Qatar in the middle of the world with football, an assumed approach

This is the pinnacle of sports diplomacy. But not only: the small Gulf emirate is asserting itself, more broadly, on the international scene, as we have already seen with its central diplomatic role during the evacuation of Kabul in Afghanistan.
With its huge gas wealth, it wants to pretend to be a major player that talks to everyone, but it doesn’t just have friends: its success is annoying.
He also wanted to appear as a symbol of modernity in the Middle East, but there too it was a gamble, he was heavily criticized for the fate he reserved for migrant workers.

In any case, it is a real rebound for this country, once accused of links to terrorism and pointed out for its links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Examining six key points for “

The look of one : geography, history, economics, law, psychology and sociology.

Geography

Qatar is small in size but its location is very beautiful.

11,500 km2 is almost more than a French department. It is a small desert peninsula, jutting out like a finger into the Persian Gulf. An ideal commercial position.
160 km long and 80 wide, the country is densely populated: almost 3 million inhabitants, almost half of whom live in Doha, or around Doha, the capital full of futuristic skyscrapers.
Qatar has good neighbors nearby: Saudi Arabia first, its neighbor by land, 50 km from Doha. Bahrain in the North, Emirates in the South.
And Iran, neighbor by the sea, 300 km, like the distance between Corsica and Nice. Afghanistan is quite far, just after Iran.
Finally, it is a land of immigration, half the population is foreign, with many employees from the Indian subcontinent.

In other words, a perfect location to play mediators.

The story

The history of Qatar is inseparable from one family, the Al Thani, and their expressed desire for independence.

Like all countries in the region, Qatar has been organized for millennia by tribes, it has experienced many influences (Assyrian, Greek, Persian, Christian, Muslim, Turkish, British).
But from the 17th century, a local family, Al Thani gradually imposed itself.

When the British protectorate ends in the Gulf, Qatar takes flight.
In 1971, it declared its independence and renounced association with the other emirates, which would become the United Arab Emirates, neighbors and competitors.
Al Thani succeeded each other in power. It is a family and absolute monarchy, but the last sovereigns were eager to present an image of modernity, especially the current emir, Tamim Ben Hamad Al Thani.

Qatar’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood organization also led it to support the Palestinian movement Hamas, then the Arab uprisings from 2011.
The neighboring Sunni and Wahhabi monarchies, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia took it badly, especially as Qatar also has relations with its Shiite rival, Iran. In 2017, they therefore imposed a commercial blockade on the small emirate. It proved unproductive and was removed in early 2021.
Qatar’s success has become stable.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt announced on Monday, June 5, 2017, the severance of their diplomatic relations with Qatar.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt announced on Monday, June 5, 2017, the severance of their diplomatic relations with Qatar.

© Visactu

economy

This is the basis of Qatari power: the enormous wealth associated with raw materials, a wealth placed at the service of the geopolitical project.

The discovery of oil in the 1940s and more of gas at the end of the 20th century transformed a poor country into a rich one. A meteoric rise.
One of the 10 richest in the world, if we look at GDP per capita. Non-existent unemployment, life expectancy of 80 years on average.

Qatar is the world’s leading producer of liquefied gas and, along with Russia and Iran, has the largest reserves on the planet.
Gas represents 60% of the country’s exports. And the will of the West to cut off Russian gas, has further strengthened the weight of Qatar, always more courted.

The emirate had the wisdom to invest the resulting trillions in a massive sovereign fund, one of the largest in the world.
By buying department stores, hotels, football clubs abroad (PSG, and part of Sporting Braga in Portugal). By launching twenty-five years ago a television channel, Al Jazeera, became the most powerful in the Arabic-speaking world: 80 offices worldwide.
By building an airline, Qatar Airways, with 230 aircraft, and heavily involved in evacuation operations in Afghanistan.
By buying a lot of weapons and planes, especially from France, Mirages, dozens of Rafales.

There are gray areas: funding circuits are accused of opacity by some NGOs.
And then Qatar’s economy is also based on a strong community of highly exploited immigrant workers, in particular Indians, Bangladeshis, Nepalese. Submitted until recently on Kefala, a type of employer submission.
The system was officially abolished under international pressure. But in practice, the rights of migrants remain ambiguous.
Amnesty International estimates that thousands of migrant worker deaths remain unexplained, among other places at Football World Cup construction sites. Qatar denied.

In any case, the emirate is therefore using its enormous financial resources with a specific goal: to establish itself as an important international player.

That’s right

Domestically, the law in Qatar is first and foremost a family and a religion.
Sharia is the basis of law. And even though there is a Constitution that is supposed to reflect the popular will since 2004, even though the legislative elections took place in 2021, the Al Thani dynasty really holds the reins. It appoints a third of the representatives.
No women were elected, although there were many in the university. Same-sex relationships are prohibited.

At the international level, we must maintain an important agreement. One, military, which links Qatar to the United States.
Washington has its main base in the Middle East there, the Al Udeid base, which can house up to 10,000 men.
This is a major collaboration. Qatar is diplomatically linked to the United States.

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Psychology and sociology

First, there is the strong ambition of this Al Thani family.

It was the father of the current emir who first developed Qatar’s global influence.
His son Tamim, now in power, further accelerated the process. Educated extensively in London, English and French speaking, 41 years old, he is a cultured and accomplished man.
Therefore, he seeks to make Qatar the interface of world diplomacy, the country that talks to everyone, from the Taliban to the Americans, including Iranians, Europeans, Chinese. And so is Putin’s Russia.
He sees Doha as a 21st century Geneva.

But this ambition has murkier facets.
In the exact nature of the relationship with the Islamist groups, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Al Nosrah Front. In Islamic financing circuits in the West, particularly in France.
And the power to admit criticism rather than bad. For example the global climate impact of the organization of the World Cup (construction of stadiums, housing, transport).

And then, while the Al Thani family controls all power (for example the Prime Minister or Minister of Foreign Affairs is also an Al Thani), it is hard to know what the Qatari population thinks. Even a high standard of living guarantees a certain popular support, with large sums invested for forty years in education or health.

At the Lusail stadium.  Inaugurated on November 22, 2021, it will host the opening match and the final of the 2022 FIFA World Cup
At the Lusail stadium. Inaugurated on November 22, 2021, it will host the opening match and the final of the 2022 FIFA World Cup

© Maxppp
– Jean-Luc Flemal / Belpress

Postscript: the main role of sport

For fifteen years, Qatar deliberately bet on sport, as a tool of influence, of “soft power”, of creating a clean and smooth image.
It is the translation of the Emir’s personal passion for sport, but above all it has become a diplomatic keystone, a tool of notoriety.

The country has already organized the 2006 Asian Games, the 2011 Pan Arab Games, the men’s handball world championship in 2015, the World Athletics Championships in 2019.
This diplomacy also includes the audiovisual sector through the BeIN Sports group.

By becoming the first Arab country to win the FIFA World Cup, the emirate scored points vis-à-vis its neighbors and rivals in the Gulf.
So he spent a lot for this purpose: 7 billion for stadiums, 36 billion for the metro.
Qatar will also host the Asian Football Cup in 2023. And its next goal is the Olympic Games in 2036.

World Cup stadiums in Qatar.
World Cup stadiums in Qatar.

© AFP
-Laurence Saubadu, Vincent Lefai

All in all, hosting the FIFA World Cup is just a stepping stone for Qatar.
He has no intention of stopping there, he is driven by a strong ambition.
His wealth gives him the means for checkbook diplomacy.
He sees his newfound fame and his role as intermediary as a source of legitimacy, even life insurance.

But finding yourself in the center of attention involves risks: it also draws attention to hidden sides (the fate of migrant workers, the impact on the climate).
And it is a bet that makes people jealous: the neighbors, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain, will not be happy to see Qatar fail.

In collaboration with Éric Chaverou and Chadi Romanos

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