Alex Brummer

Serious symptoms of Qatar

June 06, 2014 12:27

Qatar's allegedly corrupt campaign to host the World Cup tournament in 2022, exposed over seven pages in the Sunday Times, provides insight into one of the most troubling of the Gulf statelets. The often disturbing policies carried out by the ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who succeeded his father in 2013, have placed it at odds which many of the other Gulf nations and much of the advanced world.

In the past, Qatar has used its vast wealth, based on some of the richest natural gas reserves anywhere, to invest in Western assets.

It owns Harrods outright, has strategic share interests in grocer J Sainsbury and the London Stock Exchange and is a big investor in UK property from the Shard to the Olympic Park and the Chelsea Barracks.

In recent times, it has been in a struggle with the proprietors of the Daily Telegraph, the Barclay brothers, for control of some of London's most famous hotels, including Claridge's and the Connaught.

Its vast investments in the UK means that, despite Qatar's foreign policy connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots, (including Hamas) it is given kid-gloved treatment in the UK - including the accolade of full state visits.

It has been given the freedom to colonise Britain

Only the Prince of Wales has shown any willingness to challenge the rulers, famously intervening to prevent the Chelsea Barracks site, one of the most valuable in London, being developed in a way that was hostile to the architectural environment.

In some respects, Qatar looks to be a much more open society that some of its Arab neighbours.

It is, for instance, owner of the Al Jazeera English-language channel that has now been broadly accepted as a suitable broadcaster in Western democracies.

But many critics argue that it uses that openness as a tool to cast aspersions over the policies of other Gulf countries.

During the brief interlude of Muslim Brotherhood rule under President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt (he was removed from power in August 2013 by the military), Qatar emerged as his only friend.

As the economy crumbled and the country found itself broke and unable to access funds from the United States and the IMF, it was Qatar that stepped into the breach.

It has now been supplanted in Egypt by an alliance of Gulf states - Qatar's main combatants for influence - including Saudi Arabia. The rest of the Gulf and Israel does not much like Qatar's alliance with radical Islam across the region.

In the core Middle East, the Emir's family have poured money into Gaza, supposedly for economic development such as infrastructure. But inevitably the funds have ended up in the hands of Hamas.

Among the country's contribution to peace in the region is an unhelpful offer to be the core funder of a $1 billion development fund to underpin the claims of East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state.

Qatar's role in Syria is also seen as being less than useful. It has chosen to fund some of the most radical Islamist groups fighting alongside the rebels in Syria, pouring in as much as $3 billion to them and giving militant Islamist terrorists a strong foothold in the country. This has made it much more difficult for the West to support the rebels.

The fact that such groups have been tying down Syria, and Hizbollah fighters have been keeping President Assad in power, might seem to be to Israel's advantage. But it is no accident that recent terror attacks in the West, including the deadly attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, can be traced back to radicals trained in Syria.

Yet despite Qatar's misplaced foreign and defence strategy it has largely been given the freedom to colonise Britain using its financial muscle.

Money has triumphed over a national security policy that can be seen as damaging to the UK's core interests.

It will be a superb irony if it takes the FIFA World Cup bribery allegations to bring home to policy-makers and the public the deeply disruptive diplomatic actions of an unbridled Gulf state.

June 06, 2014 12:27

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