Qatar’s rising importance and power


by David Malone

Keep an eye on Qatar.  Something interesting is going on in Arab power politics and I suspect Qatar lies at its centre.

Today, politically and religiously Qatar is important.  Qatar is one of the most autocratic but also one of the most ‘liberal’ of the Arab states.  It is ruled by an Emir, but has freedom of the press that includes founding and supporting Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera is disliked by many other Arab states because it shows up their own media for what they are, government mouthpieces.  It is far easier to dismiss Western news as infidel bias than to attempt the same with Al Jazeera.  In Libya these last days Al Jazeera was banned and shunned while interviews were available for Western news organizations.  Qatar is also religiously/socially very liberal.  Which is, in itself, not that interesting.  But it is liberal while also being Wahhabi.  Qatar is the only state governed by Wahhabi law other than Saudi Arabia.  But while Wahhabi in Saudi Arabia is the wellspring of hateful Islam of the Al Qaeda type, in Qatar Wahhabism is liberal and tolerant.  As such it is a direct threat to Saudi Wahhabism.

And Qatar is expanding its political influence.  Qatar has been close to the building of a large liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) plant and port in Yemen.  Yemen is Saudi’s back yard, literally, but LPG ties Yemen to Qatar.  Qatar is a major player in LPG.  It is still a small market but has been growing at about 6% a year for a while now.  Spain is one of the largest importers of LPG.

During the current political unrest in Yemen it was to Qatar not to Saudi that the Yemeni president telephoned.  In part to ask if the Emir would tell Al Jazeera to stop being so critical of Yemen.  Which it would appear he did not.  Qatar’s rulers have been careful to be clearly seen not to interfere in Al Jazeera.

Qatar also hosts a major American military base.  It has had more open relations with Israel than most Arab nations.  But it also has open relations with Hamas and Iran.  In short Qatar has set itself firmly as a power broker and partner on a world stage.  As Saudi’s and Egypt’s power sets, Qatar’s is rising.



David Malone is the author of the book Debt Generation. You can read and listen to excerpts from his book here: