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Qatar plans to become a regional power using ‘Islamist soft power’

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The tiny gulf nation with abundant financial resources has shaken the dynamics of the entire Middle East region by extending support to Islamist extremist factions. This is not surprising as Qatar is known for engaging with multiple groups ranging from Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas to a list of groups in Syria and Libya to the Taliban. Qatar’s leadership justifies its actions saying that it aims to spread religious doctrine wherever and however it can. Whereas the reality, that can be concluded from the countless occasions in recent decades, is that Qatar is using all the above mentioned actors to maximise its influence.

Qatar soon realised the strength of soft power over military might. Where all the other regional powers were pouring in money to strengthen country’s defence and military, Qatar funded organisations in the name of promoting culture, religion, heritage in order to deploy its people and control different nations with its financial resources and foreign policy connections. It helped Qatar achieve a staggering amount of influence for its size. As a paper published by David B. Roberts claims, a state with the population of Plano, Texas managed to form links with key individuals and groups playing a significant role during the Arab Spring in the entire region. Qatar through its Islamist spectrum used ‘religious soft power’ to enter and influence the corridors of power in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Mauritania, Mali, Syria, Israel and Palestine, Sudan, Bahrain, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Yusuf Al Qaradawi, a prominent Arab theologian with a life-long association with the Muslim Brotherhood, moved to Qatar in 1961. He played a key role in the establishment of the College of Sharia Law at Qatar University. Qatar also gave him his own TV show on Al Jazeera, a Doha-funded media house, to amplify the reach of his propaganda speeches.

By around 1990s Qatar also developed close relations particularly with Hamas, a terrorist group. Qatar’s funding has been significant and has greatly helped Hamas holding on to power. Between 2012 and 2018, Qatar provided Hamas with over $1.1 billion. Besides, Hamas, Qatar also strengthened ties with Hezbollah, another militant extremist group in Lebanon.

In Syria, Qatar, along with its Turkish allies partnered with a range of militias including Free Syrian army and Jabhat Al Nusra  from 2011 to 2013. Qatar even built ties with the former Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir who was ousted last month due to his corrupt and atrocious policies. In the late-2000s Bashir became an international pariah indicted by the International Criminal Court for committing a genocide in Darfur in 2013.

Qatar is interfering in Libya through its fundings. An exiled Libyan resident in Doha, Ali Al Sallabi, became the key source of sending money and arms to Islamist groups in Benghazi.

Qatar has not only limited its influence to the region but also reached the ambit of western powers. Qatar is taking strategic advantage of its Islamist soft powers to help US with its regional foreign policy for conducting negotiations with Hamas and with the Taliban, which is required to bring the antagonistic sides to the table.

written by Diana Soares

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