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Bad news for ‘Brand Qatar’

It has been two months since the diplomatic standoff with Qatar began. As it is now evident that this crisis is not going to be resolved swiftly, many questions have been raised as to what impact the ongoing tension will have on Doha itself, as well as on the region as a whole.

Some of these unanswered questions are enormously important politically, such as the issue of how effective the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will be should the rift continue. There are similar economic questions, although Qatar has repeatedly insinuated that it has not been affected by the boycott imposed by its neighbors in that regard.

Yet even a junior business analyst would know that any real economic impact would be mid- to long-term, rather than immediate. This is particularly true given that Doha has the resources to offset the economic pressure for the time being. We should also not forget that the boycotting countries (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt) have not yet used all their arsenal, such as withdrawing their assets from Qatar.

What was a surprise however, as revealed today in the Arab News/YouGov poll on how the US views the Qatar crisis, is how quickly the diplomatic row has negatively affected “Brand Qatar,” at least in the US.

The poll reveals that there was an unusually high level of awareness among Americans of the diplomatic standoff, with 71 percent of respondents saying they have some degree of knowledge about it. More interestingly, the survey shows unfavorable views toward Doha, with only 27 percent of those polled believing it is a “friend or an ally” of the US.

Furthermore, it was interesting to see that despite the billions spent by Qatar on various “soft power” initiatives — from education to charity to international sport — the study found that more Americans associate it with supporting terror than anything else.

No smoke without fire

There are various explanations for this negative perception in the US. One is that there is simply no smoke without fire.

The reality is that many of the wanted terrorists on the list provided by the boycotting quartet are also on US or UN terror lists.

What Doha fails to realize is that placing giant teddy bears in Hamad International Airport (as cute as that is) or sponsoring European football clubs will not make people forget its ugly side of funding terror.

Faisal J. Abbas

Similarly, there is no doubt that Al Jazeera’s Arabic news station has long been a platform for Osama bin Laden and terror groups associated with him, and that many Muslim youths have been negatively affected by the poisons aired by the channel.

This all makes it very difficult for Qatar to be convincing when it plays the “innocent” card, or claims it is just being bullied by its neighbors.

What Doha fails to realize is that placing giant teddy bears in Hamad International Airport (as cute as that is) or sponsoring European football clubs will not make people forget its “ugly” side of funding terror.

This duality might have worked for Qatar in the past, but if the Arab News/YouGov study proves anything, it is that one may be able to fool some people some of the time, but one certainly cannot fool everyone all of the time.

What most rational observers fail to understand is why Qatar does not simply hand over these internationally wanted terrorists. This is in no way a breach of its sovereignty; on the contrary, it enhances “Brand Qatar” as a country that is keen to cooperate regionally and internationally in combating terror and making a serious effort to reconcile with its neighbors.

Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. He can be reached on Twitter @FaisalJAbbas