Doling Out Cash: Qatar’s ‘Soft Power’ Approach To Circumventing The Saudi-led Embargo
Doha is beating the blockade by diversifying its wealth across a range of key political environments, analyst says
In recent months, Qatar has been busy striking new regional relationships and shoring up existing ones. For example, it has worked with Israel to funnel large sums of money into the Gaza Strip and just recently sent delegations to enhance security and economic ties with Jordan and Turkey.
The moves are seen as part of a comprehensive strategy to offset an economic and diplomatic embargo that Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt imposed on Qatar in June 2017. Those nations severed contacts with the small peninsular nation over its alleged support for terrorist organizations, a charge Doha denies.
The rift was accentuated when Qatar made plans to pull out of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) late last year, shaking up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an organization of considerable geopolitical influence and economic weight.
With no end in sight to the so-called Qatar-Gulf crisis, analysts believe Doha is trying to hedge its bets with sympathetic Arab states in an attempt to circumvent the embargo, which also includes a land, air and sea blockade put in place by the aforementioned states.
Dr. Courtney Freer, a Research Fellow at the London School of Economics who focuses on politics in the Gulf, told The Media Line that Qatar’s money diplomacy is not as big of a strategy as it was under the previous emir.
“Doha was heavily criticized for funding rebel groups in Syria and has since pulled back on that tack. Nevertheless, it gets a lot of good press throughout the Middle East by providing aid to the Palestinians. Such interventions allow it to remain involved in critical regional issues in a way that arguably other Gulf states are not,” Freer opined.
Bill Law, an analyst with TheGulfMatters.com, told The Media Line that the ongoing feud is undoubtedly the backdrop to Qatar’s recent foreign policy dealings.
“When the current Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani assumed power in 2013 he determined the Qataris were too ambitious in terms of foreign initiatives, which he scaled back dramatically. But now we are seeing an uptick in his maneuverings because of the blockade,” Law said.
“The small Gulf state has been using its wealth in a variety of soft power ways for quite a while, but as this dispute deepens the Qataris have decided they will pursue what is useful to them, the Palestinians, and other states with which it manages to strengthen ties.”
Doha and Israel have had long-standing arrangements that go back to the mid ’90s, he explained. Their cooperation over Gaza is important given the enclave’s humanitarian situation which has been exacerbated by overcrowding, unemployment and the ongoing political disagreement between rival factions: Hamas – which rules the Strip – and Fatah.
“With the approval of the Israelis, Qatar is establishing a more nuanced approach, one that is supportive of the Palestinians but is done by cozying up to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. In this way, the Palestinians still feel that Qatar has their back but that the Saudis are effectively abandoning them,” Law concluded.
Michael Knights, a Senior Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Media Line that “Qatar is winning its fight with Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states enforcing the embargo.
“It is doing so by diversifying its sovereign wealth funds across a range of key political environments including the U.S., China and other European countries.”
Qatar is trying to tone down anything that international players could view as controversial, especially its role in Syria, he explained. “But at the same time, it’s engaging with a broad range of actors, particularly Turkey, both politically and economically. For example, it has been supporting Ankara’s ability to import liquefied natural gas.
“It is a bit surprising to see how Doha is sticking out its neck in Gaza but the Qataris want to demonstrate they have very firm Arab credentials at a time when they’ve withdrawn from OPEC and the GCC is falling apart. They want to show the Arab League that they are taking an even more Arab position than Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” Knights concluded.
In terms of how long the crisis will last, Freer speculated that it could go on for quite a while as “both sides have settled into the new status quo and Qatar has forged ahead by establishing new trading partners.”
A resolution is far off because the dispute has become emotional, she explained.
“The blockade has become very public. On Twitter and other social media platforms, many throughout the Arab world have been commenting on the feud, making it hard for both sides to come together in a way that allows them to save face. Furthermore, there is no real incentive as neither side is struggling because of the embargo.”