The contest for dominance in the Muslim worldDecember 5, 2012
Who is the leading nation of the Muslim world? Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation, Pakistan is the only Muslim nuclear power. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt all vie for influence and leadership.
But, how about tiny Qatar? The Persian Gulf emirate, fabulously rich off their oil and gas wealth, is not large enough to be a military power and would otherwise be fearful about the security of its own borders, but it is home to the largest US military base outside US territory. Meanwhile, it has been building a more diverse economy, seeking to become both a finance and research & education center. It’s capital, Doha, is one of the most modern cities in the world.
Qatar is also using its wealth to pursue leadership throughout the Islamic world (or, at the very least, to undercut the influence of its most pressing adversary, Iran). Qatar has bankrolled the Muslim Brotherhood in a number of nations, including Egypt, to gain influence. Currently, it is engaging Hamas in Gaza in direct competition with both Egypt and Iran.
While Qatar has a strong relationship with the US that is of high importance for both sides, their current round of diplomacy is independent of the US, and not a proxy for US interests. Indeed, Qatari money has supported armed groups in Libya and may even have contributed to the razing of the US consulate in Benghazi and the murder of the American ambassador and three other US citizens. Qatar is also seeking influence in the Sahel in general and Mali in particular. This puts Qatar directly opposed to US interests, and could even result in armed Qatari proxies engaged in a shooting war with US military forces in the not-too-distant future.
Geopolitical games always have many layers, and the complications often have blowback. The Qatari play for leadership presents both opportunities and dilemmas for the US.