From prosperity to crisis: How Qatari dreams turned to nightmare

Faraz Ahmed Shams

Published: Updated:

The rise of Qatar to prominence and economic glory has been nothing short of meteoric. Much of this prosperity has been the result of vast finds of gas and commensurate demand of this fuel across the globe.

This single phenomenon has propelled the tiny peninsula to the league of superrich countries, eclipsing the likes of principalities such as Luxemburg and nations such as Singapore and even Switzerland.

Even as its bigger and more prominent hogged the limelight during the oil boom of 70s, Qatar was languishing in relative obscurity and it was only in the 90s that Qatari economy boomed. However, unlike its more mature neighbors, the nouveau riche Qatar embarked on a high-profile blitz, splashing money at anything and everything which could raise its profile. It seemed that the tiny nation wanted to come out of the shadows of its better known and more appreciated neighbours such as the UAE, Kuwait and the KSA.

It began buying out real estate in global metropolises, splurged on paintings, bought out football clubs and invested in sectors, which were hitherto unknown. It also began building universities and institutions, inviting foreign tie-ups in domestic sectors and hosted a slew of events in sports and cultural extravaganzas. The eye-watering sums spent on these indulgences, made sure that Qatar shot to fame and earned significant recognition across the globe.

However, with new money comes new desires and Qatar took aim to be a power broker in the Middle East. In such a volatile region, mediation and diplomacy requires great expertise and experience, something which it sorely lacked. In order to compensate for that, the Qatari rulers began throwing money to get into areas where it never had ventured into, even as it invited some consternation.

Initially, it embarked on creating a well-oiled media machine to aggrandize its activities and increase its clout across the globe.

Fishing in troubled waters

Al Jazeera claims to be a neutral as well as impartial news source aimed at educating the Arab masses. However, it shot to fame by airing propaganda videos of Osama Bin Laden, who was at that time a fugitive and carried a bounty on his head.

Not content with a high-profile media machine at its disposal, Qatar delved directly into the hotspots of the Arab world. It began openly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot, Hamas in Gaza by hosting its leaders. As ironical as it may sound, it has been hosting the largest American base in the Middle East as well as the American designated terrorist entity simultaneously!

The GCC was formed to ensure seamless coordination in the Arab world and counter threats in the region through collective efforts. The activities of Qatar were initially received with slight concern in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi but in the spirit of brotherhood, these concerns were conveyed through formal and informal channels.

However, things took a turn for worse when Qatar began to dabble in the internal affairs of countries. When the mayhem in Syria began, Qatar started supporting rebels allied to Al Qaeda in a bid to entrench as a serious powerbroker.

Likewise, support for Muslim Brotherhood was driven by the motivation of pulling the strings behind the scenes in Egypt. In recent times, Qatar has also broken the accord and has inched closer to Iran and Turkey, the latter has also built a military base in the country.

Such dramatic actions were bound to attract the scrutiny and censure of its neighbours. Qatar was given an ultimatum in 2014 to stop funding terrorists and tone down its activities, which were detrimental to the region.

However, high on money, Doha refused to listen and its activities, including support to terrorists continued unabated even as the situation in the region and particularly in Syria deteriorated.

Tipping point

Finally, things reached a tipping point and patience of the Arab states ran out. When all methods of persuasion ran out, the snapping of diplomatic ties and introduction of punitive measures were the only resorts left.

Instead of setting things right in the neighbourhood, Qatar choose to embrace Tehran and Ankara openly burnishing its upstart credentials. Following the blockade, Iran sent food supplies and Turkey has reaffirmed its support. What the tiny Emirate doesn’t know that it can get mired in a bitter geopolitical struggle between competing powers in the region.

That would be a situation in which it has never been before. It must also realize that both Turkey and Iran have political ambitions of their own and it is only a pawn in the game. And neither these countries were of any avail, when the Muslim Brotherhood government fell despite supporting it and extending overtures as soon as it assumed power.

Qatar has put up a brave face, and has lobbied extensively across the global capitals. It has also hired lobbyists in Washington to shore up its case. However, it is no match for the diplomatic might of the Saudi-UAE combine, which have a firmly entrenched network in Washington.

The adverse impacts of the blockade have begun to surface. Qatar has been the second largest producer of Helium in the world and following the blockade, it has been forced to close down its two helium plants. Moody’s has downgraded its outlook for Qatar while the pipeline company ferrying gas from Qatar has also been downgraded. Another critical worry for the Emirate is its lack of freshwater reserves, and it remains to be seen as to how long it can cope up with the blockade which affects its ability to source this precious necessity.

The Gulf leaders have also indicated that continued Qatari defiance would attract further sanctions and there would be no let up this time around. It is up to the Qatari leadership to decide whether it would remain oblivious to the harsh realities or make amends before it is too late.