International Affairs

Why Qatar Is a problem for Washington

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As a small peninsula adjacent to Saudi Arabia, Qatar more than makes up for its size with its enormous wealth of natural gas. With a population barely exceeding 250,000 citizens, this country remains replete with controversy on many levels, especially in the domestic political level and the level of financing terrorism regionally. This controversy has recently reached a boiling point, due to Qatar’s chronic support of regional and international terrorism.

Neighbouring countries have responded by cutting all diplomatic ties with Qatar, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Yemen, Mauritania and Maldives with more countries likely to follow. 

{mosads}This small state has experienced 5 political coups in 50 years, at a rate of one coup every ten years. The conflicts between the Al-Thani family and their coups have become an indelible part of their internal political philosophy. Qatar’s serious problem began ever since Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani deposed his father in 1994.


This overthrower is the father of the current ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. Qatar has not only been trying to break the spell of impending coups and internal political strife, but it is also trying to export this practice to the neighboring countries of the region. This, in their opinion, will create a stronger standing for Qatar, as well as a means of gaining influence that will afford the Qatari political house greater leverage.

Qatar betted on the success of the Islamists in the Arab world, subsequently providing unequivocal support to the Muslim Brotherhood, as the Brotherhood constituted the largest Islamist political movement in recent memory. In the 1990s, the Arab political media was as weak as it was absent. Doha took this lack of media presence as an opportunity to launch the Al-Jazeera channel, working intensively to market it as a platform of support for the people, when it is in fact exclusively supportive of revolutions and political upheaval in order to replace the Arab rulers with Islamist rulers, especially ones from the Brotherhood.

The channel also happened to be the first platform for the dissemination of Al-Qaeda’s videos, from terrorist operations to speeches of Al-Qaeda leaders, led by Osama bin Laden. The channel has fueled popular Arab opinion against America, aggressively criticizing Saudi Arabia for allowing the presence of the U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia, which also worked towards Qatar’s goal of fueling Muslim sentiment against Saudi Arabia by claiming that Riyadh betrayed the Islamic nation by allowing a U.S. military presence in the region.

When the U.S. military bases shut down in Saudi, Qatar persuaded the Americans to set up their bases in Qatar. Since then, Qatar has been increasing the pace of support for Islamists and non-state actors in the region. As such, Qatar marketed itself to the Americans as a mediator between America and these organizations. What makes this especially strange is that Qatar, after having the American bases moved to it, worked via soft power towards demonizing America to the Arab public. Qatar was somehow treated as if it were a U.S. state with the right to freedom of expression, even though the country has sentenced a former citizen to life imprisonment for a poem criticizing the leader of Qatar.

At the moment, after the failure of Qatar’s scheme in Egypt following the downfall of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, Qatar continued to provide direct support to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and to armed groups in the Sinai , as well as Hamas. It is also known that Qatar supports the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front in Syria, which Qatar does not classify as a terrorist organization. Qatar also tried to market the organization after it changed its name to “JFS”, hosting its leader on Al-Jazeera. With Qatar’s support for this dangerous faction, U.S. efforts to unite the moderate opposition in Syria have been stifled.

In Libya, Qatar has provided substantial financial and propaganda support to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Fajr militias, which in turn have thwarted all political efforts to find a solution in Libya.

The Obama administration has previously expressed concern through the U.S. Treasury and other U.S. institutions regarding the financing of terrorism in Qatar. In fact, the former Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen expressed that Qatar’s private funding networks “increasingly rely upon social media to solicit donations for terrorists and to communicate with both donors and recipient radicals on the battlefield”, making the country “such a permissive terrorist financing environment”. Republican Senator Mark Kirk also petitioned former Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew with a letter that expressed serious concern regarding “Qatar’s permissive environment for terrorist financing”.

It is clear that the current U.S. administration has a consistent attitude towards non-state actors and militias. This is in stark contrast to the Obama administration, which has failed to confront any radical organization that is sponsored by either Qatar or Iran. 

We need to be patient and see how Washington will deal with Qatar. The idea that U.S. aircraft will operate from the Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar to directly bomb Al-Qaeda, a terrorist organization that is still being supported by Qatar, is quite puzzling. The coming days will reveal just how much pressure Washington will exert upon Doha.

Salman Al-Ansari is the founder and president of the Washington, DC-based Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC). You can find him on Twitter at @Salansar1.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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