Tue, Jul 30, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Setbacks to dampen, but not end, Qatar’s role as power broker

Qatar is expected to spend less on armed support, or big emergency loans to favored states, and put its resources into long-term international development aid

By Regan Doherty, Amena Bakr and William Maclean  /  Reuters, DOHA and DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

Qatar was focused on helping all the region’s peoples and did not favor one party over another, he said.

“Just as the United States continued to support Egypt while the Muslim Brotherhood was in power, so did we. It is for the Egyptian people to determine who will lead their country,” he added.

The accession of Sheikh Tamim stirred speculation that he might adopt a less Islamist-friendly approach now that the main implementer of foreign policy, the energetic and influential Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, is no longer Qatari foreign minister or prime minister.

Sheikh Hamad lost his jobs in a Cabinet reshuffle after Tamim took power, replaced by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, a much less well-known military man who previously served as Qatari deputy minister of the interior.

The idea that Qatar might scale back its alliance with Islamists gained further ground after Sheikh Tamim’s June 26 accession speech. Although he said the country would not “take direction,” his 15-minute address focused on domestic issues and made no mention of the Syrian conflict.

However, on Tuesday last week, Qatar issued a statement of concern about the continued detention of Morsi, becoming the only Gulf Arab state to voice sympathy openly for the ousted Islamist.

To followers of Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim’s long tenure as foreign minister, this maverick stance looked familiar.

In another sign Qatar has not lost its taste for regional dealmaking, the head of Syria’s opposition coalition is expected in Doha soon to coordinate aid supplies.

For now, Qatar would continue to seek grassroots support around the Arab world, but it would do so in a more low-key manner, Nuseibeh said.

“The style will be quieter,” he added.

Analysts says this might mean less spending on armed support, or big emergency loans or grants to favored states, and greater resources spent on long-term international development aid.

Gauging opinion in a conservative society that guards its privacy is not easy, but there are signs that Qataris would not be disappointed by a less activist foreign policy.

A source close to the ruling family said many of Qatar’s citizens expected it would eventually play a quieter role in foreign affairs.

“The average person just wants to lead a quiet life. Qatar is a small country and we had no business getting ourselves roped into all of this outside activity,” the source said.

Doha has enough to keep it busy at home. It is spending US$150 billion before the World Cup building a new airport, seaport and roads, plus carrying out an urban makeover, all under great risk of incurring worldwide embarrassment if the projects are not finished on time.

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