Who is Qatar?
— Abdel-Rahman Shalgham, Libyan Ambassador to the United Nations
The diminutive Gulf totalitarian monarchy of Qatar has been making quite a name for itself of late. It was one of the only Arab countries to provide air support in Libya, its customs officials — seemingly unprovoked — recently attacked a Russian ambassador, it cajoled the Arab League into voting for sanctions against Syria, and it plays host to Al Jazeera which has increasingly looked more and more like a mouthpiece for the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and the West. Although, Qatar would appear to be a Lilliputian micro-petrostate, it would seem to be one with Napoleonic delusions of grandeur.
The Emir of Qatar — a real peach — who deposed his own father, took power at the early age of 44. Unlike his father, who preferred to use the kingdom’s resources to remain at the same level as the other sheikdoms in the region, the young Emir sought that Qatar should be known and acknowledged. In doing so the young Emir surrounded himself with a phalanx of Western technocratic advisers. Additionally, the Emir sought to become one of the world’s most impish international and geopolitical actors.
In an article in May, the noted Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar, included Qatar — in its rightful place — among the “counterrevolution club” of Middle Eastern countries. Along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman it comprises the Gulf Cooperation Council; a deeply backward and anachronistic bloc of sheikdoms, profoundly tied (and some would say indentured) to the Western countries. In fact, the Obama White House played host to the Emir of Qatar just this past April — ostensibly for its role in the promotion of democratization. The White House may value its role in the NATO misadventurism in Libya, but on the home front this democratizing impulse would appear to be glaringly lost.
The Emir exercises virtual total power, with few restraints on his grip. In Qatari courts the opinion of two women is equal to that of one man, and, moreover, nearly about half of all Qatari judges are at-will employees, which limits their independence, considering that they can be dismissed promptly; in other words, at the drop of a hat.
Qatar remains one of the only three Arab countries that has not signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and Qatar has also signed on to precious few international human rights conventions and accords. Additionally, Qatar is a destination country for women who are trafficked and forced into conditions of coercive labor. And similarly, foreign domestic workers, often struggle under conditions approaching involuntary servitude, and some are even sexually abused.
Though Qatar has in the past even hosted a Hamas delegation, as well as tried to remain amicable with the government of Iran, it has increasingly looked — as if —it is coming under the thumb of the Anglo-Americans. Qatar had also been seen as an intermediary with Syria, and had invested heavily in the Syrian economy, but now it seems to have signed on — to a different policy — a policy of Libya 2.0. And Qatar, ostensibly so concerned about democracy, gave its full backing to neighboring Saudi Arabia’s intervention into the majority Shia Sunni-led Kingdom of Bahrain.
Qatar not only funneled hundreds of millions to the Libyan opposition, but dispatched Western-trained advisers, who helped finance, arm and train the so-called revolutionary militias. The nature of Qatar’s future machinations in Syria, is, of course, yet to be determined. But if its coarse, robust and inauspicious role at the Arab League is any portent — as to its tactility, we can expect more of the same financing of an armed “revolution”, not knowing what will be wrought for the citizens of a (formerly) sovereign country.