Qatar should support pilgrims, not terrorists

As an oil-rich country with high per capita gross domestic product, Qatar should be able to do a great deal for its citizens. 

But rather than turning this small nation of a quarter-million people into the Monaco of the Gulf by using its vast wealth to benefit all those who live there, Qatar has instead been using its billions to directly fund terror groups throughout the region. The nation is bankrolling the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and al Nusra Front and is widely known to support the radical Islamist opposition in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and the Shiite opposition in Bahrain.

That support and the Gulf nation's tense relations with Saudi Arabia, which broke off diplomatic ties with Qatar in June over its backing for those would-be violent Saudi opponents, made it all but impossible for many Qataris to participate in this year's Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim is expected to perform at least once in a lifetime. (This year's Hajj was Aug. 30 to Sept. 4.) Qatar Airways, the large Gulf air carrier, is prohibited from flying into Saudi Arabia altogether, boycotted by the region's richest economy and most influential royal family, as well as by Gulf Cooperation Council members Bahrain and the UAE.

The Qatari regime has been busy trying to exploit the situation by falsely claiming it is they who are under siege.


However, thanks to Qatari Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al-Thani - whose brother, Qatari Emir Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani, was deposed in 1972 - all Qataris who wish to fulfill their religious obligation and participate in this year's Hajj will now be able to do so without any difficulty. 

Not only is Saudi Arabia opening it land borders to all Qataris, but it also will transport Qatar's many pilgrims via private jets and at its own cost. (Incredibly, the Qatari regime has rejected this generous offer and refused entry of Saudi private jets at Doha Airport.)

It took just one man to get the Saudis to change their minds. Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani visited Saudi Arabia and used his great personal reputation and standing in the Arab Muslim world to sit with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud and persuade the king that allowing all Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation should take priority over political difficulties. He argued that relations between the two neighboring Gulf nations should not be affected because of the foolishness of the one.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa noted how unusual this step was. "The facilitation of Qatari Hajj pilgrims ordered by King Salman [has] never been done before for any Islamic country and even under regular circumstances," he said Aug. 17 on Twitter.

Yet why was it that Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani, someone outside the official government, was the one able to accomplish something that the Qatari government should have been doing?

Why was it Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani who announced a few days ago a phone number of his own for any Qataris having trouble making pilgrimage to call and the good sheikh would ensure their free and easy passage? Where is the government in all this? 

Rather than directly supporting terrorism and opposition forces at every turn, a strong Qatari government should be taking aggressive steps to ensure good relations with its neighbors, and that its citizens be able to meet their religious obligations with ease and comfort. Instead, this failed state is unable to fend for itself, wasting not only its natural gas wealth on destabilizing the region, but also squandering its political capital. 

Praise Allah for a man like Abdullah Bin Ali Al Thani. This sheikh is a son, a brother and a grandson of previous Qatari rulers. He is also a very prominent personality, highly regarded both in Qatar and in the entire Gulf region. And widely seen as the wise and prudent man he is.

And now rather than using that status to enrich himself further, he has used it to allow his fellow Qataris to make an important pilgrimage of a lifetime they may well have been able to make another year. And rather than follow his righteous lead, what kind of nation becomes a pariah state in only a very few years, blockaded not only by the Saudis but also by the Emiratis, Bahrainis and even the Egyptians? Why are so many Qataris afraid to identify themselves as from this once-wonderful land when traveling outside it?

It is a sad day for a country with such a noble history as Qatar to be governed so meekly and incompetently as the Qatari government is now.

I am confident this shameful kingdom one day soon will transition from the failed monarchy that it is today to a constitutional monarchy that will be held up for world acclaim, that might be led by the likes of an Abdullah Bin Ali Al Thani.

One can hope.

Khalid al-Hail is a Qatari businessman and philanthropist and leader of the political opposition. He heads the Qatari Youth Rescue movement, which he helped found, bringing together hundreds of reformists residing in Qatar and abroad. He is also organizing a Qatari Democratic Party in London, where he currently lives in exile.

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