When Mohammed Al-Emadi, Qatar’s envoy to the Gaza Strip, told the deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau in Gaza, Khalil al-Haya, “we want quiet,” it epitomized the anaesthetizing rhetoric that has been a cornerstone of Qatar’s foreign policy for more than two decades.
Qatar is a family that has a country. It’s wealthy because of its gas reserves, but lacks any historical, religious or cultural heritage that could help it brand itself as a leading Mideast country alongside, or even surpassing, its rivals, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Thus to become a leading country, Qatari Emir Hamad Al Thani, followed by his son Tamim, decided to anaesthetize rival Arab leaders and undermine them quietly until it can oust and replace them with friendlier, more cooperative Islamist rulers. To accomplish this, it mobilized three important assets – the Al Jazeera television station, former Knesset member Azmi Bishara and Sunni religious scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
Former Knesset member Azmi Bishara.AP
They exploited young Arabs’ anger and shame over years of exclusion and marginalization, imbued them with faith in their power to effect change, gave them logical rationales and religious legitimization, and encouraged them to rebel. To understand how important their roles were in the Arab uprisings of 2011, it’s enough to listen to the Arab revolutionaries themselves, who compared Al Jazeera to freedom or oxygen given a dying man, termed Bishara “the ideologue, conscience and signpost of the uprising” and called Al-Qaradawi “the revolutionaries’ sheikh.”
After Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi came to power in Egypt, the brotherhood’s party Ennahda took power in Tunisia and Khaled Meshal, then head of Hamas’ political bureau, moved from Syria to Qatar. Qatar’s emir felt then that he was beginning to realize his dream of replacing Arab leaders and building an “Arab Union” similar to the European Union.
Morsi’s ouster by Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi and the latter’s decision to declare Hamas a terrorist organization threatened to delay Qatar’s plans. But soon after the emir became the lifeline of Gaza and Hamas, while Gaza and Hamas became the lifeline of Qatari foreign policy.
A Palestinian Hamas-hired civil servant displays U.S. Dollar banknotes after receiving her salary paid by Qatar, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip December 7, 2018. IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS
By persuading Meshal to draft a new political document more moderate than Hamas’ charter and launch it in Doha, trying to mediate between Fatah and Hamas, funding projects in Gaza and giving money to its poor and unemployed, curtailing Gaza’s “March of Return” protests to the necessary minimum and encouraging young Palestinians to adopt a language of human rights and broadcast their suffering in Hebrew and English – for instance, through the website “We Are Not Numbers” – the emir hoped to save his ally Hamas and make Israelis, Americans, Europeans and even the hated Egyptians view it as a legitimate political player equal to the Palestinian Authority.