As the Arab League summit opens in Iraq, I have two pieces out today looking back at the 2011 rotating presidency of Qatar, a little Gulf state that has been famously busy in the regional diplomacy of the Arab Spring. As it transfers the reigns of rotating leadership this week in Baghdad, we ask how sustainable Qatar's outsized role is.
While all the traditional heavyweights of the Arab world – Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and even Saudi Arabia – were preoccupied with their own affairs last year, Qatar stepped in to fill the leadership gap. It sent arms to Libyan rebels, supported the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and was the first Arab country to close its embassy in Syria to protest President Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown on his people.
[But these days,] Resentment of its efforts has grown pronounced in Libya and Egypt, and patience for Qatar's bravado is wearing thin in the Gulf, where Saudi Arabia has traditionally held greatest sway. Perhaps most of all, its departure from neutrality to a more activist foreign agenda could pose challenges ahead.
Read on here.
Relatedly, I took a look into how and why Doha has sought to host so many negotiations in recent years. (You might recall that, until just recently, Qatar was poised to host talks between Afghanistan, the United States, and the Taliban.)
The government, which aims to increase its international stature, spends millions footing hotel bills for rebels. After agreements are signed, Qatar sweetens the deal with reconstruction and development aid. The Qatari emir and the foreign minister personally invest in building relationships with the various parties.
The talks have had mixed results. But for Qatar, playing host has raised its international profile, helped forge allies in the West, and won praise almost universally. Mediation is proving to be a powerful – and fail-safe – way to boost its brand.
Read on here.