Qatar and Arab Spring



Since the events leading to the Arab Uprising, best known as the Arab Spring towards the end of 2010, there have been major transformations in the Arab world. Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen were the most affected counties, with the effects of the transformations leading to the development of inclusive governments and the evident diminishing of the authoritarian governments that marked the states. According to Colombo (2012), the movements, which were sparked by Tunisia, were mainly caused by dissatisfactions stemming from the political, social, and economic arena. Further, issues in governance, corruption, nepotism, lack of employment and unequal opportunities for all sparked the public protests. From the first Tunisian protests, there followed a chain of reactions that affected the larger Gulf cooperation Council (GCC), with almost all members experiencing public protests. In most countries, the protests were extensive, with some leading to deaths, and imprisonments. Various punishments were invoked to the protesters. Interestingly, the GCC supported the Arab Spring in some countries, offering media and diplomatic support to the protesters. In this scenario, Qatar evidently played a big role in supporting the Arab Spring. 

Qatar had a rather direct impact on the Arab Spring. From the country’s tradition as a diplomatic mediator between nations, Qatar embraced the ongoing Arab Spring, and supported the transitioning of the Middle Eastern and North African states. The country’s reactions to the transitions that caused widespread strikes and demonstrations attracted a lot of skepticism; an issue that has made the current government adopts more realistic policies aimed at addressing the lack of support for the movements that proliferated during the Arab Spring. 

Responses to the Arab Spring

Kamrava (2011) notes that the 2011 Arab Spring is a season of occurrences that shaped the Arab-world domestic politics considerably. Owing to the Arab Spring, the political changes in The Middle East and the North Africa (MENA) region have consequently had profound changes in the position of GCC as well as its policy implementation. With countries such as Saudi Arabia seeing to stiffen its prominence in the Arab region, there remains a lot of reactions, to counter the effects of the Arab Spring.

Despite the GCC posing a heavy hand against protestors in Bahrain, the situation in Libya and Syria saw imminent support from Qatar. The Qatari Kingdom was very active, especially in supporting the revolts that were based against the incumbent regions in these areas.  As a result of the role played in supporting the revolt, Qatar was able to solidify its role as the diplomatic bridge between the Sunni Arab worlds to the Western nations. Further, apart from the mediation and interlocution roles Qatar played, while acting as a political broker, it became a pertinent partner in intervening, together with NATO, against the Gadhafi rebels in Libya.  In the same tune, Qatar readily recognized the role of the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC). In addition, according to Colombo (2012), Qatar supplied the rebels with weapons, gas and money. The Kingdom also contributed some military power, when some forces from the country took part on assaulting Col Gadhafi’s compound, back in 2011. 

In an attempt to solidify its helm as the main supporter for reforms in terms of social justice and freedom of the public that was oppressed by the dictatorial and authoritarian regime, the Qatari took advantage of the civil war in Libya to utilize Al Jazeera in garnering the requisite Arab support of foreign intervention in Libya. Moreover, Qatar used the same broadcaster to augment its favor amongst Arabs as a key Arab player in ensuring a free Libya. Consequently, Al Jazeera perfectly played this role, and even went ahead to do the same for Syria (Colombo, 2012). 

Moreover, Qatar was able to manipulate its way to the Syrian situation, building upon the inability by the United Nations and Russian and Chinese forces to respond to the Syrian crisis. In order to ensure that the Syria crisis, in the same way as the Libyan crisis, falls in its preferences, Qatar pushed the reinvigoration of the Arab League while addressing the situation. At the same time, Qatar pushed a further intervention to the Syrian crisis by suggesting that it could offer its troop to assist in the furtherance of Assad’s toppling, additional evidence in the direct role that Qatar played towards the development of the Arab Spring. The moves by Qatar, notwithstanding, have led to increased tension and competition for influence between it and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Qatar fights for a loosening of the tight grip that the Saudi Kingdom has had on the GCC, as the KSA seeks to maintain its influence in the region, making the two countries oppose each other. 

Qatar’s actions in Libya and Syria did not only boost its image in the international scenes, but also made its leaders back the transitioning forces, in a move that was seen as seeking Arab solutions to Arab problems (Ulrichsen, 201a4). The response that was posed by this country largely required a balancing act to the foreign policy. Inasmuch as Qatar intervened in the quest for peace in the MENA region, it trended carefully in the areas where Saudi Arabia had greater influence; this was the case for Bahrain and Yemen. Other than Saudi’s influence, the two GCC countries could pose a problem to peace as they are members of the GCC and also neighbors to the country. Owing to its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, as per Ulrichsen (2014b), Qatar had prominent ties to the opposition leaders, most of whom were leading the Arab Spring movement in MENA. With such pacts, Qatar was able to gain additional influence from the returning exiles and the Muslim Brotherhood, a factor that played crucial transitional roles in the countries. Above this influence, the country also immensely benefited from its wealth. The per capita GDP of $440, 000 (Ulrichsen, 2014a) was enough insulation from any domestic upheavals (Cafiero & Wagner, 2017). 

Effects of the Arab Spring on Qatar

As a consequence of the new modes of authoritarianism on the rise in the Middle East, there have been strong revocations of Qatar’s policies. Its seemingly former impartial position to foreign interests has received a backlash. The position that Qatar held in the region, where foreign relations were seamless and realistic has stooped low, forcing its leaders to try as much as they could to revitalize the once adorable image (Ulrichsen, 2014b)

Following the demeaning image of Doha’s involvement in the MENA region as a result of its actions in 2011, many skeptic alterations were made against the country, chief among them the blame on the involvement with Mali’s armed Islamists. From its previous ally in the ouster of Col Muammar Gadhafi, France, it was stated that Qatar provided financial and military backup, through training to Ansar Dine, a rebel group responsible for bloody takeovers of Malian cities. This assertion was further supported by CNN. Inasmuch as these allegations remain unsubstantiated, Qatar is left with a backlog of clearing its name. According to Ulrichsen (2014a), it is very damaging for a country like Qatar to be associated with destabilization, as such might have an impact on policy formulation. As such, the mediation roles that Qatar played prior to the Arab Spring may seem obsolete.  

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The Qatari Monarchy

The Qatari Monarchy is dynastic in nature, and can be said to be enjoying immunity from civil unrest and waves of revolt, such as those witnessed during the Arab Spring. In order to maintain the dynasty, the monarch employs a variety of tactics. Qatar is a constitutional monarchy, which is headed by an Emir. The Emir holds a hereditary position. In political terms, the county is slowly evolving from a traditional institution to a more democratic form of governance. There is a constitution that formulates the operatives of the Thani family, which is responsible for a legislative body that is democratically elected. Further, the ministers of the government are accountable to the legislature. The Emir plays an oversight role, led by the customs and the traditions of the land. It is worth noting that the Emir is not accountable to anyone, but is contained by the Sharia law. Further, the Emir is required to adhere to the opinions of the leading families as well as the Islamic religion (Fanack (2017). 

The Oil Monarchy of Qatar, which has been in existence for a very long time has power over the distribution of oil wealth in the country. The monarchy is led by the Emir who has his own advisory council. One of the factors that make the monarchy very powerful is that the Central Municipal Council, which is elected by popular vote, only plays an oversight role in chief monarchy decisions. The absolute power over oil wealth in Qatar has been controversial at times, making it hard for the law of the land to differentiate personal wealth from the treasury, for the Emir. Moreover, the succession issues in the royal family remain rocky to date, due to lack of an institutionalized form of governance and the extensive nature of the family (Keyman, 2012). 

The political autonomy of the Emir is heavily bureaucratic. The ministries are established as a form of reward to the extended members of the loyal families, who then manage them with total control and a lot of corruption. Lack of an involvement by the judiciary to tame the elites makes the situation boil to turmoil, making the real governance, hence, stick to the hands of the Emir. Additionally, when the elite are involved in corruption, they are never judged before a court of law, making their position immune to the law. 

The monarchs bank on the religious as well as the historical legitimacy to justify their immunity, as well as popularity.  The monarchs have been able to survive due to their dynastic nature. One of the tactics applied to avoid military takeover of the monarchies are the selective placement of members of the royal family in key posts in the military, an issue that averts any attempts at a military takeover. The politics of succession have been changed from just a father to son issue; rather the royal family selects a ruler from amongst their members, a move that allows them to select a strong ruler, and mitigate the taking over by weaklings (Cafiero & Wagner, 2017). 

To ensure the survival of the monarchs, families form a representation facet, where various members take various positions in the society. Considering the big number of family members, and their strategic placement around the society in general, the monarch is bound by a family-related intelligence service that proves to be very effective. This act keeps the royal family to their subject and keeps them always ahead of the political issues going on, such as the Arab Spring. Survival of the monarchy is also made possible by the demographic orientation of the country. Qatar, like most other monarchies is a very small country with a consistent population. Finances accrued from oil make it easier for the state to control the small population (Keyman, 2012). 

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According to Zayani, Al Jazeera started out by advertising itself as a forum for a diversity of views and mainly focusing on issues that concerned the Arabs as well as subjects that drew controversy. With time, the media house took a leading role in streaming Arab issues, and essentially played a center stage in mainstream Arab media. As such Al Jazeera has spanned the entire Arab region, playing a very major role in key political decisions in the Arab world. Due to the manner that Al Jazeera has influenced Arab broadcasting, it has further developed a lot of potential, which it actually employs, in influencing the larger Arab public opinion, as well as Arab politics (Zayani, 2009). Since its prominence in the Afghan war, the media house has attracted prominence, garnering both controversy and criticism. 

Politically, Al Jazeera enjoys some profound and characteristic freedom, albeit with some constraints. It rarely speaks of Qatari issues and rarely criticizes it. The channel is said to be under strict oversight of the Qatar royal family and never criticizes it. Further, the channel is used by the family to gain political influence and mileage over other states, due to its prominence in Arab world matters and coverage. It is also noted that the channel never probes local political issues, at times acting like a foreign channel. Most of the intrigues facing the loyal family are rarely aired, making the locals not conversant with local political upheavals, most of the time. 

According to Ismail (2011) the success in toppling of the Gadhafi regime was mainly as a result of the combined efforts by Al Jazeera and NATO forces. Further, the author stated that the media outlet was focused on toppling of Syria’s Bashar al Assad from power, owing to his authoritarianism and widespread blood thirsty dictatorial ills. Further, Ismail (2012) asserts that since the inception of Al Jazeera, it has played a very critical part in the manner that Arab politics and public opinion in the Middle East is shaped. Though education and information, the channel has steered considerable public debate in various circles, some of which have elicited controversy in equal measure. As a matter of fact, most Arab dictators have labeled Al Jazeera as their greatest enemy, owing to the manner it impartially aired the events leading to the Arab Spring, especially the public protests and involvement. 

Moreover, Campbell & Hawk (2012) note that the events leading to the Egyptian protests and the larger Arab Spring was mainly influenced by digital media, as well as social media. According to this research, Campbell & Hawk notes that Al Jazeera played a vital part in airing stories about social media that further contributed to the widespread use of this media to spark protests across various Egyptian cities. Al Jazeera played a critical role, thence, in promoting the power of social media. The framings achieved by the channel were directly connected to the outcomes of the protests from the early protests, such as those around the Tahir Square. 

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Qatar played a very influential role in the Arab Spring. Reinforce by its massive wealth, and coupled with the ownership of a globally acknowledge media channel, Al Jazeera, the state was able to contribute a lot to the toppling of Arab’s major dictators in the 2011, Arab Spring. As a result, Qatar was perceived as an influential nation in the Arab League. Moreover, the country was able to solidify its footprint in making essential decisions and in the foreign policy issues affecting the GCCC. Contrary, the after effects of the Arab Spring and the renewed rise in authoritarianism have led to floppy considerations of the country as a perpetrator of ills. This has led Qatar to assume a series of measures to counter such allegations, and maintain the status it enjoyed prior to the 2011 events. Essentially, irrespective of the effects that the Spring has had on Qatar, its contribution to the events cannot be forgotten. 

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