Qatar reaps fruits of goodwill Tuesday, 22 November 2011 02:35
Khalid Al Sayed
Last week, several major international newspapers carried stories on Qatar’s role in the Arab Spring uprisings, most of them uncharitable and often betraying the writers’ bias.
Noted columnist Robert Fisk in The Independent (London) saw Qatar having “British Empire-style” ambitions in the Arab world, especially after it helped in bringing down Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya and is now the main proponent in pressuring Syria in the Arab League.
The New York Times and its international edition, the International Herald Tribune, carried a front page story on Qatar’s “outsize influence” that belies its small size. That, the article said, has not pleased some people and baffled others about the true intent of Qatar’s seemingly controversial political manoeuvres.
London’s The Telegraph also had an article on Qatar turning into a big player in the “Great Game” of international politics.
In an editorial, the Financial Times, assumed a more positive note advising the Western governments they should “remain engaged with Qatar” since the country’s ability to juggle opposing ideologies is “the nature of diplomacy” and “a feat to be admired.”
Qatar’s profile has definitely risen with its stance in the Arab Spring revolutions. As can be expected, that is not to the liking of many. The political situation in the Middle East has been complicated for over half a century and remains so, to say the least. With wars and discords between countries like the long-standing Israel-Palestine conflict, the recently concluded Iraq war, Iran’s meddling in Iraq and its nuclear ambitions and the division of Sudan to name a few, it is very difficult to walk the line between being a friend and an enemy.
In such a difficult environment, a country has to know how to strike a balance in its ties with other Middle Eastern countries that may have conflicting interests and agendas. While some countries may have their own internal problems, others may have internal problems as well as problems with neighbours. This gives Qatar an opportunity to play an essential role since it has good rapport with most countries in the region. That, of course, requires honest diplomacy and political acumen, which Qatar certainly has.
Qatar has deftly managed all of these by playing the role of mediator and a vanguard for reform.
However, it’s only predictable that some people have this mentality to see “conspiracy” in all this, especially since some of them have experienced how governments, other forms of authority and even the media have twisted the truth to suit personal agendas. It is not, therefore, surprising that some people may become suspicious of Qatar’s seemingly contradictory political moves.
Nevertheless, one should remember that Qatar is not a big country, whether in size or population, hence, it cannot have “British empire-style” ambitions in order for the country to benefit from others economically or politically. Qatar has the highest GDP per capita in the world and it certainly doesn’t need to take covert control of other countries to gain benefits.
Qatar’s foreign policy has always been to intercede and act as a go-between in internal conflicts and feuds between countries in the region and help patch up differences. It has succeeded in mediating in Lebanon, Darfur, between Eritrea and Djibouti, and rival Palestinian parties as well as having good relations with both the West and Iran.
Similarly, Qatar has always been at the forefront in calling for reforms and was the first country to call for unity in Yemen. While some countries in the region were against the unity movement, Qatar still persevered because it believed that a unified Yemen would make the country stronger.
Therefore, accusations that Qatar started the Arab Spring revolutions are simply untrue. The fuel for these revolts has long been simmering in these societies. The youth in these countries felt neglected and were fed up with the corruption in the government, lack of employment opportunities and economic disparities. They were the ones who mobilised and started the revolts with the help of new technology of social networking.
Revolution is defined as a radical replacement in form of governance or social order with a new one in a short span of time. Revolutions are usual internal when a group or groups of people feel that there is injustice and inequality and they rise against them. Some famous examples are the French Revolution iof the 17th century, the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Chinese Revolution of 1927. The Arab Spring revolutions were neither started by Qatar nor by Western countries; it is the Arab people, particularly the youth, who made it happen.
Qatar, aside from its role as mediator, has also been calling for reforms in the region for the last 15 years as part of its foreign policy.
When acting as a mediator, Qatar has always acted under the umbrella of either Arab or international organisations such as the Arab League or the United Nations. It does not as an Arabic saying goes, “sing outside the flock”. It is always in line with the stand of these organisations.
If Qatar is looking for any benefit, it is the benefit of the entire Arab world as shown in its unequivocal support for the Palestine’s bid for statehood in the United Nations. Qatar strongly believes that a united and strong Arab world is better than one that’s weak and conflict-ridden since it gives the region more security and stability. Qatar has shown that it is dedicated to reform not only externally but also within its own borders as indicated with the amount of money spent on education. Qatar spends 4.9% of its GDP on education, among the highest in the region. It allocates a whopping 2.8 per cent of GDP on government-funded research, the highest in the world indicating its belief that reforms lay in the education of its people.
Also, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Qatar ranks No. 19 worldwide and No. 1 in the Middle East region.
Criticism about Qatar is partly fuelled by Al Jazeera’s coverage of various issues. We do not always agree with Al Jazeera’s point-of-view but we believe that this is part of media freedom. Since Al Jazeera started, people in the Arab world have learned to listen and accept opinions that may be contrary to their own.
Al Jazeera, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are just tools the Arab youth used in the Arab Spring revolutions for the pursuit of reforms in the region.
We don’t want to give any country any credit for the Arab Spring revolutions. The real revolution started with the youth. We must not forget that more than 30 per cent of the Middle East population is below 30.
We have not heard any complaints or criticism about Qatar from the Arab youth and this is a good sign that the youth understand the role of Qatar in the Arab Spring.
If only the regimes of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, and recently Syria’s Bashar Al Assad had listened to Qatar’s call for reform before they reached the point of no return, the history might have taken a different direction for them.
We should not, however, allow the Arab Spring countries to reach a critical stage where their economic stability is affected because that will lead to more insecurity in an already at-risk country which will allow the chaos and turmoil to continue.
It is here that the GCC countries, especially Qatar, can support these countries. The GCC has already rolled out its own Marshall-style plan to support Bahrain and Oman, when they faced instability. Some GCC countries have also pledged to provide financial assistance to Egypt and Tunisia.
Those countries that experienced the Arab Spring uprisings or are currently facing them are the most vulnerable and they need all the help they can get in order to stabilise their country and prevent it from spiralling into chaos and experiencing another uprising. The Peninsula
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