This study aims to explain the shift in Qatar's foreign policy since 1995, from a conservative, marginalized state to an active player in the regional and global system. Why has Qatar — despite its small size — had a hyperactive foreign policy since 1995? There are many criteria for defining small states, the most important being population. According to the United Nations, a small state has fewer than one million people. On the other hand, some scholars consider gross national product (GNP) a criterion for defining the small state.1
Some scholars, like Robert Keohane, rely on what Jeanne A.K. Hey calls "the idea of perception."2 According to Keohane, "A small power is a state whose leaders consider that it can never, acting alone or in a small group, make a significant impact on the system."3 This definition uses psychological dimensions to define smallness. Hey notes, "States are deemed small not by any objective definitions, but by their perceived role in the international hierarchy. … If a state's people and institutions generally perceive themselves to be small, or if other states' peoples and institutions perceive that state as small, it shall be so considered."4
Furthermore, foreign-policy behavior is one of the most important criteria that scholars rely on to draw the line between small and non-small states. According to Hey, Small states tend to
• exhibit a low level of participation in world affairs
• address a narrow scope of foreign-policy issues
• limit their behavior to their immediate geographic arena
• employ diplomatic and economic foreign-policy instruments, as opposed to military instruments
• emphasize internationalist principles, international law and other 'morally minded' ideals
• secure multinational agreements and join multinational institutions wherever possible
• choose neutral positions
• rely on superpowers for protection, partnerships, and resources
• aim to cooperate and to avoid conflict with others
• spend a disproportionate amount of foreign-policy resources on ensuring physical and political security and survival.5
Consequently, there is no consensus on what constitutes a small state, and no agreement on how to draw lines between non-small, small and microstates (fewer than one million people).6
Whether we consider size or population, Qatar would be a small state — or a microstate.7 With a landmass of only 11,571 kilometers2, Qatar is one the smallest countries in the Middle East, second only to Bahrain (765 km2). Qatar also has the second-smallest population in that region. According to the latest available census data (2010), Qatar had a total population of 1.74 million, 250,000 of them nationals.8 On the other hand, if we consider the "idea of perception," or foreign-policy behavior, defining Qatar as a small state is questionable. As Kristian Coates Ulrichsen puts it, small size and a meager population have not prevented Qatar from obtaining power and influence.9
SMALL STATE, BIG ROLE
Emir Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, who ruled Qatar from 1972 until 1995, sought to guarantee his country's safety by sheltering under the Saudi security umbrella.10 However, after his son, Sheikh Hamad, seized power in a palace coup in May 1995, Qatar began to act more independently. In 1996, it established an Israeli trade office in Doha, becoming the first Arab Gulf state to establish a relationship with Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, it significantly augmented its relationship with Iran. In addition, Qatar strengthened its strategic alliance with the United States by, among other things, becoming the home to two large U.S. military bases: Al Udeid and Sayliyah.11
Since 1995, Qatar has even sought to establish relationships with regional rivals. While it has maintained strategic relationships with the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, it is also on good terms with Iran. In the 2006 war, it supported Hezbollah as well as Hamas in Gaza. Qatar continues to enjoy relationships with Islamist groups in the region, mainly the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus, it is hard to define Qatari foreign policy. It does not belong to the "conservative" bloc of monarchies led by Saudi Arabia, which seek to maintain the status quo, nor does it belong to the "resistance" wing: Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.12
In attempting to achieve its foreign-policy objectives, Qatar relies on its economic capabilities: oil reserves of nearly 4.25 billion barrels and natural-gas reserves of approximately 896 trillion cubic feet, the world's third-largest. In addition, Qatar seeks to diversify its economic investments to serve its foreign-policy objectives. For example, the Qatar Investment Authority has acquired stakes in iconic brands such as Porsche, Volkswagen, Harrods and London's Olympic Village.13 Qatar also holds stakes in flagship companies including Barclays Bank, Sainsbury's and the owner of British Airways, IAG.14
Furthermore, Qatar relies on media networks as a means of achieving foreign-policy aims. In 1996, Sheikh Hamad provided the Al Jazeera founding team with $137 million to establish the channel;15 today, Al Jazeera is one of the most influential aspects of Qatari diplomacy. In addition, government officials have benefited from Al Jazeera in marketing Qatar's "soft power."
The influence of Al Jazeera on the Arab masses is a valuable Qatari power source. There is no doubt that the Doha-based network added to Qatar's image as a modern and progressive state during the 2011 Arab Spring.16 Despite government assurances of Al Jazeera's independence, there are clear indications that the network plays a valuable role in foreign policy. According to Ulrichsen,
Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables suggested that the channel might become a bargaining tool to repair relationships with other countries, particularly those soured by Al Jazeera's broadcasts. Specific examples of such actions included assertions that the channel had apparently toned down its criticism of members of the Saudi ruling family, and how the Qatari Prime Minister had allegedly offered Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a bargain by which Qatar would stop broadcasting Al Jazeera in Egypt for one year in return for a change in Egypt's position on the Palestinian issue.17
On the other hand, mediation is an important aspect of Qatar's foreign policy, a means of overcoming its limited demographic, geographic and military capabilities. Traditionally, mediation had been monopolized by large states. Saudi Arabia, for example, sees Qatari mediation efforts in Yemen as a challenge to its influence, and Egypt feels the same way regarding Qatari mediation in Sudan and Gaza.18
Mediation policy serves specific objectives related to branding. It is a central tool in enhancing Qatar's soft power and global image.19 In fact, by playing the role of honest broker, Qatar has aimed to underpin its regional and international influence, as well as distinguish its foreign policy. Moreover, mediation is considered by Qataris to be a "survival strategy" for protecting their security. Located in a tense region characterized by political, military and ethnic conflicts, Qatar seeks to use mediation to prevent them from reaching its borders. Also, through balanced diplomatic relationships with competing powers in the region, Qatar aims to neutralize its foes regionally and internationally.20
The Arab uprisings that began in Tunisia in December 2010 were a turning point, shifting Qatar's focus from mediation and diplomacy to intervention in favor of certain parties in regional conflicts. Qatari military and financial intervention in the Libyan revolution marked this shift.21 Qatar supported the uprisings, with the sole exception of the one in Bahrain. In the case of Syria, Qatar aligned itself with its Gulf counterparts Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This led to a clash with Iran on Syria.22 The Qatari position was also in line with that of the GCC states towards the uprising in Bahrain. Qatar did not send troops there, unlike Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait; however, Qatar supported the Gulf intervention to stabilize the government. Moreover, Qatar, along with other GCC states, provided financial aid on the order of $10 billion over 10 years to help the Bahraini and Omani regimes confront internal uprisings. Thus, Qatar was accused of adopting a double standard when Al Jazeera supported the revolution in Libya and turned a blind eye to the uprising in Bahrain. It seems that the security of the Gulf monarchies still has priority in Qatar's foreign-policy agenda.23
Nevertheless, the Egyptian revolution that began in January 2011 marked a point of contention between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Qatar supported the revolution that led to the Muslim Brotherhood's gaining power, while Saudi Arabia supported the Mubarak regime. According to Sherif El Ashmawy, "Qatar did not perceive Egypt's revolution as a threat, but rather as an opportunity."24 Al Jazeera played an enormous role during Egypt's revolution, launching an affiliate, Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, devoted entirely to Egyptian news. This clash led to a decision by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar. This pushed Qatari officials to review their foreign policy, especially after Sheikh Hamad transferred power to his son, Sheikh Tamim. The Saudis hoped their actions against Qatar would restore the balance of power to what it was before 2011.25
In general, it can be said that Qatar has no systematic foreign-policy approach or ideology. This gives it flexibility, but at the same time makes it ambiguous. According to Pulliam,
Qatar's regime has had no problem in the past dealing with Islamists, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Western states and others simultaneously. The stable characteristic of all these divergent behavioral trends has been the pursuit of opportunities to bolster an internationally recognized image and not an adherence to a particular ideology or side, even that of liberalism.26
GULF CRISIS, 2017
The 2017 Gulf crisis, also known as the Qatar crisis, began on June 5, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar. The three Gulf states gave Qatari citizens 14 days to leave their territories and banned their own citizens from traveling to or residing in Qatar. Egypt also cut off diplomatic relations, but it did not impose restrictions on the 180,000 Qatari citizens living in the country. Yemen, the Maldives and Libya's eastern-based government later followed suit. In addition, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt closed their airspace to Qatari aircraft. A small state sharing a land border with only one big state, Saudi Arabia, Qatar depends on imports for the basic needs of its 2.7 million people. About 40 percent of its food had been trucked in through the land border with Saudi Arabia. With that route closed, Turkey and Iran sent food by air and sea to help the Qatari government feed the population. 27
Kuwait and Oman maintained their relations with Qatar. Kuwait even went so far as to undertake mediation efforts. Kuwait had also been the mediator for the 2014 crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Some analysts suggest that, although Kuwait remained neutral in this crisis and had sympathy for Qatar, the state feared it could face the same fate since both Kuwait and Qatar are small states in the GCC, and Kuwait has just as balanced a relationship with Iran as Qatar does.
Qatari officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Al Thani, announced Qatar's acceptance of Kuwaiti mediation and the country's readiness to open a dialogue with the four states (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt). However, the four announced that Qatar had to first comply with 13 demands, the most important being the following:
• Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions
• Sever all ties to "terrorist organizations" and hand over "terrorist figures"
• Stop all funding for individuals or organizations designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the United States and other countries
• Shut down Al Jazeera and other Qatar-funded news outlets
• Close a Turkish military base and halt joint military cooperation inside Qatar
• End interference with other sovereign countries' internal affairs
• Pay reparations and compensation for the loss of life caused by Qatar's policies
• Align with other Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically.28
Qatar was given 10 days to comply with the demands or face a long-term economic blockade. Nevertheless, Qatar did not comply. Foreign Minister Mohammad Al Thani said the list "is unrealistic and is not actionable," adding that "it is not about terrorism, it is talking about shutting down freedom of speech." 29
Though some analysts suggest that this crisis is a continuation of the one from 2014, the regional and international situations then did not favor Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration gave credit to Qatar as a key regional player having a good relationship with Iran and Islamist organizations, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. With President Trump in power, these conditions have changed. He announced that confronting terrorism and Iran are the priorities of his foreign policy. Thus, the timing of this crisis, a few days after Trump's historic visit to Riyadh, indicates that Saudi Arabia and the UAE took it as a green light from the president.30 A few days after Saudi Arabia and other states had severed ties with Qatar, Trump accused Qatar of funding terrorism "at a very high level."31
It is hard to explain this crisis without looking at the historical background. Since 1995, Qatar has had a different foreign policy from that of its neighbors. Thus, Saudi Arabia and its regional allies, the UAE and Egypt, seized an opportunity to undermine the ambitious Qataris. It is well known that Saudi Arabia considers itself the leader of the small Arab Gulf states; therefore, it seems that this crisis is not about terrorism, but rather the regional role of Qatar. It is a link of a chain of crises that began in 1995.
Although the list of demands from the four states includes 13 points, those involving support for Islamists groups and the relationship with Iran are the most important. Nevertheless, the priorities of the four states are different. While Saudi Arabia and Bahrain consider Iran a priority, the UAE and Egypt are more focused on the Muslim Brotherhood group. The four believed that confronting Qatar would lead to the achievement of their aims. However, some analysts think that cutting ties with Qatar will not secure Saudi interests, as it opens the door for Iran to increase its influence in the Arabian Gulf.
Indeed, when Saudi Arabia closed the land border with Qatar, Iran sent four shipments of food in compensation.32 In return, Qatar announced that its ambassador to Iran, withdrawn in January 2016, would return to resume his duties.33 There is no doubt that Saudi foreign policy has changed since Prince Mohammad bin Salman, son of the king, came to power in 2015. Conservatism was its hallmark, but it has become more bold and impulsive.
There would seem to be three future scenarios for this crisis: elevating it to a military confrontation; solving it through diplomat mediation; and maintaining the status quo for the long term. Military confrontation is an unlikely option; Saudi Arabia is exhausted from the Yemen war and does not want to open a new military front. In addition, Saudi rulers would lose their public support if they attacked their tiny neighbor, and the United States would not accept a military confrontation between its allies in this strategic region. Qatar hosts the biggest U.S. military base in the region, Al Udeid. Turkey also established a new military base in Qatar after the emergence of this crisis in June 2017. The Turkish base is a first in the Arab world.34 Moreover, Iran would not accept a Saudi military move against Qatar.
On the other hand, a resolution is dependent on the readiness of the two sides to accept the mediation efforts led by Kuwait shortly after the crisis erupted in June 2017. Based on its neutral position and long history as a mediator in regional crises, Kuwait has credibility. In addition, Kuwait's mediation efforts are fully supported by the United States, Russia, the European Union and Turkey.
Furthermore, the resolution of the crisis may be dependent on the U.S. position, which seems ambiguous and contradictory. President Trump appeared to take credit for Saudi Arabia's move to isolate Qatar, claiming in a series of tweets that his call for an end to the financing of radical groups had prompted Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to act.35 However, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis assured the public of U.S. support in resolving the crisis. Tillerson said, "We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences, and — if there's any role that we can play in terms of helping them address them, we think it is important that the GCC remain unified."36
Secretary of State Tillerson visited Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in July 2017 in an attempt to support Kuwait's mediation. Tillerson signed a U.S.-Qatar accord on terrorism financing, but the four states said the effort was not enough to allay their concerns. Tillerson's visit ended, but the crisis continued.37 Other countries, including Turkey and Russia, have attempted to mediate, also without success.
The likely scenario is that the status quo will continue for the long term. The four states are currently banking on the U.S. president's position toward the crisis. They assume Trump shares their belief that Qatar funds terrorist groups in the region, and that their boycott would limit this financial support. In addition, what makes resolution unlikely is the fact that the decision-making processes in the four states are central and individual. Public opinion in these states has no effect on decision makers; in fact, there is no internal or strong external pressure to end the crisis.
EXPLAINING QATAR'S POLICY
James Rosenau notes that a state's foreign policy results from a combination of both external and internal factors:38 the individual at the top, the "role," and governmental, societal and systemic variables. The decision maker has values, talents and prior experiences. The "role" refers to bureaucratic actors, while the governmental variable refers to relationships among government institutions. The societal variable includes nongovernmental domestic factors that influence foreign-policy behavior, such as the degree of national unity. The systemic variable refers to any nonhuman aspect of a society's external environment that influences the choices of decision makers, such as geography.39
Jeanne A.K. Hey simplifies Rosenau's theoretical approach into individuals, the system and the state.40 Each level of analysis relates to a theoretical concept: the system to realism, the state to domestic politics and national attributes, and the individual to political psychology.41
J. K. Holsti raises a question regarding the explanation for foreign policy: "If geographic location, culture, religion, dominant personalities or other factors are determining, why do two countries that share these characteristics have fundamentally different foreign policies?"42 For example, Qatar and Bahrain share similar characteristics: both are small states, have a similar location, are Muslim and Arab, and have monarchical regimes. At the same time, the two follow significantly different foreign policies.
Holsti argues that any foreign policy is influenced by the external/systemic context and the domestic environment.43 External factors include the structure of the international system (unipolar, bipolar or multipolar), the nature of the world economy, the policies and actions of other states, and global and regional problems. Internal factors that influence foreign policy include geography, size, population, economic system, and level of development; also included are governmental structure, public opinion, interest groups and political parties, and bureaucracy.44
The individual level of analysis, as Hey notes, is related to political psychology.45 Alex Mintz and Karl DeRouen, Jr., argue that psychological factors have great impact on foreign-policy decisions, particularly during a crisis — whether the government is a dictatorship, is newly independent or is experiencing a regime change.46 The leader's personality, emotions and beliefs matter, particularly when the leader has full control over the decision-making process.
The small size and population of Qatar explain many of its foreign-policy trends;47 however, what makes the situation more difficult is that it is surrounded by the large states of Iran to the north and Saudi Arabia to the south. Qatar has to balance its foreign relations between these clashing rivals. As Allen. J. Fromherz puts it: "The fragile geographic location of Qatar requires it to adopt diplomacy and negotiation. Historically, Qatar is located between three empires, Oman in the South, Iran in the East, and Saudi Arabia in the west."50 Fromherz adds that its geographic location has made Qatar historically a center of regional conflict.51
Hasan Al Ebrahem states that Qatar's geographical position and history provide insights into small-state foreign policy.52 The history of Qatar indicates the vulnerability of the state to external threats, particularly from Saudi Arabia. The two have a long history of border disputes, beginning with the "borders pact" of 1965. In the early 1990s, Sheikh Hamad, then deputy emir of Qatar, called for suspension of the pact. This led to a military clash at the Qatari border station Al Khafus in 1992, which caused the death of three Qatari soldiers.53 This Saudi attack reinforced Qatari fears about Saudi intentions. Notably, the clash happened shortly after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, also a small neighbor.
Other key factors led to significant shifts in the regional and international system during the 1990s, particularly the Gulf War of 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union the same year. The shift in Qatar's foreign policy after 1995 can be explained in part by the effects of these events.
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, followed by the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 1991, led to a disruption of the balance of power in the Gulf, weakening Iraq in favor of Saudi Arabia. Iraq had become isolated from most of the GCC states during the 1991-2003 period. Thus, Qatar's fear of Saudi hegemony over the Gulf's small states increased. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Ulrichsen argues, "dramatically underscored the vulnerabilities of small states to the rapacious designs of larger and more powerful neighbors."54
Qatar's foreign policy, according to Pulliam, cannot be analyzed in isolation from its relationship with Saudi Arabia.55 Bernard Haykel argues that the Saudis have never accepted that Qatar should be fully independent rather than, like Bahrain, a client state in need of Saudi protection and aid to remain viable.56 Saudi Arabia played a leading role among the GCC states in the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, diplomatically, economically and logistically. Not surprisingly, since the mid-1990s, Qatar has sought, through Al Jazeera, to counter that influence.
According to Lina Khatib, "Al Jazeera was the public platform through which Qatar presented itself as a challenger to Saudi Arabia. Its main benefit was to paint an image of Qatar as almost on a par with Saudi Arabia in terms of influence and importance."57 Furthermore, Qataris sought, through Al Jazeera, to bring Iraq back into the equation, in an attempt to balance Saudi power. Al Jazeera launched a campaign during the 1990s aimed at weakening the international and regional siege against Iraq. In May 2000, Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim declared an initiative that called for removal of the international economic sanctions on Iraq and normalization of its relationship with Kuwait.58
Internationally, the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s paved the way for an emerging "new world order" dominated by the concept of globalization. Thus, Ulrichsen argues, Qatar's rise as an increasingly powerful player was facilitated by changes to the international system.59 Accelerating the globalizing process made it easier for a small state like Qatar to project a new form of soft power and act above and beyond its size limitations.60
In addition, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world shifted toward a unipolar system. This led to the massive military victory of the United States in the Gulf War of 2003 and the intensive U.S. military presence in the Gulf. Small Gulf states, including Qatar, reinforced their strategic alliance with the United States, formally situating themselves under the U.S. umbrella. Kamrava argues that the military security guaranteed by the United States enabled Qatar to focus its attention on nonmilitary issues and achieve its objectives through diplomatic strategies and the strengthening of its economy at home and abroad.61
The absence of Iraq from the Gulf equation enhanced the potential for Saudi hegemony over its small neighbors. However, changes to the international system as well as the military security provided by the United States after 1991 encouraged Qatar to pursue its own foreign policy. Timur Akhmetov argues that Qatar decided to seek relations outside the Gulf in order to become more independent.62 While the isolation of Iraq after 1991 did empower Saudi Arabia, the shift of the regional system during the 1990s did not always have negative outcomes for small states such as Qatar. Kamrava points out that the balance of power shifted toward the Gulf monarchies after the decline of the traditional powers Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Iran:63 "The regional system has thus opened the space and opportunity for Qatar to make its presence felt and to push forward its regional and international agendas."64
Even though Saudi Arabia benefited from the decline of Iraq as a key competitor, the Saudi economy experienced a huge decline during the 1990s. This was accompanied by the emergence of terrorist attacks from Islamist groups, mainly al-Qaeda, and Saudi Arabia's refusal to allow a U.S. military presence on its soil. This enabled Qatar to pursue an active foreign policy that challenged Saudi influence. Khatib notes,
Qatar perceived a vacuum in Arab international relations which it has been attempting to fill. Its involvement in conflicts across the Middle East and beyond represents an effort to present itself as a viable alternative to Saudi Arabia and a potential new leader in the Middle East.65
Kuwait is another state that has been directly affected by the outcomes of the post-Gulf War period. Before it was invaded by Iraq in August 1990, Kuwaiti foreign policy in many ways resembled Qatar's after 1995. Kuwait's attitudes were to a large degree independent of regional and international powers. On many occasions, its foreign policy ran counter to Saudi and U.S. interests. In addition, Kuwait's geographic and demographic determinants resemble those of Qatar; it is sandwiched between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Kuwait has been the main mediator in the current regional crisis, returning to its neutral foreign policy. This has been accompanied by generous financial aid and foreign investments. However, most of Kuwait's foreign-policy principles changed after 1991; it isolated itself from regional affairs and mostly abandoned its "mediator" role.66
It seems that Qatar benefited from the Kuwaiti lesson. Although Kuwait pursued an ambitious foreign policy, it was not covered by a military protector and refused to provide the United States or any other power permission to base a military presence on its territory. The reasons were embedded in pan-Arab nationalism, exposing the small country to the Iraqi invasion in 1990.
Qatar did not repeat Kuwait's mistake. Instead, it allowed the United States to establish one of the largest military bases in the world on its territory. Doha could, therefore, concentrate on foreign policy without concern for external threats. According to Lina Khatib, "Qatar aims to protect itself from the perils of small-state anonymity and vulnerability — perils of the kind from which Kuwait suffered in 1990."67 In the same context, Ulrichsen notes that three events between 1988 and 1992 — the end of the Iran-Iraq War, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and the renewed military threat from Saudi Arabia — contributed to the shift in Qatar's foreign policy.68
The September 11, 2001, attack on the United States changed the equation and brought another major shift in regional and global systems.69 Indeed, 9/11 changed U.S. Middle East policy and led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Tensions between the United Sates and Saudi Arabia rose to unprecedented levels after the terrorist attacks, as most of the 9/11 attackers came from Saudi Arabia. U.S. voices emerged urging a reconsideration of the relationship with Riyadh and claiming that Saudi Arabia is a part of the problem, not the solution. Tensions between the two countries became clear when the Saudis refused to cooperate with the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq in 2003, and U.S. troops withdrew from Saudi Arabia. This opened the door for Qatar to strengthen its relationship with the United States and offer an alternative base for U.S. troops.
Kamrava argues that in the post-2003 era, Iran was squeezed out and isolated.70 Saudi Arabia was in no position to project its influence, confronted as it was with fundamentalist groups and Sunni-Shia sectarian strife. The U.S. invasion removed Iraq from the equation, and since 2003, no local power has been able to cast a definitive shadow over the region.71 After the 2003 invasion and its consequences, analysts began talking about an emerging "new" Middle East.72 Qatar certainly benefited from this regional and international situation by expanding its foreign policy. The 2000s, according to Ulrichsen, "represented a propitious moment for any dynamic new actor seeking to emerge onto the international scene."73
The Arab uprisings that began in late 2010 and early 2011 also proved helpful to Qatar's foreign policy. Ulrichsen notes that Qatari officials saw the outbreak of unrest in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in the early months of 2011 as an opportunity rather than a challenge.74 The Arab Spring was a major turning point for Qatar; according to Khatib, it led to the abandonment of mediation in favor of more direct action.75
In fact, the outbreak of unrest within major traditional powers in the Arab world, mainly Egypt and Syria, as well as the overthrow of Arab leaders such as Mubarak and Qadhafi, opened the door for Qatar to fill a gap in the regional system. Qatari intervention in Libya can be seen as part of an effort to reinforce its regional position. Qatar's role as a neutral mediator before the Arab Spring was established during a time when the Middle East was dominated by authoritarian regimes. As soon as most of them changed, Qatar adopted an interventionist foreign policy to stay ahead of the political curve. Qatari military cooperation in NATO operations in Libya was partly motivated by the goal of appealing to and exercising leverage on the international community.76
Similarly, Pulliam avers that Qatar aimed to demonstrate to Western states and the rest of the international community that it could be a helpful and useful ally.77 According to Times journalist Hugh Tomlinson: "The Obama administration has recognized the value in Qatar's relationship with rogue states and terrorist groups. As the United States tries to ensure regional stability while extricating itself from two foreign wars, Doha's willingness to engage America's enemies on its behalf is invaluable."78
In fact, Qatar's attitude toward the revolution in Egypt cannot be understood without examining the relationship between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Qatari support of the overthrow of Mubarak can be seen as part of the process to challenge Saudi influence. According to El Ashmawy, "The fall of Mubarak in February 2011 represented a strategic loss for Saudi Arabia."79 Likewise, Bernd Kaussler points out that, with the departure of Mubarak's regime, the Saudis lost an ally against the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist ideals of governance.80 Qatari support for the Brotherhood in Egypt and its branches in other Arab states can be partly understood as a way to disturb the status of Saudi Arabia. As Sigurd Neubauer puts it, "For Qatar, supporting regional Islamist groups has previously enabled it to carve out an independent foreign policy by moving it out of the shadow of Saudi Arabia."81
Several external factors, as discussed above, provide an essential explanation of Qatar's foreign policy; however, they do not provide a complete picture of the motives behind it. Although Qatar's small size may be a negative at the system level, it can be positive at the state level. As Hey observes, "A small state will have fewer people dedicated to running foreign policy than in large or medium-size states."82 Kamrava argues, "Qatari society remains small and thus relatively easily governable. This has enabled the state to provide for the welfare of the national population with extensive social benefits."83
Therefore, Qatar, as Kamrava summarizes, is "one of the few GCC states that continues to enjoy remarkable political stability."84 This stability is due, he argues, to its social cohesion and lack of sectarian tensions, in contrast to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.85 Qatar's Shia minority, which accounts for between 5 and 15 percent, is loyal to the ruling regime, lives in harmony with the Sunni majority, and enjoys equal citizenship and political rights.86 The potential for political protest by the Shia community against the regime — as occurred in the reaction of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to the Arab Spring — is unlikely in Qatar.87 The relationship between the ruling family and the country's Shia minority has generally been positive; the Shia have never been among the rulers' opponents.88
The political stability of Qatar is also due to its unified organization and size, as well as its small national population, its wealth, and the vast revenue it derives from oil and natural gas.89 Qatar tends to distract its citizens from thoughts of political change by handing out money.90 According to the CIA Factbook, it has the highest GDP per capita in the world, around $129,700 per year. Qatari citizens pay no taxes and enjoy free public services; the unemployment rate is 0.7 percent.91 Thus, Qataris, as David Roberts puts it, are simply too rich to protest.92 In fact, Qatar's wealth compensates for its small size. It is generally perceived by outsiders as a rich country rather than as a small country.
Similarly, Pulliam notes that there are some important factors in addition to wealth that have made Qatar an exceptional case.93 For example, it is ethnically and religiously homogenous, and there are no marginalized groups or minorities. It has relatively few domestic constraints; civil society is very limited, and political parties are outlawed. There are no coalitions or other groups to pressure the regime.94 This has led to the centralization of decision-making processes in the hands of a small circle in the executive branch, headed by the emir. Such centralization speeds up foreign-policy decisions.
Accordingly, the limitation of political opposition in Qatar is not a result of the regime's oppression. Most Qatari citizens have no interest in politics, partly because of their wealth and the welfare policy of the regime. It might also be due to the nature of Qatari society, mostly comprising tribes loyal to the ruling family. Historically, there was political mobility in Gulf societies during the pre-oil period; however, Qatar never experienced this shift. Some analysts, such as Michael Herb, relate this to the economic systems of these societies.95 Kuwait, Bahrain and Dubai relied on sea trade; their people thus benefited from contact with other cultures and societies. On the other hand, Qatar relied on pearl fishing rather than trade, so the merchant class was limited. Merchants have, over the years, been responsible for political reform movements in the Gulf.96 Qatar's geography has isolated its people from other societies, limiting political mobility.
There seems to be consensus within Qatari society and consistency between the society and the regime. Public opinion in Qatar is rarely an obstacle to any action foreign-policy decision makers want to take. As Kamrava puts it, "The Qatari system remains remarkably stable, not so much because of its inherent authoritarianism, but because of its popular legitimacy among an overwhelming majority of Qatari nationals. The regime enjoys considerable legitimacy rooted in a deep nexus between society and the state or, more accurately, between society and the ruling family."97 Political stability freed the hands of decision makers to pursue a daring foreign policy.
The characteristic features of decision makers are important in analyzing the foreign policy of undemocratic regimes. Khatib argues that Qatar's decision making is centralized in the hands of, at most, four people.98 Foreign-policy decisions can be made quickly, allowing action without the impediments of bureaucracy that burden democratic systems. Kamrava puts it as follows: "In Qatar, individuals have not just replaced institutions, they have become institutions."99
According to Haykel, four individuals have played a central role in Qatar's decision-making process: Sheikh Hamad [father of the current emir], his wife Sheikha Mowza, their son Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad [now the emir], and [former] Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani.100 The latter played an enormous role in foreign policy. However, the person who still controls decision making is the father emir. Sheikh Hamad has the final say on everything.101 Kamrava adds to this small circle Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah, the emir's childhood friend, who became a deputy prime minister and minister of energy and industry. This inner circle is responsible for articulating domestic, foreign, financial, energy and security policies.102
Similarly, Ulrichsen argues that Qatari foreign policy throughout the period prior to and during the Arab Spring was set by the most powerful men in the country, Sheikh Hamad and Hamad bin Jassim.103 Two other influential actors appeared in the decision-making process in the late 2000s: the emir's powerful second wife, Sheikha Mowza, and their second son and heir apparent, Sheikh Tamim, who succeeded his father as emir in June 2013.104
Pulliam agrees, pointing out that Qatar's behavior is likely to be better understood by focusing on the key foreign-policy decision makers, Sheikh Hamad and Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim,105 the twin architects of Qatar's international breakthrough.106
The Qatari political system, as Kamrava underlines, "remains sultanistic and personalist, with a handful of individuals making all of the major policy decisions."107 Qatari policy-making circles, according to Ulrichsen, "were drawn extremely tightly around a handful of the most senior members of the Al-Thanis.108 Decisions frequently were taken from above and transmitted downward for implementation." Qatari foreign policy has been described by the U.S. embassy as "highly personalized."109
In fact, foreign policy throughout the period after 1995 was shaped by Sheikh Hamad, who came to power the same year by a palace coup that overthrew his father, Khalifa Al Thani. When Sheikh Hamad came to power, he had a clear vision of the new path Qatar had to follow in order to be distinguished from its neighbors. A key difference between father and son was the relationship with Saudi Arabia. Pulliam underlines that, while Sheikh Khalifa was satisfied to remain in Saudi Arabia's shadow, his son and younger advisors did not agree and in the mid-1990s began to drift away from the regional powerhouse.110 The desire to pursue foreign policy independent from Saudi Arabia predated Sheikh Hamad's formal accession, beginning in the early 1990s, when he was heir apparent.111
When Sheikh Hamad came to power, he was 44 years old and filled with ambition and enthusiasm. This may partly explain the ambitious attitudes Qatar has adopted in its foreign policy since 1995. As Kamrava states, "He has been the driving force behind the changes that Qatar has witnessed in the past decade and a half."112 Al Jazeera, for example, a branding tool Qatar has relied on to market its name, was an idea Sheikh Hamad developed in 1994 while still heir apparent. It reflected his wish for a television station that would broadcast to the Middle East and the international community the new emir's image of a progressive Qatar.113
It can be argued that the psychological and personal backgrounds of Qatari decision makers, mainly Sheikh Hamad, are essential to understanding Qatari policies after 1995. As mentioned earlier, Sheikh Hamad was not satisfied with his father's policy with respect to Saudi Arabia. Notably, Riyadh hosted the deposed emir after the palace coup in 1995; some reports indicate that Saudi Arabia backed the failed coup that sought to restore Sheikh Khalifa to power in 1996. This might be an underlying cause of the subsequent tension between the two countries and an explanation for much of Qatar's foreign policy since then. Likewise, Ahmad Aboul Gheit, the former Egyptian foreign minister, said that the "hostile" Qatari policy toward Mubarak's regime was due to the conviction of Sheikh Hamad that Mubarak backed the failed coup to restore his father to power in 1996.114
Consequently, it can be said that understanding the personality of Sheikh Hamad would provide us with a better understanding of Qatar's foreign policy since 1995. Meanwhile, although Sheikh Hamad abdicated in favor of his son Tamim in 2013, it is hard to say that he is currently out of the picture when it comes to foreign-policy decision making. He may be behind the scenes, but his fingerprints can still be detected.
1 J.E. Peterson, "Qatar and the World: Branding for a Micro-State," Middle East Journal 60, no. 4 (2006): 733-35.
2 Jeanne A.K. Hey, Small States in World Politics: Explaining Foreign Behavior (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2003), 3.
3 Robert O. Keohane, "Lilliputians' Dilemmas: Small States in International Politics," International Organization 23, no. 2 (1969): 296; and Hey, Small States, 3.
4 Hey, Small States, 3.
5 Ibid., 5.
6 Peterson, "Qatar and the World," 735.
8 Mehran Kamrava, Qatar: Small State, Big Politics (Cornell University Press, 2013), 5.
9 Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, "Small States with a Big Role: Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in the Wake of the Arab Spring," Discussion Paper (Durham University, HH Sheikh Nasser Al Sabah Publication Series, Number 3, October 2012).
10 Kamrava, Qatar, 71.
11 Jamal Abdulla, Qatar Foreign Policy (1995-2013): Leverages and Strategies (Al Jazeera Center for Studies, 2014) [Arabic]; Timur Akhmetov, "Explaining Qatar's Foreign Policy," Open Democracy, February 27, 2012; and Kamrava, Qatar, 89.
12 M. Al Rantisi, Qatar's Foreign Policy toward the Arab Spring and the Palestinian Case (2011-2013) (Al Jazeera Center for Studies, 2014) [In Arabic], 48-53.
13 Ulrichsen, "Small States," 3.
14 Stephanie Lining, "How London Is Being Sold Off to Qatar: Gulf State's Investment Arm Adds Latest Acquisition of Claridge's to Portfolio Already Boasting Landmarks from the Shard to Canary Wharf," Daily Mail Online, April 25, 2015.
15 Tal Samuel-Azran, "Al Jazeera, Qatar, and New Tactics in State-Sponsored Media Diplomacy," American Behavioral Scientist 57, no. 9 (2013): 1293-1311.
16 Sara Pulliam, "Qatar's Foreign Policy: Building an International Image," Khamasin (2013).
17 Ulrichsen, "Small States," 14
18 Abdulla, Qatar Foreign Policy, 34; Mehran Kamrava, "Mediation and Qatari Foreign Policy," Middle East Journal 65, no. 4 (Autumn 2011): 539-556; and Lina Khatib, "Qatar's Foreign Policy: The Limits of Pragmatism," International Affairs 89, no. 2 (March 2013): 417-431.
19 Kamrava, "Mediation."
20 Abdulla, Qatar Foreign Policy; and Khatib, "Qatar's Foreign Policy."
21 Ulrichsen, "Small States," 13.
22 Bernard Haykel, Qatar's Foreign Policy (Oslo: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, 2013).
23 Pulliam, Qatar's Foreign Policy; Khatib, "Qatar's Foreign Policy"; and Ulrichsen, "Small States."
24 Sherif El Ashmawy, "The Foreign Policies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar towards the Arab Uprisings: The Cases of Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain," University of Cambridge, Gulf Research Meeting, 2014, 14.
25 Bernd Kaussler, "Tracing Qatar's Foreign Policy and Its Impact on Regional Security," Arab Center for Research & Policy Studies, Research Paper, September 2015, 13.
26 Pulliam, Qatar's Foreign Policy, 8-9.
30 Marwan Qabalan, Taqdeer Mawqif, Alaraby T.V., July 9, 2017 [Arabic], at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPHa3OLXNpU.
31 Clark Mindock, "Donald Trump accuses Qatar of funding terrorism 'at very high level,'" Independent, June 9, 2017.
32 Reuters, "Iran Sends Planes of Food to Qatar amid Concerns of Shortages," June 11, 2017.
33 Aljazeera English, "Qatar-Gulf Crisis: All the Latest Updates," August 28, 2017.
34 Aljazeera English, "New Batch of Turkish Troops Arrives in Qatar," June 30, 2017.
35 David Smith, Sabrina Siddiqui, and Peter Beaumont, "Gulf Crisis: Trump Escalates Row by Accusing Qatar of Sponsoring Terror," The Guardian, June 9, 2017.
36 U.S. Department of State, "Press Availability with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne," June 5, 2017.
37 Reuters, "Top U.S. Diplomat Ends Talks in the Gulf; No Sign Qatar Crisis Resolved," July 12, 2017.
38 J.N. Rosenau, "Pre-Theories and Theories of Foreign Policy," in Approaches to Comparative and International Politics, ed. R. Barry Farrell (Northwestern University Press, 1966), 172.
39 Ibid., 172-3.
40 Hey, Small States, 9.
41 Ibid. 186.
42 K.J. Holsti, International Politics: A Framework for Analysis, 7th ed. (Prentice-Hall, 1994), 251.
44 Ibid., 252-66.
45 Hey, Small States.
46 Alex Mintz and Karl DeRouen Jr., Understanding Foreign Policy Decision Making (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
47 Hey, Small States.
48 Kamrava, Qatar, 1.
49 Khatib, "Qatar's Foreign Policy," 418.
50 Allen J. Fromherz, Qatar: A Modern History (I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2012).
52 H.A. Al Ebrahem, Small States and the International System: Kuwait and the Gulf, 1st ed. (Arab Research Institute, 1982) [In Arabic].
53 Fromherz, Qatar.
54 Ulrichsen, "Small States," 27.
55 Pulliam, Qatar's Foreign Policy, 5.
56 Haykel, Qatar's Foreign Policy.
57 Khatib, "Qatar's Foreign Policy," 427.
58 Faisal Abu Sulaib, "The Major Stages of Kuwaiti Foreign Policy," Journal of Social Sciences 43, no. 4 (2015): 93-138.
59 Ulrichsen, "Small States," 95.
61 Kamrava, Qatar, 9.
62 Akhmetov, "Explaining Qatar's Foreign Policy."
63 Kamrava, Qatar.
64 Ibid., 41.
65 Khatib, "Qatar's Foreign Policy," 419.
66 Sulaib, "Major Stages."
67 Khatib, "Qatar's Foreign Policy," 418.
68 Ulrichsen, "Small States," 27.
69 Kamrava, Qatar, 17.
71 Ibid., 17-27
72 El Ashmawy, "Foreign Policies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar," 62.
73 Ulrichsen, "Small States," 79.
74 Ibid., 1.
75 Khatib, "Qatar's Foreign Policy," 429.
76 Ibid., 421.
77 Pulliam, Qatar's Foreign Policy, 8.
78 Hugh Tomlinson, "Power Broker Never Loses Sight of Goals," The [London] Times, June 25, 2011, 25.
79 Ashmawy, "Foreign Policies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar," 7.
80 Kaussler, "Tracing Qatar's Foreign Policy," 11.
81 S. Neubauer, Qatar's Changing Foreign Policy (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2014), 1.
82 Hey, Small States, 88.
83 Kamrava, Qatar, 14.
84 Ibid., 8.
86 Ahmad Khalid Majidyar, "Is Sectarian Balance in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar at Risk?" Middle Eastern Outlook, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, no. 6 (October 2013).
87 Ashmawy, "Foreign Policies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar."
88 Kamrava, Qatar, 73
89 Ibid., 8.
90 Khatib, "Qatar's Foreign Policy," 430-431.
91 CIA World Fact Book, "Qatar," at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/qa.html.
92 David Roberts, "Qatar: Domestic Quietism, Elite Adventurism," in What Does the Gulf Think about the Arab Awakening? ed. Fatima Ayub (European Council on Foreign Relations, 2013).
93 Pulliam, Qatar's Foreign Policy.
95 Michael Herb, "The Origins of Kuwait's National Assembly," LSE Kuwait Programme Paper Series 39 (March 2016): 12.
97 Kamrava, Qatar, 14.
98 Khatib, "Qatar's Foreign Policy."
99 Kamrava, Qatar, 104.
100 Haykel, Qatar's Foreign Policy.
102 Kamrava, Qatar, 118.
103 Ulrichsen, "Small States," 80.
104 Ibid., 80-81.
105 Pulliam, Qatar's Foreign Policy, 3.
106 Ulrichsen, "Small States," 28.
107 Kamrava, Qatar, 14.
108 Ulrichsen, "Small States," 85.
109 The Guardian, "U.S. Embassy Cables: Qatar Using al-Jazeera as Bargaining Tool, Claims U.S.," Nov. 19, 2009.
110 Pulliam, Qatar's Foreign Policy, 5.
111 Ulrichsen, "Small States," 69.
112 Kamrava, Qatar, 15.
113 Ulrichsen, "Small States," 10.
114 A.A. Gheit, "Rihla fi al thakera," Russia Today [Arabic], February 10, 2014, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IoSySAGaSBc.