Great report from the Financial Times on how Qatar has come to dominate the Syrian uprising. Qatar has rapidly become a major power broker across the MENA (Middle East/North Africa) region. Meanwhile, the FT also reports that the massive Qatari sovereign wealth fund is engaged in a new round of buying stakes in global banks – this time purchasing shares of Germany’s largest and Russia’s second largest banks. Since the beginning of the global financial crisis in 2008, Qatar has purchased large stakes in British, Swiss, Brazilian and Chinese banks, as well. This is the third post I have had that mentions Qatar’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy – one last fall and one last winter.
Archive for the ‘Qatar’ Category
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.
Meghan O’Sullivan is the director of the Geopolitics of Energy project at Harvard’s Kennedy School. She is also a key advisor to GOP presidential candidate and will likely hold a very high position in his administration should he win the presidency in November. She recently spoke to a gathering of global investors in Hong Kong, the day after US ambassador Chris Stevens was murdered in Libya. O’Sullivan noted that the razing of the US consulate in Benghazi was part of a series of new trends that are transforming the politics of the Middle East/North Africa region. In brief, those five trends are:
- Growing political divergence among nations that had been fairly uniform and stable for decades. Included in this are the rise of new power Qatar and the re-assertion of power by Turkey
- Increasing sectarianism, particularly between the Sunni and Shi’a, which are fighting a proxy war in Syria
- Tremendous demographic and economic pressures both regionally and within individual nations’
- The growing influence of Islamism in politics
- The decline of American influence throughout the region.
Read the whole piece here for a more detailed description of these five trends, and look for Romney to really hit Obama hard on the fraying of US Middle East policy in their debate Wednesday night. We should see O’Sullivan’s fingerprints all over Romney’s criticisms.