[dehai-news] The Qatar Model: A New Way Forward for the Middle East?

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From: wolda002@umn.edu
Date: Fri Jan 14 2011 - 00:16:51 EST

 The Qatar Model: A New Way Forward for the Middle East? By Shadi Hamid
 [image: 107312698.jpg]Obscured by the WikiLeaks revelations and
controversies reverberating in Arab capitals is a bit of news arguably far
more important than the latest embarrassment for Arab leaders. On December
2nd, the tiny, oil-rich Gulf state of Qatar managed to win the coveted 2022
World Cup bid, beating out the U.S. and Australia in one of the more
unlikely upsets in recent sports history. The New York Times' Nate Silver
decision "astonishing," others were simply confused. It was both a
and risky move for the FIFA committee. For Qatar, however, and the broader
Middle East, it has the potential to be a game-changer.

Arab countries are not accustomed to victory in the global arena. The past
few years in particular have been, by even the region's high standards,
depressing. Whether civil conflict in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian
territories, or the political deterioration of Egypt, the region has at
times appeared to be in free fall.

But not in Qatar. The World Cup is just the latest success in an impressive
run for the Qataris, who currently enjoy the world's highest GDP per capita
as well as its fastest growth rates. More importantly, the win is a
vindication of Qatar's odd, and often creative, foreign policy.

In 1995, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani deposed his father in a bloodless coup,
becoming the new Emir. Under his leadership, Qatar made a strategic decision
to distinguish itself from its competitors in the Gulf, particularly Dubai
and Saudi Arabia. The country, home to less than 300,000 citizens, has since
become an increasingly influential player on the regional and international
stages. The revenue generated by Qatar's deep oil reserves of course helps.
But it is the use of this revenue that has set Qatar apart. Rather than
spending it on costly weapons systems - Qatar's military expenditures are
quite low by Gulf standards - the country has focused its attention
elsewhere. Qatar is already home to "Education City," which hosts campuses
for Georgetown, Northwestern, and other top American universities. One of
the world's largest collections of modern Arab art is set to open by the end
of the year. The Qatar-based Al Jazeera, one of the region's freer and most
widely watched news networks, projects the country's influence around the

Meanwhile, the region's pro-Western pillars, such as Egypt, Jordan, and
Saudi Arabia, are declining both in spite of and because of their closeness
to the U.S. As the State Department cables released by Wikileaks have shown,
these countries are crippled by the wide gap between leaders and their
citizens. The former go along with American policy, whether on the
Arab-Israeli peace process, Iran's nuclear ambitions, or counterterrorism,
while the latter decry Western influence and sympathize with Hamas,
Hezbollah, and Iran. And managing the divide is not getting any easier: in
several Arab countries, U.S. favorability
lower under President Obama than they were in the final years of the
Bush administration.

By contrast, Qatar has steered a middle path, hosting the largest
pre-positioning U.S. military base in the world, while still managing
cordial, and increasingly close, relations with Iran. As we saw with the
2008 Doha Agreement, in which Qatar brokered peace between the Lebanese
government and the Hizbollah-led opposition, when you have leverage with
both sides, it's easier to strike a deal. Qatar has also mediated between
the Palestinians, Yemenis, and Sudanese, with varying degrees of success.

Could this be the new model for the Middle East? Qatar's independent and
assertive policies defy easy characterization within any of the region's
camps. And, now, the World Cup gives Qatar an internal deadline to build,
expand, and project influence well beyond what its size would suggest. The
country already plans to invest nearly $100 billion in infrastructure in the
coming years, including $35 billion for a metro and rail system, as well as
the longest oversea bridge in the world, connecting it to Bahrain.

But Qatar's ambitions for greater influence come at a cost, and many are
watching the country's emergence with wariness. Because it is home to Al
Jazeera - as well as a number of prominent political exiles - Qatar has had
strained ties with some of its neighbors. Neither is the country very
popular in Washington, particularly after signing defense cooperation
agreements with Iran.

To be friends with both sides - to host a major U.S. military base while
simultaneously holding joint training exercises with Iranian frontier guards
- is a difficult balancing act during an ostensible Arab cold war. It helps
that Qatar is less dependent on foreign assistance than, say, Egypt, long
the world's second largest recipient of American aid. Because it enjoys the
protection that comes with having U.S. Central Command on its territory,
Qatar is less concerned with the sort of controversial arms deals Saudi
Arabia and the United Arab Emirates signed recently with the U.S. Meanwhile,
with a small population and minimal internal opposition, a few creative,
ambitious leaders can, on their own, decisively shift direction on foreign
policy. Fifteen years ago, few knew where Qatar was and fewer cared. The
country's leaders had almost nothing to lose and a great deal to gain.

By virtue of their traditional weight and influence, countries such as Egypt
and Saudi Arabia have been cautious, status quo actors. Adventurous foreign
policymaking, for them, is a risky proposition. Domestic factors matter as
well; Bahrain and Kuwait are similarly small but have been plagued by
political gridlock and sectarian tensions.

All of this makes it difficult for countries to follow Qatar's path. Qatar,
however, is not entirely alone. Turkey is another rising power that has
learned many of the same lessons. Traditionally part of the U.S. orbit - and
the only Middle Eastern country that has any meaningful military cooperation
with Israel - Turkey has studiously built up a reservoir of goodwill with
Syria, Hamas, and, perhaps most importantly, the Arab public, much of which
views Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan with far more respect and
admiration than it views its own leaders.

The rise of both Qatar and Turkey comes at opportune time. In the wake of
WikiLeaks, Arab leaders are questioning whether the U.S. can remain the sole
arbiter of the Middle East. Most governments in the region have been content
to either embrace or defy U.S. dominance, while others, particularly Qatar,
have found success by working with all of the regional actors from
Washington to Tehran. Everyone likes a winner and the winners - this time at
least - are charting a different course.

*Image: Qataris wave their national flag as they celebrate in Doha on
December 3, 2010 a day after the world football's governing body FIFA
announced that the tiny Gulf state will host the 2022 World Cup. By Marwan

This article available online at:


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