“The gas-rich state of Qatar has spent as much as $3bn over the past two years supporting the rebellion in Syria, far exceeding any other government, but is now being nudged aside by Saudi Arabia as the prime source of arms to rebels,” according to a new report.
“The cost of Qatar’s intervention, its latest push to back an Arab revolt, amounts to a fraction of its international investment portfolio,” Roula Khalaf and Abigail Fiedling Smith write in The Financial Times:
But its financial support for the revolution that has turned into a vicious civil war dramatically overshadows western backing for the opposition…. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks arms transfers, Qatar has sent the most weapons deliveries to Syria, with more than 70 military cargo flights into neighbouring Turkey between April 2012 and March this year.
The emirate’s reputation for punching above its weight as the little state that could is also based on its extensive support for the region’s Islamists groups.
For instance, “Qatar’s involvement in Libya also builds on its long relationship with (and subsequent perceived loyalty by) some Libyan Islamists,” notes Lina Khatib, the head of the Program on Arab Reform and Democracy at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law:
Since the 1990s, Qatar has hosted a number of Libyan Islamists, mainly from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group…….In an interview with al-Jazeera on September 7, 2011, the Emir of Qatar said “he believed radical Islamists whose views were forged under tyrannical governments could embrace participatory politics if the promise of real democracy and justice of this year’s Arab revolts is fulfilled. If so, the Qatari ruler said, ‘I believe you will see this extremism transform into civilian life and civil society’”.
“Though its approach is driven more by pragmatism and opportunism, than ideology, Qatar has become entangled in the polarised politics of the region, setting off scathing criticism,” note the FT analysts:
Qatar’s support for Islamist groups in the Arab world, which puts it at odds with its peers in the Gulf states, has fuelled rivalry with Saudi Arabia. Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (above), Qatar’s ruling emir, “wants to be the Arab world’s Islamist (Gamal) Abdelnasser”, said an Arab politician, referring to Egypt’s fiery late president and devoted pan-Arab leader.