In the first of our series on the ongoing Qatar crisis, we take a look at its wealth and how it used it to fund and fan terror.
It’s important not to view the Qatar row in isolation after two decades of Gulf efforts to direct it on the straight and narrow path, away from violent groups. It was a coming together of four factors – extremist ideology, vast wealth that gave vent to that ideology, media propaganda that fuelled the flames, and geopolitical ambition that knew no bounds.
The little country with large reservoirs of gas and cash had to splurge on some cause, any cause. So it shopped around and bought support and clout. Worse, it bought the wrong kind of support and fell into bad company while also being part of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Revolutionaries, activists, militants, radicals, extremists, hate preachers, you name them. They were eating out of benevolent Doha’s hands. Saudi Arabia and the UAE blacklisted many of them but Qatar enjoyed their company and showered its largesse on them.
When patience ran out among GCC members led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, it faced a perfect diplomatic and political storm. Gulf and other countries are now digging in for the long haul. On Monday, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash said the Saudi and Emirati led boycott could last for years if Qatar does not fall in line with the GCC’s policy that puts regional security first.
Then, Qatar is prosperous, its people rich and drawing from vast deposits of natural gas. “Qatar’s reliance on oil and natural gas is likely to persist for the foreseeable future. Proved natural gas reserves exceed 25 trillion cubic meters – 13 per cent of the world total and, among countries, third largest in the world – and proven oil reserves exceed 25 billion barrels, allowing production to continue at current levels for about 56 years,” according to a CIA report on the country. That’s a long-term prediction and Doha calculates that this wealth will see it through the current boycott, which it terms a ‘blockade’ to garner sympathy.
As the worst crisis in its short history shows no signs of abating, the tiny peninsular nation, which literally sticks out like a sore thumb in the Arabian Gulf, believes it is insulated from the shock. Wealth will help it tide over sanctions imposed on it, the leadership feels. ‘Time is on our side,’ is the thinking in Doha. Best to wait it out for the storm to blow over because it’s the economy, stupid! The country may have reasons to be gung ho, but that was in January when the International Monetary Fund said Qatar’s “competitiveness indicators are the strongest in the GCC region”.
The IMF said GDP is projected to reach 3.4 per cent in 2017 as “it effectively adjusts to the new reality of sustained lower energy prices”. Construction of infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup was expected to get a boost by the end of the year, and everything would be hunky dory. That was not to be with these developments.
Let’s just say the past caught up with the tiny nation. And this hoary past extends to the 1960s, even before the country came into being when it hosted hate-mongering Egyptian preacher Yusuf Al Qaradawi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar Charity leads funding for these terror groups.
Hamas, the Palestianian group, has benefited the most. Khaled Mashaal, its leader reportedly lives the good life in a five-star hotel in Doha. It also supports Libyan militants and is believed to have shipped $3 billion and 70 planeloads of arms to rebel forces in Syria.
According to the US Treasury Department, Qatari had links to Al Qaeda in Iraq which later transformed into Daesh. Some $2 million per month was paid to the organisation in Iraq, $576,000 to Al Qaeda in Syria, and $250,000 to Somali terror group, Al Shabaab.
That was money well spent, Qatar thought, but it may have gone too far when a $1 billion ransom was paid for some Qatar royals who were taken hostage in Iraq by militia last year. The Iran-brokered deal increased suspicions about its intentions, because a state player that was opposed to the GCC was involved in the transaction.
Iran, with its ‘revolution of terror’, was not someone to do business with, yet Qatar went ahead and is now on the verge of being branded a regional pariah.