Kooky Qatar — More dough than you can sheikh a stick at, Part 1 of 2

Tom Zaja


Qatari architecture - Burj Doha

Midway down the Persian Gulf, a small peninsula the size of Connecticut rudely juts out opposite the world’s largest gas field. This fateful geomorphic kiss has made the state of Qatar the Gulf’s own version of The Provisions State, amassing vast wealth since its amicable independence from the British in 1971. An overnight cornucopia of new opportunities and problems alike have tumbleweeded in, but the regime shows little in the way of restraint. Much like its topography, Qatar is protruding sharply into regional politics and shaping up as an influential player whose political wake is being felt many seas away.

Qatar is an underestimated high-flier because it is often pigeonholed with the other spoiled Gulf States whose wealth is inversely proportional to their humility. Rather than be a wealthy, neutral and independent state, Qatar is a politically promiscuous country that attempts to buy everyone’s affection, some more than others, in a strategy termed “hedging.”[i] Qatar manages to maintain close relations with America, Israel, Iran and Palestine. Qatar is not nearly as much a nation state as it is a family estate, but the ruling al-Thani family does manage an approval rating that would make most Western democracies envious.

Qatar’s wealth cannot be overstated since the consequent social effects and political leverage are perhaps without precedent. Qataris pay no income tax or sales tax, and utilities like electricity and healthcare are provided free of charge. Citizens have come to expect the state’s general allowances, which can be as high as $7000 per month, along with free land, guaranteed civil employment and interest-free loans.[ii] In order to grasp just how brimming the Qatari coffers are, one has to turn to the state’s $250 billion sovereign wealth.

In Britain alone, the Qataris own billions in property, estates and cultural landmarks, from Chelsea Barracks and Heathrow airport to elite hotel chains and the former US embassy building in the heart of Mayfair. It isn’t a monopoly just yet, since they have to share with the likes of the Jewish-American Glazer family, who aren’t budging from their occupancy of Old Trafford despite a Qatari ten-figure offer for Manchester United. Not to be disheartened, the al-Thanis soon picked up London’s £500 million Olympic Village at a scandalous half-price discount and the heritage boutique shopping mall Harrods for a more honest £1.5 billion. Perhaps concerned that the change in ownership went unnoticed, the flag of Qatar now waves uninhibited from high above over the apathetic consumers below.

The wholesale selloff of Britain’s icons and assets hasn’t seemed to upset the public outside of the Daily Mail readership, but at any rate the Qataris have sought to soften the blow of the globalist gavel by being constructive and building things that Brits could be building. This contribution has taken the form of the newest and tallest building in Western Europe: The Shard — a transparent neo-futurist eyesore that looks as though it could be a postmodern condom for the Eiffel Tower. It was inaugurated by the Prime Minister — not David Cameron but the PM of Qatar, since the ‘joint ownership’ is in fact 95% Qatari. As it stands, the ruling family of Qatar, via its sovereign wealth fund and subsidiaries, owns more of London than the British royal family. One can imagine the political leverage this imparts in a country that has the second highest foreign debt in the world.

For more than a thousand years Qatar was little more than the pearl-oyster capital of the old world. In a matter of decades the state has managed to acquire exorbitant assets abroad and revamp the country into a well-connected metropolis; home to one of the largest media networks in the world, multinational corporations and the third largest airliner for international travelers. The country is set to host the largest sporting event ever in 2022 and has powerful alliances that have assured its influence and security. As it turns out, the world is becoming Qatar’s oyster — which cannot auger well for a world burdened with inequality and exploitation.

The Guardian, VICE and other left-leaning media have been decent enough to expose the ongoing slave labor in wealthy Gulf states. In this Qatar leads the way since in addition to their usual skyline overkill, they need to build twelve stadia in time for the soccer World Cup. Duped South Asian workers arriving in Qatar have their contracts torn up and are forced to work tortuous twelve-hour shifts in extreme heat for a fraction of what was agreed. Passports are confiscated by law to ensure that the slave workers cannot escape back home to their third world countries. An Australian human rights group ranks Qatar fourth in the world on their slavery index, a rather shameful accolade for the richest per capita country in the world.

Qatari society is so rich and consumeristic that shop clerks commonly dispense change in the form of gum or candy to indifferent shoppers. When the Father Emir fractured his leg while on holiday in Morocco, he flew to Switzerland for treatment with an entourage of no less than nine jets. The obscene wealth and decadence alongside the plight of hundreds of thousands of slave laborers makes for a poignant and conundrous juxtaposition. Foreign workers could easily be remunerated a respectable wage without the ruling elite or citizenry feeling a thing. For the rich and heinous, an idle bankroll is the Devil’s ammunition, and what Qatar’s upper echelon is allegedly doing with their revenue is considerably worse than the manner in which they obtained it.

Even in the mainstream, people are slowly waking up to the sobering reality that Qatar is one of largest terrorism piggy-banks in the world. Up to twelve key figures in Qatar have been implicated in the funding of jihadi groups like al-Nusra, which merged and later separated from ISIS. A government official of Qatar, Salim al-Kurawi, was caught channeling money to al-Qaeda while working for the interior ministry. Likewise, the foreign minister’s cousin was detained in Lebanon for financing al-Qaeda but was freed before trial after intense diplomatic pressure. The Qatari government allegedly threatened to expel 30,000 Lebanese nationals from its country.

It’s no secret that Qatar has been instrumental in regime change in Middle East-North Africa countries by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and via its highly influential media network, al-Jazeera. During the Arab spring in Libya, it was none other than the flag of Qatar billowing from Gaddafi’s assailed compound.

With the eccentric and dissenting colonel gone, attention swiftly turned to the prim and decorous doctor — Bashar al-Assad, whose successful and popular leadership of Syria has meant nothing to the “Assad must go” bandwagon of the Establishment World Order. Predictably, Qatar has been in the thick of things along with the usual suspects. In a scandal that should have been bigger than Benghazi, hacked emails from British arms contractor Britam revealed a Qatari-sponsored arrangement to provide chemical weapons to the Syrian rebels in a plan they claimed had “Washington’s approval.” The story was hastily yanked from news outlets both mainstream and alternative with no explanation provided, suggesting the documents were indeed as legitimate as private-sector software experts claimed. The eventual use of chemical weapons was of course what Obama warned would necessitate military intervention, although his polemical ‘lines in the sand’ apparently don’t last very long in the Syrian Desert.

From the onset of the conflict in Syria, Western coverage has been accompanied with the well-worn “democracy now” maxim and a distorted depiction of the size and quality of the aggrieved opposition. Honest analysis of the geopolitical maneuvering has been largely absent in favor of warzone soap opera scenery since it would expose Western conflicts of interest. But the unmistakable overlap of competition for energy resources and infrastructure with the outbreak of conflict in 2011 is a clear signal that not all is what it seems.

Two years prior to the conflict, Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from Qatar’s North Dome gas field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and eventually Europe. Agence France-Presse reported that Assad’s rationale was to protect the interests of his Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas. Consequently, Assad signed on with the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline in 2011, right before protests were engineered to oust him from power. Iran’s South Pars gas field is contiguous with Qatar’s North Dome, but the fight over which side and what route the gas takes on the way to Syria makes the natural gas reservoir an undersea watershed with major economic and political backwash.

Inserting religion into the conflict has been very easy to do, since Iran and Iraq are majority Shiite while Assad is a sectarian-friendly Alawite. The Gulf States, Jordan and Turkey are Sunni, as are their allies/mercenaries ISIS. Turkey has already been outed laundering oil from ISIS and using the conflict to wage war on Syria’s Kurds whose peaceful and successful autonomy is setting a threatening example for Turkey’s Kurds. But their greater interest against Syria comes from their dependence on Iranian oil and a desire to make transit commission on the Qatar pipeline. Turkey runs the risk of being bypassed by an undersea pipeline that runs from Syria’s Russian-leased port Tartus to Europe.

Connections with Israel and the Muslim Brotherhood

Israel’s sizable stake of the action is based on Syria as a traditional enemy whose Golan Heights it continues to occupy and whose leaders have given support to the Palestinians. The deal was sweetened when Israel discovered its own gas reserves that need to link up with a friendly and affordable pipeline.

In a candid comment on French television, retired Foreign Minister Roland Dumas spoke of an unusual encounter in 2009 with British officials who admitted that preparations were underway for action in Syria and that “gunmen” were being trained. On the question of to what ends, Dumas emphasized that the regime was considered problematic due to its “anti-Israel” aspect. He went on to quote an Israeli Prime Minister who told him that state policy was to try to get along with neighbors but “strike those who refuse to get on with us.”

These views are corroborated by Julian Assange, who claimed Washington’s plan for the overthrow of Assad went back to 2006, as evidenced by a leaked cable from Damascus-based US ambassador William Roebuck.

“Part of the problem in Syria is that you have a number of US allies surrounding it, principally Saudi [Arabia] and Qatar, that are funneling in weapons. Turkey as well [is] a very serious actor. [They] each have their own hegemonic ambitions in the region. Israel also, no doubt, if Syria sufficiently destabilized, might be in a position where it can keep the Golan Heights forever, or even advance that territory. So you’ve got a number of players around Syria that are looking to bite off pieces…” Julian Assange, RT, September 9, 2015

Indeed, Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu has recently stated that Israel “would never relinquish the Golan Heights.”

Those doubting the dispassionate analysis from the WikiLeaks founder may be better served by the unrestrained account of leading military analyst for Haaretz, Amos Harel, who enjoys high-grade access to policy makers.

“The war in Syria has largely served Israel’s interests. The ongoing fighting has worn down the Syrian army to a shadow of its former capabilities. And Hezbollah, Israel’s main adversary in the north, is losing dozens of fighters every month in battle. Israel has been quietly wishing success to both sides and would not have been against the bloodletting continuing for a few more years without a clear victor.” Amos Harel, Haaretz, February 21, 2016

The British-American-Turkish-Qatari-Israeli-Saudi (BATQIS) alliance comprises some geopolitical heavyweights, but it is tiny Qatar that is the biggest cheerleader since it stands to benefit the most. It has likely invested the most in Syria’s regime change and wouldn’t have done so without serious backing from allies who have their reciprocal demands. Turkey announced it would be opening up a military base in Qatar in order to fight “common enemies.” Qatar already has the biggest American military base in the region with 10,000 personnel, along with six American University campuses and all US fast-food chains.

Another big ally on Qatar’s payroll is the Muslim Brotherhood, which is being helped to come to power in Jordan and Syria in exchange for peace with Qatar. If the geopolitical map was to be redrawn in this way, the effect on the world gas market would be advantageous to Qatar and detrimental to Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and China. The scenario is not lost on the Syrian government, which is aware of the parties and their roles. Of all the enemies aiding the bloodshed of its population, Syria considers Qatar to be the worst, as made clear in an appeal to the UN.

After five years of war in Syria there are now hundreds of thousands dead and eleven million displaced. Most of the refugees are in the neighboring countries of Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Turkey, not in Europe. However, most migrants coming to Europe are not from Syria contrary to the aylan kurdi rich sheikhspretext. The hypocrisy of wealthy Gulf states refusing to admit a single Syrian refugee received wide attention and condemnation even in progressive media. The “only democracy in the Middle East” also took none, but fared much better for criticism. P.M. Netanyahu said of refugees: “We will not allow Israel to be submerged by a wave of illegal migrants and terrorist activists.”

But it was the BBC’s defense of Gulf states that brought a new level of flagrant hypocrisy to the disgraced broadcaster. Michael Stephens of British-Qatari defense and security think-tank RUSI made the case.

“the influx of thousands of Syrians at once would threaten to overturn a highly delicate demographic balance that the Gulf states rely on to keep functioning.”

“deep fears began to pervade the Gulf states that Syrians loyal to Mr Assad would seek to infiltrate the Gulf to exact revenge.”

“with a high turnover of low and high skilled labor, which allows the native Gulf Arab populations to maintain their dominant status without being overrun by Arabs from other countries, or South Asian laborers.”

“There is no precedent (not even the Palestinian exodus of 1948) that matches the scale of the demographic threat Syrian refugees pose to Gulf identity and social composition.” — Michael Stephens, BBC, September 7, 2015

Western countries of course, claim that concerns over identity and social composition are “racist,” but it seems to be okay for non-Western countries to make such arguments.

Defense consultant Stephens is honest enough not to pathologize the security threat of “revenge seekers” (which implicitly incriminates the Gulf states in Syria’s War), but his attempt at anthropology and demography is well out of his range. Since most of the refugees are Sunni Muslim and Arabic speakers they represent highly compatible people — Bedouin Arabs for instance are not even counted a separate ethnicity on Gulf censuses. Qatar and the UAE are indeed demographically delicate minority-citizen countries, but this is not the case for Saudi Arabia and the others. At any rate Qatar and the UAE seem to think that young and able-bodied refugees from the Arab world are not a desirable source of workers compared to their outsourced ones.

Go to Part 2.


[i] Kamrava, M. (2013). Qatar: Small State, Big Politics (p.13). Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press.

[ii] Kamrava, M. (2013). Qatar: Small State, Big Politics (p.66). Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press.

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