Anthony talks to The Global Dispatches about Qatar
There has been a flurry of articles about Qatar’s “empire building” recently. Is this the correct way to describe what is happening in Qatar?
I wouldn’t really call it empire building, Qatar is defining where its pragmatic interests lie, and maybe there has been a bit of over-reach as well. At the heart of Qatar’s new policy there is a certain amount of ambiguity, evidenced by the fact that they are able to develop relations with parties that do not have similar interests, like Iran, the United States and Saudi Arabia to varying degrees. Qatar is clearly playing a more decisive role and is being more aggressive in promoting its interests. The difference may be that Qatar is now taking sides rather than maintaining its ambiguity in foreign relations. I think we are seeing a new stage in Qatar’s foreign policy. It is certainly a more aggressive approach but it is motivated by where Qatar’s interests will lie in the future. There is a pragmatism at the heart of this agenda.
What is Qatar’s agenda exactly?
Qatar is reacting to the fact that the traditional heavy-weights in the Middle East – namely Egypt and Saudi Arabia – are not playing their customary roles. There is a political void in the region that both Qatar and Turkey to some extent have stepped into. Qatar is trying to increase its influence by cultivating relations with the Muslim Brotherhood throughout North Africa. By doing this Qatar is hoping to guarantee its presence and influence in the region in the future. Given the recent regional unrest, Qatar is trying to get ahead of the curve.
Just looking at their foreign policy, they have interfered politically in Libya and Tunisia and to some extent Syria. They are financing the En Nahda party in Tunisia. What are Qatar’s intentions in Tunisia? Is it politics or business?
In Libya and Tunisia, Qatar has sided with the forces for change, the revolutionary forces; they very clearly took sides there. If you talk about the broader region including Morocco and Egypt, both Qatar and Turkey have tried to ally themselves with what would be termed the mainstream Islamist parties, the En Nahda party in Tunisia and the Freedom and Justice Party in Morocco.
So they are steering clear of the more hard line Salafists?
Yes, you have to keep in mind that Qatar is differentiating itself in terms of policy from Saudi Arabia, which would be more inclined to support the Salafists. This divergence is an important point. There is still a lack of clarity about who the Salafists are and what they want, but they would be more inclined to lean towards the Saudis. It has always been interesting to see how the Saudis and the Qataris have interacted with the Muslim Brotherhood. At times, the Saudis feel threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood, at times they see them as being ungrateful. Consequently they see the Salafists as a counterweight to the Brotherhood. Qatar and Turkey have been very clear though, in choosing to develop closer ties with the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the region.