Qatar, the small but wealthy Gulf emirate, has seen a major political opportunity in the collapse of the old regimes in the Arab world and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is “punching above its weight” at the moment, but it has attracted unfavorable attention from Saudi Arabia—and concern from the West, where Qatar is getting a reputation for having more money than good sense.A story in this morning’s FT highlights this emerging dynamic in the region as seen through the lens of Syria, where Qatar has allegedly spent as much as $3 billion since the conflict began:
For Qatar, owner of the world’s third-largest gas reserves, its intervention in Syria is part of an aggressive quest for global recognition and is merely the latest chapter in its attempt to establish itself as a major player in the region, following its backing of Libya’s rebels who overthrew Muammer Gaddafi in 2011.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.But 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. “You can’t buy a revolution,” says an opposition businessman.
The Saudis, the FT notes, have not taken this ostentatious spending lightly. Only now have they managed to surpass the Qataris as the primary funding source for the Syrian rebels. The specter that haunts the Saudis most may be the possibility of a Turkish-Qatari understanding. Both powers are closer to the Muslim Brotherhood than are the Saudis. Put Qatari money together with Turkey’s economic and military clout, and a formidable Middle Eastern power bloc emerges.The kaleidoscope of Middle East politics never stops turning, and new combinations and patterns keep popping up.