- Created: Wednesday, 10 September 2014 10:13
- Written by Louis Brehony
On 14 July 2014 at the Pentagon, US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel signed a $11bn arms deal with representatives of the Qatar government to provide Apache helicopters, advanced Patriot surface-to-air missiles and Javelin handheld ground-to-air defence systems to one of the world's most ruthless, reactionary dictatorships. The biggest arms deal of 2014 was a reward for the good behaviour of the Qatari ruling class in defending US imperialist interests in the Middle East and North Africa, including Qatar's arms supplies to 'rebel' groups in Syria, its role in the brutal 2011 NATO invasion of Libya and for maintaining a fort against revolution in the Gulf. Qatar has defence pacts with the US, Britain and France and hosts the biggest US military base in the Middle East.
This August the US writer Peter Theo Curtis, kidnapped two years ago in southern Turkey by the Syrian Jabhat al Nusra was freed after an apparent deal with Qatari representatives. Qatar said the release was down to 'communication with the right people in Syria.' This follows the release five months ago of 13 Greek Orthodox nuns. Reporting on the £43m apparently paid by Qatar for their 'humanitarian' release, Robert Fisk commented that, 'They must be the most expensive nuns in the world – if, that is, a poisonous press and the ferocious rumours of civil war are anything to go by.' The truth behind the scenes is that Qatar's role in Syria has been anything but humanitarian, backing extreme fundamentalist groups attempting to bring down the Ba'athist state. It is the only Gulf country known to have gone beyond the wishes of US President Obama not to allow the shipment of heat-seeking shoulder fired missiles to the 'rebels'. Last year Qatar acted as a middle-man for arms sold by the Sudanese government to these groups, arranging delivery through Turkey. Shipments included Chinese-made anti-aircraft rocket launchers, seen in online footage of Free Syrian Army forces shooting down Syrian army planes.
Qatar was instrumental in setting up the Islamic Front, formed in November 2013 with a programme of 'toppling the regime' of Assad, as well as opposing secularism and Kurdish independence. The Qatari government has shaped the Front's constitution, using its TV station Al Jazeera to promote the group's aims for a 'state of justice, rule of law and freedom', in a bid to counter the Syrian 'regime's propaganda' and to reassure foreign backers. US Secretary of State John Kerry said in December 2013, 'The United States has not met yet to date with the Islamic Front. There has not been a discussion... It’s possible that it could take place.' Qatar has backed the front's largest faction, the al Qaeda-linked Ahrar al Sham group. It and other member organisations are known to have carried out sectarian killings, including the massacre of 190 civilians in Latakia province in August 2013. The groups that Qatar has supported are known to be in conflict with ISIS and al Nusra for one is losing the battle. Qatar is estimated to have spent $3bn in Syria so far. Once again the human price of these unpredictable, imperialist-backed war games is being paid with the suffering of ordinary people.
Since General Sisi's military coup in Egypt in July 2013, Qatar has continued supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which has faced severe repression from an Egyptian government which labels it and Hamas as terrorist organisations, and has collaborated with the Israeli military to maintain the Gaza blockade. In response to Qatar's criticism of the coup regime,Egypt has withdrawn its envoy to Qatar and demanded the implementation of an agreement for Qatar to co-operate in 'handing over outlaws, stopping spreading rumours and information that incite hatred and violence via Al Jazeera TV channel and putting an end to interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs.' Egypt continues to hold Al Jazeera reporters and Qatar is finding that, unlike in Syria, where the kidnappers are on their payroll, negotiating a release is not so easy.
While the US government and its allies have come out strongly in support of the Sisi regime in Egypt, their relationship with Qatar shows their recognition of the instability of the region. The Obama government has provided arms to three successive Egyptian regimes, including the supposedly opposed presidencies of Mubarak, Morsi and Sisi. It froze a large part of its $1.3bn in military 'aid' after the fall of Morsi's Brotherhood government but has since made moves to restore it. John Kerry recently assured the Egyptian rulers that, 'I am confident…that the Apaches will come and that they will come very, very soon.'
Qatar's role in Egypt has provoked tension with other Gulf dictatorships. In March, after a meeting of the Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates took the unprecedented decision to remove their ambassadors from Qatar in protest at Qatari 'interference in their internal affairs.' At issue is Qatari ruling class support for the Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, anti-Saudi rebel forces in Syria, and Hizbollah in Lebanon. The UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are bankrolling the Sisi regime and see the Brotherhood as a transnational threat, with the potential to destabilise their own states. Brotherhood activists in these countries have been banned and imprisoned.
Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have deeply involved themselves in the struggle for political control resulting from the 'Arab Spring', attempting to stamp out any forces that threaten their own ties to the imperialist plunder of the Gulf and North Africa. The imperialists are backing both horses. US and European leaders are aware of the increasing international opposition to direct Western intervention and of the limitations of relying on Israel. Qatar offers the unique opportunity to negotiate with the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas, should the need arise. It will act as a willing agent to intervene brutally on the side of reactionary forces across the region and stands as a strategically important Gulf state. Qatar is the world's second gas exporter after Russia and is now part of the 'Gas Troika', an alliance with Iran and Russia which, while it is in its early stages, may hold 60% of the world's gas reserves. EU capitalists are speaking of the opportunity that Qatar provides to 'wean' Europe off Russian gas. But in a land where 20 Indian migrant workers die every month to build palaces and football stadiums, resistance can never be far away.