In class I’ve been hearing an increasing number of vague references to the Middle East when discussing different aspects of autocratic rule and realist notions of power politics. Which is apt considering how ISIL is spreading regionally. And generally such a response is relevant considering just how strangely the lines blur in the Middle East between allies and enemies. The countries mentioned range from Iran and Iraq to Syria and Saudi Arabia and the different permutations of supporters and enemies and supporters who are rivals with your supporters is comical as many have pointed out. But there is one country that has been under the radar for quite a while that is worth mention and has recently begun to rear its head, Qatar.
In recent years Qatar has made strides in displaying their diplomatic prowess despite being a relatively benign country without a very strong military. This began with the Arab Spring, particularly when it joined NATO’s intervention in Libya in 2011. Today this very smooth diplomatic campaign continues as Qatar maintains ties and gains clout throughout the region and in the West by at least attempting to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and helping secure the release of American Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban.
The speculation behind some of the earlier activity and goodwill of Qatar included the notion that Qatar’s activism has grown based their desire to have a more positive influence in the region. First, against Qaddafi’s regime in Libya and then by sending funds to support the Free Syrian Army against Assad. Throughout the summer though this façade began to crumble as it became clear that Qatar’s influence may not be as positive or as benign as previously thought. This was first seen when they allowed the Taliban to open an office in Doha back in June and later played host to Hamas leaders Haniyeh and Mashaal during the conflict in Gaza throughout the summer.
To recount, this means that since 2008 Qatar has been involved in Lebanon, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Gaza. It seems Qatar has managed to dip its fingers into a little bit of everything throughout the Middle East and North Africa. But what does this behavior mean and should we be concerned? Is this newfound activist policy Qatar has been employing as well meaning as it claims or is Qatar attempting to grow to the likes of Saudi Arabia and Iran as a regional power? And what could a a region with such strong candidates for a multipolar system mean for the future of international conflict?