Determinants of Qatar’s Foreign Policy (Part I)

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Anthony Shadid—one of the best reporters on the Middle East—wrote an article recently about Qatari foreign policy. The subject has attracted a lot of interest as of late: the Emir of Qatar and his prime minister have become dominant personalities in the meetings of the Arab League. The small state has been playing a role far beyond its traditional legacy. Qatar is now a leading Middle East country and its prime minister gets to decide whether Syria stays or leaves the Arab League. This is unprecedented. This, of course, owes much more to the role of Al Jazeera than to the gas deposits in Qatar. But the various analyses of Qatari foreign policy omits a key determinant of its foreign policy orientation.

Anyone who has discussed foreign policy with the Emir of Qatar—as I have on two occasions only, the second one last year—knows that enmity toward Saudi Arabia is a key determinant of Qatari foreign policy. People were too quick to forget about the bitter Saudi-Qatari feud as soon as Qatar and Saudi Arabia reconciled last year. When I saw the Emir in the summer of 2010, my first question to him was along the lines: so I take it that you and Saudi Arabia are allies now? He laughed and quickly sarcastically dismissed the notion and went on to elaborate on his still very negative views on Saudi Arabia and its role in the region. The Emir even puts his close military alliance with the US and his hosting of the US bases in the emirate in the context of his fears of Saudi diabolical plot. The Emir reasoned that aligning with Saudi Arabia’s enemies would be a sure bet to protect his regime from Saudi plot. The Emir wanted to prove to the US that he can be a more reliable ally than Saudi Arabia: and he went along with US Congressional pressure to normalize ties with Israel (up to a point as he had difficulty reconciling his regional alliances and his professed—privately—Arab nationalist views with his relations with Israel—which have been pursued vigorously by his prime minister).

The Emir of Qatar also used Al Jazeera to pressure Saudi Arabia: anti-Saudi critics—Saudis and non-Saudis—were given ample platform to express their opposition to the House of Saud. Prince Nayef was very aware of the impact of Aljazeera on the internal stability of the kingdom and he presented the faction within the family that lobbied for rapprochement with Qatar, while Prince Salman and Prince Sultan were opposed and their mouthpieces reflected that disagreement.

Qatar’s feud with Saudi Arabia also affected Qatari relations with other GCC countries. Qatar was quick to improve relations with any GCC member , like Oman, that had a disagreement with Saudi Arabia (the most open secret about GCC members is that they all have strong feuds and conflicts, their brotherly show of affection and solidarity notwithstanding. There are even strong conflicts within the emirates of the UAE). The feud between Qatar and Saudi Arabia is the number one reason why Qatar even launched Al Jazeera. Its very creation was intended to counter the Arab media which are overwhelmingly controlled by House of Saudi and their affiliates. What happened then better explains where things stand now, something I will address in my follow up post.


Interesting and informative as usual. I wonder to what extent the Qatar-Saoudi rivalries are related to changing energy-climate change imperatives with a shift from oil to gas; Qatar being a gas giant and oil reserves on the decline. Would love to read Asaad's perspective on these "determinants". Thanks

Hypocrisy of As`ad on his Blog.I comment here since you can`t write on his Blog.

"Here is a group of Syrian opposition supporters chanting against `Alawites."

When sunni chant sectarian slogans it`s disgusting.

""Demonstrations in Qatif after Saudi security forces shot a kid.""

I saw the video on YT. They chant sectarian slogans. But As`ad don`t mention it at all. Yeah Asàd. There are not sectarian at all. They want Democracy. In this case it`s just comical since both headlines are written among each other. And please check the channels of those Democracy supporters.

And he himself don`t realize it.

Those Arab sheikhs, emirs and kings of the gulf are the most corrupt, despotic rulers in human history. They are in no position to give anyone lessons on democracy. They are stupid too as we witness how the US steels they oil from under their noses. What a bunch of clowns.

methinks the clown is you: so easy to make blanket assertions without the slightest grasp of either history or of the actual nature of the energy markets.
The US actually imports very little of its ol and gas from the Gulf, and what oil and gas these states do export is handsomely paid for: now it's foreign energy companies that ae fighting for a piece of the cake. We're no longer in the 1950s...

Asad, i have learned so much from your blog. I follow it everyday. Man it will be a dream to sit and talk politics with you. If ever you visit Salzburg Austria, please let me know, I live here now.
I am a Sunni, but cant stand the Wahabis, support Hizbollah. Dont trust Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia.

I know that mr abu khalil is atheist but almost every day when i read his comments and insights on the middle east and elsewhere i find myself asking God to bless him, guide him and grant him the best in this life and in the nxt. What an intelligent man he is. I have learned so much from his blog and articles when it comes to the middle east. As a religious muslim i have nothing but hate for the arab rulers especially those of the US occupied gulf. Alqaida, zionist power, terrorism, backwardness, hunger in the islamic world and so many other evils can be traced to the wrongdoings of these tyrants.

Thank you Asad . brilliant article .

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