Qatar rubs shoulders with mighty superpower
DOHA - The oil and gas-rich emirate of Qatar, which hosted one of
the most lavish UN conferences in the capital Doha last week, is
walking on a political tightrope in a remarkably skillful balancing
study in political contrasts, Qatar is not only home to the rebellious
Al-Jazeera television network, largely perceived as being anti-American,
but is also the rarely-publicised headquarters of the US military’s
Central Command (CENTCOM), which has moved virtually all its troops
from neighbouring Saudi Arabia to within the friendly Qatari national
two coexist side by side but with little or no physical evidence
of any of the thousands of American troops who use a desert outpost
deep inside Qatar as a forwarding base for its widely unpopular
Iraq war that has triggered anti-US sentiments throughout the Gulf
and the Arab world.
the five-star Marriott Hotel in Doha, one could distinguish American
civilians in military-style crew cuts frequenting the restaurant
there. Last week, one of them was clearly identifiable as an American
GI not only because of his mannerisms and speakng-style but also
because he was sporting a tee shirt which read: ‘University
about this, a senior US diplomat in Doha laughs it off, perhaps
by rightly pointing out that tee shirts bearing the names of American
universities could be purchased at any of the swanky shopping malls
in the fast developing modern city of skyscrapers.
love-hate relationship between Qatar and the US goes as far back
as the late 1980s when the Qataris made the mistake of displaying
some of their US-made Stinger shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles
obtained from an unnamed country without US approval. The missiles
were first seen in public on a local television broadcast in 1988
prompting the US to demand that the 12 missiles be either returned
to Washington or, in the alternative, Qatar would face the threat
of a cut-off of American security assistance and a ban on weapons
Qataris not only rejected the demand but also refused to provide
the serial numbers of the missiles thereby preventing the US from
tracking the source of the unauthorized US weapons transfer. And
it was only after the dispute was amicably resolved that the US
Congress lifted the ban on arms sales to Qatar in November 1990.
then, there has been a dramatic change in the relationship between
the two countries, including a defence cooperation agreement signed
in June 1992. The Pentagon has also built a huge weapons supply
base in Qatar, described as one of the largest outside the US.
al-Udeid air base, which has been revamped at a cost of over $1
billion, was used as a military staging area for two US-led military
operations in recent years, first against Afghanistan, and later
against Iraq. But the occasionally frosty relationship between the
two countries has been triggered mostly by the presence of Al-Jazeera
the fact that Qatar was the chairman of the 132-member Group of
77 developing countries last year, the US refused to invite Qatar
as an ‘observer’ to the G-8 summit of industrial nations
in Georgia because the Qatari government had failed to curb the
‘excesses’ of Al-Jazeera for its aggressive reporting
on the war on Iraq.
the Qatari government, led by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani,
has so far refused to cave into US pressure to shut down one of
the fastest growing television networks, which now rivals Cable
News Network (CNN) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
in the Arab world.
Considering the fact that the upstart nine-year-old Al-Jazeera is
largely funded by the Qataris, there is a symbiotic relationship
between the government and the network.
US, which subscribes to the concept of a free press, came under
fire for initiating a campaign against Al-Jazeera. As Professor
Michael Botein, director of the Media Centre at the New York Law
School, said: “The Bush administration’s pressure to
shut down Al-Jazeera, the leading Arabic satellite television station,
is an embarrassment.”
also pointed out that US pressure came at a time while President
Bush boasted that US-supported broadcasters such as Radio Free Europe,
Radio Liberty and Radio Marti were helping his policy of democratising
the world. “Broadcasters cannot be subsidized in the United
States and banned in allied countries,” Botein said.
US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher had a different take
on Al-Jazeera’s reporting: “We have very deep concerns
about Al-Jazeera’s broadcasts because, again and again, we
find inaccurate, false, wrong reports that are, we think, designed
to be inflammatory,” he told reporters last year.
one of the primary reasons why Qatar has succeeded in fending off
US retaliation is its economic strength. The country’s annual
per capita income is predicted to rise from about $38,000 to over
$50,000 in the next few years as income from oil and natural gas
is expected to rise sky high. If it hits the $50,000 mark, as predicted
by the finance ministry, that would be the highest per capita income
in the world for any nation state.
Qatar also plans to spend about $100 billion over the next five
years, primarily on infrastructure. Currently, the US is a key equipment
supplier for Qatar’s gas and oil industries. The US-based
ExxonMobil says the Gulf emirate possesses one of the world’s
largest gas fields, enough to meet the US demand for the next decade.
stronger admirer of the US educational system, the Qatari government
has opened satellite American campuses in Doha and established a
branch campus one of best known Ivy League universities in the US,
by its oil and gas revenues, Qatar is also trying to play a key
role in international affairs. After chairing the Group of 77 last
year, it hosted the South Summit last week. In the year 2000, Qatar
chaired the Organisation of Islamic Conference, and in 2006 it is
slated to be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.
a country with a population of about 850,000, of which nearly 75
percent are expatriates, Qatar has come a long way -- from being
a relatively unknown Gulf state to one of the world’s richest
and fastest growing economies.