What Tiny Qatar Stands To Gain In Libya

Robert Siegel talks with Ibrahim Sharqieh, deputy director for Brookings Doha Center. They discuss the role that Qatar, the tiny but wealthy Persian Gulf Arab state, has played in supporting the Libyan uprising — and what it stands to gain.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: The Libyan rebels received decisive air support from NATO. But there was another, less publicized, smaller-scale but equally remarkable foreign involvement in support of the uprising, the involvement of Qatar, Q-A-T-A-R.

Qatar is a peninsula, a little smaller than Connecticut. It juts north into the Persian Gulf. On the south, it borders Saudi Arabia. It is rich in oil and natural gas. Its population is only about 900,000. And while it is an Arab country, a monarchy ruled by the al-Thani family, the majority of its residents are non-Arabs, non-citizens from India and Pakistan. Qatar is also home to the TV channel Al Jazeera. It will host soccer's World Cup and it was an important player in Libya.

Ibrahim Sharqieh is deputy director of the Brookings Doha Center. Doha is the capital of Qatar. And, Ibrahim, first, what did the Qataris do in support of the Libyan rebels?

Dr. IBRAHIM SHARQIEH: That Qataris' support to the Libyan rebels has been politically, diplomatically and militarily. We had about five Qatari fighter jets. In Qatar, we had about the training of Libyan rebels. And Qatar also played an important role in developing an Arab League support through the military intervention in Libya, which this Arab League support actually has provided the umbrella for the NATO intervention and for the military intervention and provided the legitimacy that, for example, was missing in Iraq.

SIEGEL: Why? What are the motives behind Qatar's involvement in Libya and some of its broader ambitions in the region?

SHARQIEH: Oh, there are many theories. The one that makes the most sense in my view is that Qatar is supporting the revolution for humanitarian reasons. And in addition to this, Qatar is working and supporting the revolution is they're strictly with its vision for its role in the region and in the world.

SIEGEL: One thing we should note, though, in this year of the Arab Spring, one thing Qatar isn't is it isn't a democracy. It isn't an elected parliamentary republic.

SHARQIEH: Well, there is very high level satisfaction of the people here in the country, of the political system and of its leadership. So there haven't been - we haven't seen any cause for change or any protests or any different types of complaints. So the system seems to work and we seem to have a stable country. That distance itself very far away from the protests that are happening in the region.

SIEGEL: How would you describe U.S.-Qatar relations?

SHARQIEH: We know it's a strong relationship. Qatar hosts a military base, the largest in the region here, in Al Udeid. And this has been a sophisticated policy where Qatar managed to have a good relationship between the United States and other rivals in the region, like Iran. In order to protect yourself as a small, wealthy country, some sort of striking a balance is needed and Qatar has been more influential in this crisis and other regions in Benghazi.

Going back to Libya, when you go outside the offices of the National Transition Council, you see the American flag. You see the French flag. You see the British flag, and you see also the Qatari flag.

SIEGEL: Yes. Here's a country that aspires to a very high profile in regional affairs, but it consists of fewer than a million people. And of them only about 350,000 I read are citizens. That doesn't sound like a country that can really be a world player, you know? It just sounds too tiny.

SHARQIEH: Well, it is too tiny but, hey, we are living in an international system that you have the means to play it right and become an important player. Qatar has invested in the right political market by mediation. Qatar was successful in the mediating an agreement between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels. Prevented a civil war almost in Lebanon, brokered peace agreements between the Palestinians, Fatah and Hamas, and also intervened in the fall in Sudan.

So, Qatar has proved to me an important, major emerging power in the region and to play it right and position itself very well in the international scene.

SIEGEL: Well, Ibrahim Sharqieh, thank you very much for talking with us about Qatar.

SHARQIEH: My pleasure. Thank you for having me, Robert.

SIEGEL: Ibrahim Sharqieh is deputy director of the Brookings Doha Center. Doha is the capital city of Qatar.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MELISSA BLOCK, host: We'll have more ALL THINGS CONSIDERED right after this.

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