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Posted On: 14 August 2014 01:09 pm
Updated On: 12 November 2020 01:52 pm

Qatar is a pint-sized powerhouse with 14% of the world’s known reserves of natural gas - and a stake in Britain

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For a small Gulf statelet, Qatar punches well above its weight in the complex politics of the Middle East.

The country’s control of an estimated 14 per cent of the world’s known reserves of natural gas has bought it a seat at the very highest levels in global diplomacy.

The way in which Qatar allegedly bribed and cajoled its way into hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022 is well documented, but so far has done little to force a change of heart at the highest level of football.


Similarly, the country’s quixotic foreign policy has so far failed to dislodge its special relationship with the Western democracies.

Qatar’s young ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who displaced his father a year ago, has thrust himself into the vortex of Israel’s struggle against Hamas.

Qatar manages the remarkable feat of being a diplomatic and military ally of the United States while being the only Gulf state to be an open supporter of Hamas.

Despite the state’s uncomfortable embrace of extremist movements in the Middle East, its love of Western trophy assets remains undiminished.

Early this month it swooped upon the Paris-based Le Grand hotel, paying Britain’s InterContinental Hotel group £264million.

Constellation Holdings, part of Qatar Holdings, bought the InterContinental in Park Lane for £400million last year.

In the Syrian civil war, Qatar was an early a supporter of the rebels fighting against President Assad’s regime, who latterly have transformed themselves into the ISIS forces that have torn into Iraq.

Qatar’s role as a supporter of rebel movements is all the more remarkable given the US’s war on terror that has been in place since the 9/11 atrocities in 2001, and the global effort by the Americans to impose sanctions on all those who deal with terrorist organisations.

The rulers of Qatar won the confidence of Nato and the Western allies in the first Iraq war of 1999-2000 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and in the American-led 2003 invasion of the country when the West prepositioned its troops and munitions in Qatar.

The Americans still maintain a presence in the country at the Al Udeid Air Base west of Doha.

The country has also won friends in diplomatic circles and among the public in the West for the way in which the state supported broadcaster Al Jazeera has established itself as one of the few credible news sources in Arab lands.

The Gulf state’s reach into the heart of the British establishment was underlined this year at the quintessentially British event of Royal Ascot.

The Qataris sponsored the most prestigious event in British racing through their investment company Qi per cento and the Emir of Qatar accompanied the Queen as she processed down the racecourse on her way to the Royal enclosure on the first day of the meeting.

In stark contrast, in the Middle East Qatar likes to see itself as the champion of the Arab underdog.

It was in this capacity that it was one of the few Arab states to support the deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in Egypt and has funnelled financial support to Hamas.

In 2012 the Emir’s father provided $254million in assistance to Gaza to support ‘road building’ projects.

Among Qatar’s other pet diplomatic projects has been seed money for a fund to protect the Arab nature of East Jerusalem offering to put up $250million as the down payment on a $1billion fund.

Despite Qatar’s curious enchantment with radical politics and the open support for Hamas, there has been no shortage of British businesses willing to accept Qatari investment.

The best known symbol of its power and influence in London is the Harrods department store, bought from the Egyptian Al-Fayed family in May 2010 for £1.5billion.

That is just the tip of an iceberg of Qatari funds flowing into London. The London Stock Exchange is 15 per cent owned by the Qatari Investment Authority.

Qatar Holdings is a 26 per cent shareholder in the £6billion Sainsbury’s grocery group and is seen as a potential future owner.

Qatari investors also have been hugely active in British property. At the height of the financial crisis Qatar stepped in to bail out the Shard in the City of London.

It partnered Delancey estates in redeveloping the Olympic Park at Stratford and financed the Candy Brothers in developing One Hyde Park at Knightsbridge.

Qatari investors own the Chelsea Barracks site in West London and a huge property development off Oxford Street in conjunction with Land Securities.

Their property speculations have aroused some hackles.

The attempts to win control of three prestigious London hotels, Claridges, the Connaught and the Berkeley has brought them head to head with the Barclay Brothers, owners of the Daily Telegraph group.

They have expressed private concerns about Qatar owning central London hostelries.

So far Qatar’s association with Hamas has done little to diminish its status as one of the Western democracies favourite inward investors.

It appears to have bought itself Western protection by allowing the US to keep a military presence in the country.

But how it can sustain a diplomatic policy that supports both terror and invests heavily in countries that abhor it, is one of the great strategic puzzles of our time.