Saudis, however, broke their ties to the Brotherhood after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait when [the Brotherhood] sided with Saddam Hussein. The Saudis also never forgave the Brotherhood for politicising their youth, who became radicalised against the regime in Riyadh in the 1990s, culminating in al-Qaeda’s attacks against the regime.” (Feb. 2013)

-“The Muslim Brotherhood, with its long-established networks and affiliates throughout the world, provides Qatar with considerable influence – the Brotherhood is a force multiplier. And unlike Saudi Arabia, which has assiduously built up its own network of Salafis since the 1930s, the Qataris have obtained their network at relatively little cost and effort.” (Feb. 2013)

-Before the June 2012 Egyptian elections that led to Morsi being elected president, the Brotherhood in Egypt “received no real aid from US allies Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, or Kuwait, but only from Qatar.” (July 28, 2013)

-“Qatar is ruled by an emir who has been very adept at using Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, to promote his country’s interests and bolster his own domestic legitimacy. The success of this policy has materialised in the coming to power of Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt, and in Qatar’s ability to turn the Palestinian Islamist organisation Hamas away from Syria and Iran. [As addressed below, the Egyptian military removed the Brotherhood from power in July 2013. In 2014 Ennahdha, the moderate Islamic political party in Tunisia, became the junior member in a coalition government with the main secular party.] The influence of Islamism within Qatari society and politics has been very limited, however, which highlights the pragmatic and instrumental use of this ideology and movement by the regime in Doha in the pursuit of regime survival.” “[I]t is certain that some members of the royal family are Islamist in orientation and deeply religious….[H]owever, these members of the family have been sidelined politically and are not allowed to manage the relationship with the Islamists. This illustrates the general observation that Qatar is ruled by non-ideologically driven policies, i.e. by pragmatic ones. This underscores that Qatar might one day abandon the Islamists and Islamism if the cost of patronising them become too burdensome.” (Feb. 2013)

-The “Islamist Muslim Brotherhood…does not subscribe to Qatar’s traditional interpretation of Islam. The Brotherhood is a vanguard political movement with a popular mass base of support, and its members seek to rule in the name of Islam, which they describe as a comprehensive ideological and social system. By contrast, Qatar officially subscribes to Wahhabism and adheres to the Hanbali school of law, which insists on the political obedience of subjects to their ruler, who is effectively a monarch. Put differently, the Muslim Brotherhood is an activist and anti-Western political movement ultimately seeking to topple secular nationalist regimes, and it is not particularly in favour of monarchical systems of rule, especially those that are in close economic and military alliance with the West. Not only is Qatar allied closely to the U.S., but its version of Islam does not tolerate political activism of any kind unless it is controlled and sanctioned by the ruler. This is one of the many contradictions of the Qatari political situation and policies, but it appears not to bother the emir at all.” (Feb. 2013)

-“The Saudis, already rulers of the most important state in the Muslim world in their opinion, seem not to have a particular state-building ambition in their financing of rebels. They are viscerally against the Muslim Brotherhood, fearing an Arab Spring in their own country. Qatar, on the other hand, which has historically had ambiguous if not tense relations with Saudi Arabia, is the main source of funding for the Brotherhood and has been working to put a branch of the Brotherhood into power in Syria. The ambition seems to be a pan-Sunni alliance stretching from Turkey to Egypt, to some degree reuniting or at least defragmenting the Arab-Muslim world.” (July 28, 2013)

   There is a struggle over Islam but “it’s not about Shi’ite vs Sunni….[Q]atar essentially perceives the Muslim Brotherhood as a key representative of  the future of moderate political Islam in the region. Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood is a relatively modern Islamist movement. It is essentially non-violent, is not jihadi, avoids Sunni-Shi’ite sectarianism, and accepts the principles of democratic politics and political parties; it has modernist and traditionalist wings. Yet reading the US MSM [mainstream media] you’d scarcely hear of any of this, since Israel does not like the Brotherhood.”

   “There is much realism in Qatar’s view…[as] political Islam is not going away anytime soon. It is too deeply imbedded in Muslim culture not to have impact on political thinking. The key question is what form it will take and the lessons it will draw from today’s world. Unfortunately, Western liberalism has only shallow roots in the Muslim world.”

   “Qatar was sympathetic to the Arab Spring which Saudi Arabia and the UAE abhorred. The mildly Islamist AKP government in Turkey shares a similar sympathy for the Brotherhood. Their hope was that if the Asad regime in Syria had been overthrown, the Brotherhood, as a member of the Syrian opposition over long decades, might well have come to the fore. Yet far more radical and violent movements like al-Qaeda and ISIS instead gained the military upper hand in the Syrian chaos.”

   “Iran, interestingly, is also sympathetic to the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood as a relatively progressive political force for change in the region.”  (13 June 2017)

-On July 2, 2013, the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood continued in the United Arab Emirates, “which sentenced 64 Brotherhood leaders to jail for seeking to overthrow the regime. And on July 3, Morsi was deposed in Egypt. On July 6, a Saudi agent, Ahmed Assi al-Jarba, was elected to lead the Syrian National Coalition, wresting power from the Brotherhood. On July 8, Ghassan Hitto, the Prime Minister of the Syrian ‘interim government’ formed by the Coalition, an agent of Qatar and the Brotherhood, resigned. The Muslim Brotherhood is clearly out of favor with the imperialists.” (July 28, 2013)

-In June 2017, “Arab nations including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of destabilising the region with its support for Islamist groups. The countries said they would halt all land, air and sea traffic with Qatar, eject its diplomats and order Qatari citizens to leave the Gulf states…[Qatar] was also expelled from a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.”

   “The coordinated move dramatically escalates a dispute over Qatar’s support of Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood [and Hamas], and its perceived tolerance of Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, Iran.” (“Western officials have also accused Qatar of allowing or even encouraging funding of Sunni extremists such as al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, once known as the Nusra Front.”)

   “The Saudi’s chief worry is the Muslim Brotherhood, the transnational Sunni Islamist political movement outlawed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which [represents] a threat to their system of hereditary rule.”

   “In a sign of Qatar’s growing isolation, Yemen’s internationally backed government – which no longer holds its capital and large portions of the country – joined the move to break relations, as did the Maldives and the government based in eastern Libya.”

   “Emboldened by renewed US support [manifested by Trump’s support of major arms sales and call to build an alliance against Iran], Riyadh has moved quickly to demand its partners align their agendas [with Saudi Arabia’s]….[Nevertheless,] The US military said it had ‘no plans to change our posture in Qatar’…Qatar is home to the sprawling al-Udeid airbase…”

   In 2014 “Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia fell out with Qatar over its backing of the former Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood member…[However, within a year,] Diplomatic relations resumed…when Qatar forced some Brotherhood members to leave the country and quieted others but the 2014 crisis did not involve a land and sea blockade, as is threatened now.”

   Some analysts question whether the sanctions are truly motivated by Qatar’s relationship to Iran or support for the Muslim Brotherhood because “the most significant demand had nothing to do with [these]: it was to close down the al-Jazeera media network. This has been eagerly sought by many Arab states, first and foremost Saudi Arabia, ever since the original news channel launched in 1996. Al-Jazeera transformed the Arab media from a natural extension of the intelligence and security agencies to an independent sector whose values were transparency, accountability and democracy. This is exactly what so many Arab regimes fear.”

15. Did Qatar support the Egyptian military coup that overthrew President Morsi in July 2013?

-Yes. The Emir of Qatar congratulated the new Egyptian government. (Likewise, the Saudi royal family supported the new government. In contrast, Tunisia and Turkey condemned the coup d’état.)

-Saudi Arabia has been very supportive of the Egyptian military’s July 2013 coup against the Muslim Brotherhood, and “asked the West not to put pressure on General el-Sissi to stop it….Just days after Morsi was overthrown, Egypt’s new leaders received a $12 billion aid package from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, and gas shortages that had been plaguing Morsi’s Egypt for months were suddenly eliminated.” (Aug. 19, 2013)

-When protests began in the Middle East in late 2010, “the heir apparent to crumbling Middle Eastern dictatorships seemed to Qataris to be conservative Islamists. The election of Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s first freely contested election [in June 2012] seemed a clear signal and Qatar went on to provide $8 billion in assistance to the Egyptian government. But Morsi’s ouster and the subsequent demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood in [July 2013] have forced the Qataris to reconsider their revolutionary investments. It’s unlikely that Qatar will scale back its foreign commitments, but amid the ever-shifting Arab political landscape, it’s become apparent that the Persian Gulf nation must reassess its strategy if it’s to remain relevant….Qatar’s strategy of backing conservative groups has put it increasingly at odds with many regional and Western players. In Egypt, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood proved incapable of effectively managing the government and addressing the nation’s economic problems. In Syria, the proliferation of conservative groups fueled the rise of Al Qaeda-linked fighting units. The decision to back such factions was less ideological than it was pragmatic. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood seemed to have momentum and a politically viable future in Egypt and Syria….[However,] Already, Qataris have begun shifting their foreign policy strategy. Despite its strong support of the Morsi government, Qatari officials were quick to welcome the coup.”

16. True or False: The US has supported the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic fundamentalist groups.

-True. The US’s support of Islamic fundamentalist groups “stems largely from the Cold War era. Back then America saw the world in rather simple terms: on one side the Soviet Union and Third World nationalism, which America regarded as a Soviet tool; on the other side Western nations and militant political Islam, which America considered an ally in the struggle against the Soviet Union….The CIA used the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a barrier both to Soviet expansion and to the spread of Marxist ideology among the Arab masses. The United States also openly supported the Sarekat Islam against Sukarno in Indonesia and the Jamaat-e-Islami against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Pakistan. Last but certainly not least there is Al-Qaeda….Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook admitted that ‘Al-Qaeda…was originally the computer file of the thousands of Mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.’…Depending on whether a terrorist group in a given region furthers American interests or not, the State Department either funds or aggressively targets that terrorist group, typically with drones.” (Likewise Israel, for over two decades after the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, supported the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot Hamas in Gaza as a counterweight to the nationalist PLO.) (April 2013)

-The US has a long history of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. For example, since 2011 “the US was working closely with Islamists of various stripes throughout the Arab world, in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt as well as with its allies in the Gulf. Ennahda in Tunisia and the Brotherhood in Egypt were the US choices for taking power after the revolutions. Ennahda was well-known at the US embassy in Tunis during the period just after the revolution, and the US support for the Brotherhood in Egypt was long-standing. These conservative religious parties were most well-organized, were open to economic liberalism, and shared a common enemy with the US: the secular Left working toward a sovereign development project. The West worked together with Islamists to overthrow Gaddafi – one of the sole leaders in the region who did have a sovereign development project based in national and not foreign interests – and subsequently helped ship them over to Syria to attempt a rerun there. Islamist fighters of various degrees of extremism poured in to Syria from across the globe, largely financed by US allies in the Gulf.” (July 28, 2013)

-“It seems that, typically, the US considered only its short-term interests as it unleashed the Islamists against Assad, not considering what might happen if they became something more than just the easily manipulable foot-soldiers of imperialism.” (July 28, 2013)

17. True or False: Qatar’s prime minister told President Mubarak that Al-Jazeera would stop broadcasts in Egypt for a year if he agreed to deliver a settlement for the Palestinians.

-True. Al Jazeera’s growing influence has enabled it to become “a powerful element in Qatar’s foreign policy. In cables from 2009 released by WikiLeaks, the US embassy in Doha reported that Qatar–Saudi relations had improved as a result of ‘toned down criticism of the Saudi royal family on al-Jazeera,’ and that Qatar’s prime minister told Mubarak, ‘we would stop al-Jazeera for a year [in Egypt] if he agreed in that span of time to deliver a lasting settlement for the Palestinians.’ (He declined the offer.)”

-While Al-Jazeera insists that it is independent from Qatar’s government (which owns the satellite television news network), “‘after…all that has happened—the [second] intifada, September 11, bin Laden, Iraq, and now all these revolutions—in general there are now lots of similarities’ between what Al Jazeera covers and Qatari foreign policy….In Tunisia and Egypt, no Internet and broadcast medium did more to spread the cause of popular protest than Al Jazeera…WikiLeaks released a US State Department cable showing the extent to which Qatar’s tentacular involvement in regional politics had managed to irritate Mubarak…”

-According to WikiLeaks, the US ambassador to Qatar from 2008-2011, “Joseph LeBaron, reported that…‘Despite GOQ [government of Qatar] protestations to the contrary, al-Jazeera remains one of Qatar’s most valuable political and diplomatic tools.…The Qatari government claims to champion press freedom elsewhere, but generally does not tolerate it at home,’…”

-“When Sheikh Hamad founded Al Jazeera in 1996 with a grant of $140 million, its main innovation, according to longtime staff members and observers, was simply its ability to cover breaking news in Arabic with something approaching Western standards of independence….Over its first decade, the organization made a name for itself with provocative coverage of September 11, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Its frequent airing of statements by Osama bin Laden and its unparalleled access to militants raised frequent accusations that it had an anti-American bias….[F]or viewers in the Middle East, Al Jazeera’s credibility came from its willingness to test the boundaries of what could be reported—and above all from its uncanny ability to capture the prevailing mood of the street.”

-In the early 2000s, “nearly every country in the Arab League had formally protested unfavorable coverage on Al Jazeera, and no fewer than six—Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco—had at some point withdrawn their ambassadors to Doha.”

-Al Jazeera, the most watched satellite television station in the Middle East, has “played a crucial role in eroding the region’s long-standing strictures on public debate….Its reach and impact, however, have often surpassed the government’s intentions or control, unleashing public passions on sensitive issues such as Iraq…and ultimately contributing very directly to the changes that have unfolded across the region…” (Maloney 2011, 179)

-Qatar’s “control over the dominant media player in the Middle East, coupled with its reputation for unfettered broadcasting, can prove to be a powerful political weapon in shaping domestic attitudes within the societies of Middle Eastern states. Such unfettered broadcasting is a powerful tool, and this has been underlined by the establishment, in 2003, of Al Arabiya, which is a Dubai-based satellite news broadcaster. It is largely owned by Lebanon’s Hariri group, with investors from Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, and so is a direct competitor to Al Jazeera. This, in itself, underlines the shifting boundaries between domestic and external spheres that Qatar has brought to the Gulf region.” (Held 2012, 306-7)

18. True or False: Al Jazeera’s coverage of the uprising in Bahrain was markedly different in its English- and Arabic-language services.

-True. “Al Jazeera’s English-language service, which was started in 2006, has been praised in the West for its aggressive and comprehensive reporting on the [Arab Spring] revolts—even [the revolts] in the Gulf.…In July [2011], the network produced Shouting in the Dark, a fifty-minute documentary about the uprising in Bahrain whose blunt examination of the crackdown caused the Bahraini government to lodge a formal protest with Qatar. Yet unlike Al Jazeera’s Arabic service (which did not show the documentary), Al Jazeera English is not watched by tens of millions of Arab viewers in the Middle East; its audience is predominantly elite, Western, and international—people who do not pose a direct threat to Qatari or regional stability.”

   During the Arab Spring “uprisings, observers in the Middle East noted that Al Jazeera’s Arabic service skirted over the protests in eastern Saudi Arabia and was initially slow to report on the revolt in Syria, which had been a Qatari ally. Above all, it seemed to ignore the violent repression in Bahrain…. ‘People are being shot in the streets. And the Qataris were not showing it.’”

   In contrast to its response to other Middle Eastern protests, “Qatar appears to have a decidedly different approach toward popular revolt in its own neighborhood. When Iranian security forces were condemned internationally for attacking protesters after the disputed 2009 election, the Qatari prime minister asserted that it was an ‘internal matter’ and that ‘we must respect the right of each state to solve its own problems.’ In March [2011], as Bahrain began its violent repression of protesters in Manama’s Pearl Square, Qatar supported the controversial military intervention led by Saudi Arabia to prop up the regime.” In fact, “Qatar sent troops to Bahrain as part of the [Gulf Co-operation Council] force organized to assist [Bahrain] in ending the” 2011 pro-democracy protests largely by the country’s Shi’i majority. ;

-“For decades, Qatar has been the home in exile for the prominent Egyptian Sunni cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has deep connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. Although his strident views on Israel have drawn controversy in the West, he is considered a moderate Islamist by many Arabs, and an Al Jazeera talk show on which he often appears, Sharia and Life, is watched widely across the Middle East. Sheikh Qaradawi’s support for the revolts in North Africa and the Levant has spread the message of popular uprising to his tens of millions of devout followers. Just a week after Saudi and other Gulf forces crossed into Bahrain, however, he declared that ‘there is no people’s revolution in Bahrain but a sectarian one,’ referring to the Shia majority who took a leading part in the uprising, thus giving religious backing to the crackdown and Qatar’s apparent endorsement of it.”

   After the July 2013 Egyptian military coup, “all the senior [Brotherhood] leaders in Egypt and much of the midlevel rank and file were in jail, soon to be condemned to long prison terms. Those who’d escaped [often to Turkey or Qatar] were all traumatized. Almost overnight they had gone from the summit of power to the status of a terrorist group….The ones in Qatar had often been allowed into the country via agreements with al Jazeera that kept them appearing on-screen day after day as ‘experts’ on Egypt’s political crisis. They knew they were valued only as pawns of Qatar’s old disputes with its Gulf neighbors. They would repeat the points they knew they were expected to make: that there were vast demonstrations every day in Egypt, that Sisi had no support and would soon be overthrown. None of it was true.” (Robert F. Worth, A Rage For Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, from Tahrir Square to ISIS, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York: 2016, 167.)

-While Al Jazeera has covered issues “unpalatable to several governments…in the region” it has “suffered from criticisms that it seldom covers domestic issues within the Qatari state”. Nevertheless, “Al Jazeera has ushered in a new era of free (or freer) speech to the region.” (Held 2012, 305)

   “US allegations of manipulation of al-Jazeera’s content for political ends also contradict Qatar’s claim to support a free press. ‘The Qatari government claims to champion press freedom elsewhere, but generally does not tolerate it at home,’ the US embassy said after the French director of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom resigned in June 2009, citing restrictions on the centre’s freedom to operate.”

-“Qatar has done a better job of managing the energies of the Brotherhood and channelling these towards the outside world. One way it has done this is to have given the Brotherhood media outlets with which to propagate its ideas. The most successful user of these outlets has been Sheikh al-Qaradawi, who became extremely prominent throughout the Arab world and beyond after the mid-1990s with his [Al Jazeera] fatwa show…From his pulpit, al-Qaradawi has promulgated reformist Islamic teachings and has also intervened in the politics of the Arab world…He has, however, never commented on domestic Qatari politics. Since the start of the Arab Spring uprisings al-Qaradawi has been vociferous in his support of Qatar’s policies towards the various peoples in rebellion…and here the position of the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar are in complete harmony. Significantly, however, al-Qaradawi has also adhered to Qatar’s unequivocal support of the minority Sunni regime in Bahrain and adopted a strong anti-Shia posture, in flagrant contradiction to the ecumenical and tolerant views of the Shia that he had been promoting for decades.” (Feb. 2013)

-The cable network, Al Jazeera America, was launched in August 2013 and terminated in 2016. “Globally, Al Jazeera is seen in more than 260 million homes in 130 countries. But the…US channel funded by the emir of Qatar ha[d] difficulty getting distributors, in part because Al Jazeera was perceived by some as being anti-American during the Iraq war.”


Jeffrey Rudolph was the Quebec representative of the East Timor Alert Network and presented a paper on its behalf at the United Nations. He was awarded the prestigious Cheryl Rosa Teresa Doran Prize upon graduation from McGill University’s faculty of law; has worked at one of the world’s largest public accounting firms; and, has taught at McGill University. He has prepared widely-distributed quizzes on Israel-Palestine, Iran, Hamas, Terrorism, Saudi Arabia, US Inequality, the US Christian Right, Hezbollah, the Israeli Ultra-Orthodox, Qatar, and China. These quizzes are available at:

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