Qatar embarks on a new era
The abdication of power by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani in favor of his son Sheikh Tamim marked a new era in Qatar’s history. This carefully-crafted political move was an outcome of a purely independent decision. The move also delineated Doha’s foreign policy in the foreseeable future.
The State of Qatar occupies an area less than that of the Falkland Islands and probably a third of Belgium. With Sheikh Hamad taking the reins in 1995, Qatar gradually walked from the shadows onto the world stage as a regional powerhouse. From a debt-ridden state, Qatar became one of the richest countries in the world.
This was the result of an aggressive foreign policy seeking to place Qatar in international arena as a key player. The framework of the strategy was to engage Qatar in vital regional and world issues and events that automatically gather world attention.
The primary components of the strategy can be outlined as following. First, developing and expanding oil and gas resources to generate more wealth and to improve living standards of its citizens. Second, using the wealth to develop the country and secure the country’s interests by brokering negotiations among factions across the Muslim world. Third, embracing the common Arab people’s aspirations by giving them a voice. Fourth, establishing Qatar Investment Authority to invest oil and gas wealth in purchasing iconic properties around the world, specifically those with big commercial brand names.
Qatar has achieved the first objective and become the third largest producer of liquefied gas in the world right after Russia and Iran, and ultimately the gas revenues achieved other objectives.
Al Jazeera television network was launched in 1996, only a year after Sheikh Hamad assumed power. In an unconventional manner, the television channel raised the bar for political expression, making it the most viewed channel in the Arab world. Shortly, the network gained an international fame, wielding tremendous political influence, and becoming Qatar’s trump card.
Recently, Doha also actively worked as an international diplomatic broker to resolve various crises in the Islamic world. It brokered talks and mediated among fighting groups in Yemen, Lebanon, Sudan, Somalia and the Palestinian Authority. In the recent past, it hosted a delegation of the Afghan Taleban and opened its office in Doha to facilitate talks with the United States to end the 12-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.
Qatar Investment Authority was set up in 2005 to manage Qatar Sovereign Wealth Fund, and it has reached estimated assets of $ 200 billion. In London, the fund owns Harolds, Shard, Tiffany & Co., One Hyde Park, a quarter of Sainsbury’s and 20 percent of the stock exchange. It also owns the French luxury conglomerate Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), and Paris Saint-Germain football club, in addition to investments in Italy and Greece running into billions of dollars.
With respect to embracing the Arab common people’s aspirations, Qatar played a significant role in providing financial and military assistance to rebels in Libya and Syria. It also financially supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Tunis and Syria.
Many analysts claim that Qatar’s image, of late, took a battering when its flag was burned by protesters in Benghazi, which witnessed the terrorist attacks on the US Consulate and Cairo which is the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood. These incidents dealt a blow to Doha’s foreign policy. The fall of Qusayr to the Assad regime also came as a jolt.
Consequently, Doha decided to reduce its engagement in Syria as well as Egypt. And this could have led Doha to hasten the process of transferring power to Sheikh Tamim.
Qatar’s assertion in the international arena by pursuing aggressive foreign strategy bore some fruits. For instance, Doha won the bid to host the 2022 football World Cup. It plans to spend $ 35 billion to build rail network, new ports, highways and stadiums. These projects when completed would change the economic and social outlook of the entire country.
Overall, Doha’s foreign policy in the short-term achieved plausible successes. However, the assessment of the long-term is debatable. It supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria, while some GCC countries, especially, the United Arab Emirates, has a different stance.
Most observers have expressed that the newly appointed emir would pursue the same foreign policy. This could be true, with the exception of embracing the Arab common people’s political aspirations, as it has been proved that these aspirations could go out of control, complicating the region’s entangled affairs.
Most reports have also said that Sheikh Tamim is a pragmatic politician with a clear vision and direction. That means he will immediately address pressing issues, in consultation with his father.