Qatar was not too long ago the toast of foreign-policy insiders. It spread its largesse around Washington, and universities fell all over themselves trying to get their foot in the Qatari door. U.S. Central Command has a forward headquarters at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. While some saw Qatar just a few years ago as a symbol of benign neutrality, only a few scholars—COMMENTARY’s own Max Boot, for example, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi as well–recognized the danger which Qatar presented.
The skeptics were right. Qatar has used its tremendous financial resources to become a major regional and international player. Its money speaks louder than words, and what it says suggests that tiny Qatar supports radical sectarian causes if not outright terrorism. Qatar, for example, has become, alongside Turkey, the chief supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist groups like Hamas. Increasingly, it also seems willing to seek to undermine the stability of those states surrounding it.
The Washington Post (via the Associated Press) now reports that Qatar is seeking the return of two of its citizens which authorities in the United Arab Emirates have arrested on charges of espionage. The charges seem to suggest that the alleged Qatari agents were seeking to bolster Islah, the Emirati branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a group covered here in COMMENTARY and which has maintained ties with both al-Qaeda and which has sought to overthrow the Emirati government.
The Washington Post references Al-Khaleej, a paper published in Sharjah which, in Arabic, reported:
Al-Khaleej has learned that the news carried by a Qatari newspaper on Qatari nationals detained in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is in fact about the arrest of Qatari intelligence elements operating in the UAE and currently under investigation…This behavior confirms the general impression, consolidated day after day, that Qatar is not sincere in its reiterated pledge to banish the Muslim Brotherhood group from the country… Some observers monitoring Gulf affairs wondered once again about the real goals pursued by the Qatari foreign policy, which threatens to further isolate Doha… The observers, furthermore, highlighted the modus operandi that Qatar resorted to in the past, which manifested itself through the ambiguous relations of Abd-al-Rahman al-Nuaimi with Al-Karama Organization.
And the UAE’s Gulf News, in English, explores the accusations against the Qataris more fully:
“A group of Qatari men, directly overseen and controlled by the Qatari intelligence was arrested in the UAE,” a senior official told Gulf News. The official added the cell had been attempting to re-establish Al Islah group, linked to Egypt’s terrorist designated Muslim Brotherhood. Al Islah was disbanded after more than 65 people accused of plotting an Islamist coup in the UAE were handed prison terms — some up to 15 years — last year. Twenty six of the defendants were acquitted. The official said the Qatari cell had also been planning to recruit members and raise money for Jabhat Al Nusra, an Al Qaida-linked rebel group in Syria fighting troops loyal to President Bashar Al Assad.
While some people absolutely love Dubai, a city through which I often transit, I have to admit that I find it boring. There are only so many malls I can take; I much prefer Sharjah or Abu Dhabi, which many people would find even more boring. That said, in the Middle East nowadays, boring is good. Boring is what the U.S. government should strive for. That Qatar, after funding chaos in Egypt and radicalism in Syria, is working for ideological reasons to undermine one of the few stable governments in the region is not something which anyone should take lightly. The new Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani has been in his position for only slightly more than a year, but either his promises of reform are hollow or his retired father Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani and his henchmen remain in effective control. It does not matter, however, which of those two scenarios explains current Qatari policy and the emirate’s willingness to fund instability and radicalism. The reality is that while Qatar is transforming itself into some sort of perverse Disneyland, it is using its excess money to bring terror to other states.
As Qatar transforms, the United States should not double down on rotten, but should proceed very, very carefully, lest its presence in Qatar become less a strategic asset and more a hostage to or shield for Qatari bad behavior.