Qatar has not ceased its attempts of subversion and broadening its influence, even as the Arab world has boycotted it. They are fighting on TV, at the UN, in business and even in soccer.
Until recently, the Arab Emirate of Qatar was a symbol of great success and influence. Qatar quickly improved its desert way of life thanks to its healthy supply of liquefied natural gas and it increased its diplomatic strength thanks to Al-Jazeera. The previous Emir founded the network in 1996. Since then, Qatar has become the terror of the Arab dictatorial regimes, the height of its strength coming during the Middle Eastern instability which became known by the optimistic name, the Arab Spring.
The change came four months ago when a group of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt declared a boycott on the Emirate, or in the language of the Qatari’s, “a siege.” The boycott was declared mainly due to the close ties between the rich Qatari Emirate and the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar’s good relationship with Iran and its support for terror.
The UN was another big stage that demonstrated current inter-Arab rivalries. Even as Israel regularly disparages the United Nations and repeats the phrase “Um Shmum” (Who cares about the UN), many other nations invest in UN diplomatic activities as the organization remains important in their eyes. One of the ways to integrate into the UN is through its secondary institutions, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Recently, two dramatic events took place at UNESCO. The first was the United States’ declaration that they will leave the organization at the end of 2018. The reason that they are leaving is the organization’s hostile stance towards Israel. The American’s declared their intentions a year after UNESCO passed a resolution which stated there is no connection between the Western Wall and the Jews and, a few months later, that the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron is a Palestinian heritage site. After the United States, Israel also announced it would be leaving.
An additional dramatic event, that occurred a day after the Americans announced that they would be leaving, was the election of UNESCO’s new Secretary General, Audrey Azoulay, a French Jew of Moroccan descent. In the past, Azoulay served in Francois Hollande’s government as the Minister of Culture and her father was a former advisor to King Hassan II, the father of the current King of Morocco. Azoulay’s father is well known for his connections to Israel’s Labor Party. Azoulay was elected to the role by defeating Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, the Qatari candidate.
In a united Arab world, the election of an Arab candidate seemed to be the easy and preferred choice for Arab politicians, but the sensitive situation of the Arab boycott of the Arab Emirate brought about the election of both a woman and a Jew. Egypt, who is concerned with strengthening its position, wanted its own representative to run UNESCO, but the moment that it understood that the choice was between an Arab, Muslim representative who was Qatari and French Jew, it chose the French national.
Journalists in Cairo accused Doha of running a campaign of hundreds of millions of dollars in order to convince the relevant people to support the Qatari candidate. In response, the Qatari newspapers talked about “Arab hatred” against Doha.
In the above caricature by Ahmad Araf published in the Qatari Newspaper “Al-Arab” we see how “The Siege States,” (the name that Qatar has given to the states who are behind the boycott) who cannot even reach second place, are waving the French flag found in first place while the Qatari flag remains in second.
Also in soccer
An additional way for the Siege States to make life difficult for Qatar is through sports. There was Arab pressure to cancel Qatar’s right to host the 2022 World Cup. The right to host was granted to the rich Emirate despite its lack of sporting history and despite official recommendations. A concerning point is that most of those within FIFA who were in favor of Qatar hosting were found to be corrupt and were forced to leave the organization.
Additional problems for the Emirate came from Switzerland when a Swiss Attorney General opened up an investigation against Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the President of the Paris Saint-Germain football club. If the name is familiar to you, it is because he was behind bringing the Brazilian soccer player Neymar from Barcelona to his French club. In Qatar, Al-Khelaifi serves as the head of the Emirate’s sports investment fund and is involved in projects related to Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup in 2022. Al-Khelaifi is being investigated in Switzerland on suspicion that he bribed a senior FIFA official in order to win broadcast rights to the 2026 and 2030 World Cups for the “beIN SPORTS” network, a branch of the Qatari Al-Jazeera.
It seems that as part of the Palestinian unity deal, Hamas, which is fundamentally associated to the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar, has distanced itself from the Emirate and has come closer to its Egyptian neighbor and its leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the mortal enemy of Qatar. In addition, it was claimed that Qatar distanced itself from Hamas, but the Qatari Red Crescent announced that a Qatari grant of more than a quarter million dollars was transferred to the cardiology ward of the Nasser Medical Center in the southern Gaza Strip. Hamas also denied tension between them and the Qatari Emirate and that Doha sought to end the internal Palestinian rift. According to the speaker’s office of the head of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, Qatar has filled a central role in the prevention of the collapse of the Gaza Strip by funding building and infrastructure projects. Similarly, last week it was declared in Gaza that just as in the West Bank, there will soon be two cellular networks as Wataniya Mobile, which has connections to Qatar, will join Jawwal. Despite the sensitive situation, Hamas is continuing to maneuver between both sides.
In the above cartoon by Salem Elhilali for the Saudi paper “Okaz” we see on the face of a Qatari the slaps that the country has received. The first is the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah that was achieved with Egypt’s help, the rival of Qatar. Another slap came as a result of Donald Trump and says on it “the rejection of the nuclear deal with Iran,” a close ally. A third slap refers to the loss of UNESCO and Qatar’s inability to place its representative at the head of the organization. The final slap represents the corruption of global sports channel “beIN SPORTS,” due to it being granted broadcast rights for World Cup games.
One final thing, along with the encouraging announcements for Israel of the planned departure of the United States from UNESCO due to the organization’s bad treatment of Israel, it was announced that a new Qatari military consulate will open in Washington DC. That’s right. In the US capital, which is leaving UNESCO, a Qatari consulate will open. The same Qatar of Hamas and Al-Jazeera.
(Translated from Mida.org.il Hebrew)
The writer is an expert on the Middle East and Islam and the editor of the page “A View on the Developing New Middle East”
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