CAN YOU PASS THE QATAR QUIZ?
By Jeffrey Rudolph
Qatar, once one of the poorest Persian Gulf states, has become one of the region’s wealthiest countries and also one of the most active in regional affairs. However, Qatar, like the other Gulf states, faces meaningful internal and external challenges, which require more than energy wealth to address. [It is in the news these days as a supporter of the revolution against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and of a US strike on Syria.]
The purpose of the following quiz is to examine the evolution of Qatar to an increasingly autonomous regional player in social and political affairs, and to relate this evolution to wider Middle East developments.
THE QATAR QUIZ
1. Why does Qatar have a better working relationship with Iran than the other Gulf Arab states?
“On a collective level, the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] states of [Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates] have historically had geopolitical concerns with Iran” due mainly to Iran’s long existing goal of regional dominance. In fact, “the fears and prejudices about Iran…predate the  Islamic revolution….[However,] Qatar’s relations with post-revolutionary Iran have…differed from the other GCC states…Qatar has enjoyed a more tempered relationship given the shared strategic asset of the vast North Field/South Pars natural gas field (the largest non-associated field in the world). Qatar and Iran’s mutual economic interests in the field have developed progressively, based on this shared resource, especially since the mid-1980s, when Qatar took the strategic decision to view its economic future as resting on the reserves held within the field. Given Qatar’s own strategic economic interests, its relations with Iran are grounded by this calculation and thus make Doha more willing to engage pragmatically with Tehran than its fellow GCC partners.” (David Held and Kristian Ulrichsen Editors, The Transformation of The Gulf: Politics, economics and the global order, Routledge, New York: 2012, 298-9. Hereinafter referred to as, Held 2012.)
According to WikiLeaks, “the US embassy was concerned by the lack of al-Jazeera coverage of the civil unrest in Iran after the disputed presidential election in the summer of 2009.” (Qatar’s prime minister deemed the civil unrest an internal matter of Iran.) Citation
For a more detailed version of the Qatar Quiz, and for other quizzes, go to: this site.
2. Which country is the leading producer and exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and gas to liquid fuels (GTL)?
Qatar, “possesses the third largest reserves of natural gas [after Russia and Iran], and has emerged as the leading global producer and exporter of…LNG…and [the more environmentally friendly] GTL”. The result of this energy bounty is that Qatar has been able to play a role in international affairs disproportionate to its small size. (Held 2012, 296)
“By providing a significant proportion of foreign countries’ energy needs, Qatar is creating ‘stakeholders’ in its own stability and security. While this does not necessarily translate to the hard-security guarantee that it enjoys with the United States, it is catering for profile-building, influence and stronger diplomatic ties with key countries that enhances its indirect security.” (Held 2012, 307)
3. Which country is the world’s richest?
According to 2010 data, Qatar “ranks as the world’s richest country per capita…Adjusted for purchasing power, Qatar booked an estimated gross domestic product per capita of more than $88,000…” Citation.
According to the widely respected Human Development Index, Qatar has the highest 2012 human development in the Arab World. Citation
Great wealth has contributed to Qatar being “one of the most obese nations in the world, with residents fatter, on average, than even those of the United States…[A]lmost 17 percent of the native population suffers from diabetes.” Citation
4. What precipitating event led Qatar to forge much closer military relations with the US?
“In 1990, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait made it clear that Qatar…needed a strong foreign policy to protect itself from a fate similar to Kuwait. Its leaders began forming a number of strategic partnerships. Among others, [Qatar] forged close ties to the US. The nation now hosts several key US military bases.” Citation.
“[I]t was only in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the United States, and the onset of the War on Terror grand strategic context, that the Al Udaid [airbase] facility [in Qatar] took on a greater importance. The United States’ relations with Saudi Arabia were under intense scrutiny after the attacks, given that the majority of the hijackers and bin Laden himself were of Saudi origin. The redeployment of US forces from Prince Sultan airbase [in Saudi Arabia] to Al Udaid also saw the facility become the location for the Headquarters of US Central Command…Overall, for Qatar the positioning of US forces on its territory was a strategic accomplishment, as it now enjoyed the protection of the US security umbrella against the geopolitical threats it had been susceptible to since the British military withdrawal from the Gulf in 1971.” (Held 2012, 304)
5. Why did Qatar permit the opening of an Israeli trade office in Doha in 1996?
In order to support its “strategic objective of developing ties with the United States” an Israeli trade office in Doha was opened “in May 1996: a clear break with the long-standing collective position of the [Gulf Cooperation Council. The trade office opening was followed by a visit by then prime minister Shimon Peres.] On a contextual level, the invitation to US universities to relocate to Qatar’s Education City further enhanced bilateral relations.” (Held 2012, 303-4)
6. Is Qatar a dictatorship?
Yes. For example, CBS News includes Qatar in its series, The world’s enduring dictators, and notes that “Like many of its neighbors, [Qatar] is accused of many human rights abuses when it comes to its foreign workers…That said, Amnesty International reports only sporadic instances of torture and abuse by state security forces….‘While Qatar calls for democracy outside its borders, democracy here is provisional at best. While there are municipal elections, and women can vote in them, the country has a Parliament building but no Parliament — or any other political institution, for that matter — that can challenge the royal family’s grip on power.’” Citation (June 2011)
“Like most of its near neighbors, Qatar is a hereditary monarchy; it has been ruled by the same family since” the early 19th century. Virtually “all major decisions emanat[e] from the…office of the emir.” “[P]ublic gatherings are strictly regulated and rarely occur.” “There is no independent legislature and political parties are forbidden; civil society groups outside the state are virtually nonexistent.” Citation
7. What percentage of Qatar’s private sector workforce are non-citizens?
8. True or False: Unlike its neighbours Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Qatar did not experience any domestic protests during the Arab Spring.
True. “[I]t seems clear that [the] Qatari emir enjoys unusual popularity. Bahrain, just twenty-five miles to the northwest, has roiled with violence; the United Arab Emirates, to the southeast, has jailed activists calling for liberalization and reform; Saudi Arabia has witnessed the greatest protests in thirty years in its nearby Eastern Province. By contrast, the only time in recent memory Qataris have taken to the streets was [in December 2010] when the country improbably won its bid to host the 2022 World Cup…” It appears that young Qataris are more interested in their country’s “sudden emergence as a ‘country that matters,’…than in its becoming more democratic. [In fact,] The Arab Youth Survey…found that 88 percent of young Qataris thought their country was ‘going in the right direction.’” Citation
To prevent fall-out from the Arab Spring, early on Qatar “expanded zero-interest housing loans and…set aside funds for wage hikes for public employees.” (Suzanne Maloney et al., The Arab Awakening: America and the Transformation of the Middle East, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C.: 2011, 184. Hereinafter referred to as, Maloney 2011.)
“Al Jazeera has proved a useful foil in [keeping popular unrest muted in Qatar], rallying public interest around dramatic events in North Africa while being relatively more circumspect on developments that strike closer to home, in particular the Shi’i uprising and subsequent Saudi-backed repression in Bahrain….[Yet, to Doha’s credit,] the rather modest top-down reforms initiated…over the past decade appear to have been a more successful inoculation against popular pressure than Abu Dhabi’s dogged refusal to open space for meaningful political participation or discourse.” (Maloney 2011, 182)
9. Was Qatar an early supporter of the 2011 Libyan revolt?
“[Q]atar’s enthusiasm for the Libyan revolt had been on display from the outset. The emirate was instrumental in securing the support of the Arab League for the NATO intervention…, contributing its own military aircraft to the mission. It also gave $400 million to the rebels, helped them market Libyan oil out of Benghazi, and set up a TV station for them in [Qatar]….Not only did Qatar arm the rebels and set up training camps for them…its own special forces—a hitherto unknown contingent—helped lead the August offensive on the capital.” Citation
10. Which was the first Gulf nation to close its embassy in Damascus after the Syrian uprising began in early 2011?
In July 2011, “despite Qatar’s good relations with the Assad regime before the Syrian uprising began, it became the first Gulf nation to close its embassy in Damascus.” Citation
An “important dimension of Qatar’s religious politics is that it has built a strong identity of interest with the ruling Turkish AK (Justice and Development) Party, which has itself also developed strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. One perceives the Turkish-Qatari alliance most prominently in Syria, where the Qataris and Turks are backing the same groups opposing the Assad regime.” Citation, (Feb. 2013)
11. What was the critical objective of Qatari foreign policy concerning Hamas?
An important foreign policy success for Qatar was its “ability to detach Hamas’s leadership from its alliance with Syria and Iran. Qatar had cultivated Khalid Meshal, the leader of Hamas, for some time before the Arab Spring, as part of its policy of mediation in Arab and Islamic disputes, which it has been pursuing, with varied success, since the early 2000s.” Citation, (Feb. 2013)
12. True or False: The Taliban has an office in Qatar.
True. Since 2010, Qatar has helped organize meetings between Western officials and representatives of the Taliban. In fact, the Taliban opened an office in Doha in June 2013. Citation, (July 2013)
13. What are Qatar’s motives for its dynamic role in regional affairs in recent years?
Due to the highly personalized rule of Sheikh Hamad (who handed over power to his son in 2013), “the country’s foreign policy has an idiosyncratic and unpredictable quality. The emir should not be seen as firmly adhering to any particular religious or political ideology. He is driven by the motivation to secure his dynasty’s rule and the independence and autonomy of his tiny, but very rich country….Qatar has had a long history of contending with imperial and regional hegemons, and this has made its rulers non-ideological and practical in their outlook and in the policies they pursue. But unlike its smaller neighbours, such as the United Arab Emirates or Kuwait, for example, Qatar has chosen a hyperactive style of diplomacy and foreign policy, acting as a mediator and financial supporter whenever and wherever possible in an attempt to make itself valuable to all sides. Qatar’s success overseas, moreover, translates domestically into greater popularity and legitimacy for the ruler and his family…And when it comes to foreign affairs, rarely has Qatar adopted a position from which it cannot reverse direction.” Citation (Feb. 2013)
“The regional leadership role Qatar wished to take over the Israeli-Gaza conflict in January 2009 is a clear example of the deep commitment felt towards the Palestinian cause by elite decision-makers. Qatar’s engagement with and support of such causes is a clear expression of its autonomy; the challenge in Qatari diplomacy is therefore to balance the expression of autonomy against its cooperative relationship with the United States.” (Held 2012, 309)
Qatar clearly used the Arab Spring to advance its ambitious foreign policy agenda and enhance its prominence on the regional stage. “‘A historical wave was unfolding across the Arab world, and…Qatar sought to position itself at the crest of the wave,’…[Yet by mid-2013,] Saudi Arabia appears to be retaking the point position for regional affairs. Immediately after the military coup in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced $8 billion of aid to Cairo. [And,] Saudi Arabia is quickly becoming the Arab lead for dealing with the Syrian opposition….Many Qataris now say that while they support their government’s policy abroad, they’d also be pleased to see some of those resources invested into their own infrastructure.” Citation
14. True or False: Qatar has supported the Muslim Brotherhood but Saudi Arabia has not.
True and false. “The Qataris, like the Saudis, welcomed members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were persecuted by the nationalist and socialist regimes of Jamal Abd al-Nasser in Egypt from the mid-1950s onwards and later by the Baath regime in Syria from the late 1970s (culminating in the massacre at Hama in 1982). Many of the Muslim Brothers became teachers and public servants in the religious institutions of both host states. [The Muslim Brotherhood was anti-communist and anti–Arab nationalist: two threats to the Saudi Royal family.] The Saudis, however, broke their ties to the Brotherhood after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait when [the Brotherhood] sided with Saddam Hussein. The Saudis also never forgave the Brotherhood for politicising their youth, who became radicalised against the regime in Riyadh in the 1990s, culminating in al-Qaeda’s attacks against the regime.” Citation (Feb. 2013)
“The Muslim Brotherhood, with its long-established networks and affiliates throughout the world, provides Qatar with considerable influence…And unlike Saudi Arabia, which has assiduously built up its own network of Salafis since the 1930s, the Qataris have obtained their network at relatively little cost and effort.” Citation (Feb. 2013)
Before the June 2012 Egyptian elections that led to Morsi being elected president, the Brotherhood in Egypt “received no real aid from US allies Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, or Kuwait, but only from Qatar.” Citation (July 2013) Citation (Feb. 2013)
“[T]he Muslim Brotherhood is an activist and anti-Western political movement ultimately seeking to topple secular nationalist regimes, and it is not particularly in favour of monarchical systems of rule, especially those that are in close economic and military alliance with the West. Not only is Qatar allied closely to the U.S., but its version of Islam does not tolerate political activism of any kind unless it is controlled and sanctioned by the ruler. This is one of the many contradictions of the Qatari political situation and policies, but it appears not to bother the emir at all.” Citation, (Feb. 2013)
15. Did Qatar support the Egyptian military coup that overthrew President Morsi in July 2013?
Yes. The Emir of Qatar congratulated the new Egyptian government. (Likewise, the Saudi royal family supported the new government. In contrast, Tunisia and Turkey condemned the coup d’état.) Citation
“In Egypt, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood proved incapable of effectively managing the government and addressing the nation’s economic problems. In Syria, the proliferation of conservative groups fueled the rise of Al Qaeda-linked fighting units. The decision to back such factions was less ideological than it was pragmatic. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood seemed to have momentum and a politically viable future in Egypt and Syria….[However,] Qataris have begun shifting their foreign policy strategy. Despite [their] strong support of the Morsi government, Qatari officials were quick to welcome the coup.” Citation
16. True or False: The US has supported the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic fundamentalist groups.
True. The US’s support of Islamic groups “stems largely from the Cold War era. Back then America saw the world in rather simple terms: on one side the Soviet Union and Third World nationalism, which America regarded as a Soviet tool; on the other side Western nations and militant political Islam, which America considered an ally in the struggle against the Soviet Union….The CIA used the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a barrier both to Soviet expansion and to the spread of Marxist ideology among the Arab masses. The United States also openly supported the Sarekat Islam against Sukarno in Indonesia and the Jamaat-e-Islami against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Pakistan. Last but certainly not least there is Al-Qaeda….Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook admitted that ‘Al-Qaeda…was originally the computer file of the thousands of Mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.’…Depending on whether a terrorist group in a given region furthers American interests or not, the [US] either funds or aggressively targets that terrorist group, typically with drones.”
Citation (April 2013)
The US has a long history of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. For example, since 2011 “the US was working closely with Islamists of various stripes throughout the Arab world, in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt as well as with its allies in the Gulf.” “[The] conservative religious parties [in Tunisia and Egypt] were most well-organized, were open to economic liberalism, and shared a common enemy with the US: the secular Left working toward a sovereign development project.” Citation (July 2013)
17. True or False: Qatar’s prime minister told President Mubarak that al Jazeera would stop broadcasts in Egypt for a year if he agreed to deliver a settlement for the Palestinians.
True. Al Jazeera’s growing influence has enabled it to become “a powerful element in Qatar’s foreign policy. In cables from 2009 released by WikiLeaks, the US embassy in Doha reported that Qatar–Saudi relations had improved as a result of ‘toned down criticism of the Saudi royal family on al-Jazeera,’ and that Qatar’s prime minister told Mubarak, ‘we would stop al-Jazeera for a year [in Egypt] if he agreed in that span of time to deliver a lasting settlement for the Palestinians.’ (He declined the offer.)” Citation.
While Al-Jazeera insists that it is independent from Qatar’s government (which backs the satellite television news network), “‘after…all that has happened—the [second] intifada, September 11, bin Laden, Iraq, and now all these revolutions—in general there are now lots of similarities’ between what Al Jazeera covers and Qatari foreign policy….In Tunisia and Egypt, no Internet and broadcast medium did more to spread the cause of popular protest than Al Jazeera…” Citation
Al Jazeera, the most watched satellite television station in the Middle East, has “played a crucial role in eroding the region’s long-standing strictures on public debate….Its reach and impact, however, have often surpassed the government’s intentions or control, unleashing public passions on sensitive issues such as Iraq…and ultimately contributing very directly to the changes that have unfolded across the region…” (Maloney 2011, 179)
18. True or False: Al Jazeera’s coverage of the uprising in Bahrain was markedly different in its English- and Arabic-language services.
True. “Al Jazeera’s English-language service, which was started in 2006, has been praised in the West for its aggressive and comprehensive reporting on the [Arab Spring] revolts—even [the revolts] in the Gulf.…In July , the network produced Shouting in the Dark, a fifty-minute documentary about the uprising in Bahrain whose blunt examination of the crackdown caused the Bahraini government to lodge a formal protest with Qatar. Yet unlike Al Jazeera’s Arabic service (which did not show the documentary), Al Jazeera English is not watched by tens of millions of Arab viewers in the Middle East; its audience is predominantly elite, Western, and international—people who do not pose a direct threat to Qatari or regional stability.” Citation
“Qatar sent troops to Bahrain as part of the [Gulf Cooperation Council] force organized to assist its government in ending the” 2011 pro-democracy protests largely by the country’s Shi’i majority. Citation
In contrast to its response to other Middle Eastern protests, “Qatar appears to have a decidedly different approach toward popular revolt in its own neighborhood.” Citation
Jeffrey Rudolph, a Montreal college professor, was the Quebec representative of the East Timor Alert Network and presented a paper on its behalf at the United Nations. He was awarded the prestigious Cheryl Rosa Teresa Doran Prize upon graduation from McGill University’s faculty of law; has worked as a chartered accountant at one of the world’s largest public accounting firms; and, has taught at McGill University. He has prepared widely-distributed quizzes on Israel-Palestine, Iran, Hamas, Terrorism, Saudi Arabia, US Inequality, the US Christian Right, Hezbollah, and the Israeli Ultra-Orthodox. These quizzes, and a more detailed version of the Qatar Quiz, are available at: