Is anyone paying attention to the rise and rise of Qatar?

The country's quick backing of the Libyan rebel council was the behaviour of a reliable internationa

The man standing next to Cameron, Sarkozy and Merkel in the recent pictures at the Elysee Palace to mark the first 'Friends of Libya' meeting is the Emir of Qatar. Back in March Qatar was first, after France, in publically recognising the Libyan Opposition group, the National Transitional Council. Qatar then went on to not only provide military support for the NATO operation in Libya, but also played a proactive mediation role with members of the Arab League in gathering support for the NATO intervention.

Qatar has also shown strong political leadership, willingness and influence in bilateral relations with its Arab neighbours throughout the Arab Spring -- from rumours of having frozen their investments in Syria, to public messages of support for the opposition in Syria and Yemen -- though Qatar's role may not always seem consistent, as with Bahrain.

The key questions are -- Does the highly nationalistic Arab Spring need an Arab champion that will 'step in', with its military might, to help oust dictators; and what are Qatar's broader international political ambitions? Does the world now need new political players?

We may not have seen the Arab Spring coming, but the motives and ambitions of possible rich and powerful frontrunner countries that support opposition against dictatorship and are willing to fund long-term growth and stability, should not go ignored. That Qatar stepped in quickly with its shuttle diplomacy and military backing for the Libyan NTC and made clear their long-term plans for stability in Libya and the wider region is indeed laudable, and are the appropriate strategic trajectory moves of a reliable international relations player.

As relations between Turkey and Israel continue to slide downwards, stability in the Middle East during and post the Arab Spring rightly concerns many. While the quartet may send over Tony Blair to help mediate between Israelis and Palestinians, is it time to seek out other more capable partners? Qatar will show further leadership this week with their support of the Palestinian Authority's bid for UN recognition of Palestine, building on their recent supportive role at the Peace Initiative Committee in Doha.

While other emerging powers with strong balance sheets such as China and India appear to have more insular political agendas, where international forays are confined to the economic, and while traditional Arab allies are either disappearing, or like Saudi Arabia have remained relatively silent and inward looking, Qatar is perhaps seizing on political ambitions that others lack.

As Egypt has shown, whilst protesters are rejoicing in their nationalistic verve and strength in ousting a dictator and his cronies, hoping to replace them with more democratic government and institutions, they do not yet know what ideological or political colours those replacements should take. The vacuum that this could create across the Arab region -- with its oil, Islamic tone and over 100 million young people -- is what rightly interests many, including in the West.

So what do we really know about Qatar? Their 'vital statistics' are impressive to say the least. It is the world's richest country per capita with growth at 19.4 per cent in 2010, and projected growth beyond 2014 of 9 per cent, and with oil and liquid natural gas reserves, production and export capacity that would make Saudi oil pumps foam at the rim. Its ambitions for its future are remarkable -- while our own government seems to tie every policy initiative to 2015 (coincidentally the next election), Qatar is working to a vision for 2030.

We have seen Qatar burst to the forefront of the international agenda with its savvy and ambitious portfolio through winning the 2022 World Cup bid and investment in brands we all know, including Barclays, the London Stock Exchange, Harrods and the 2012 Olympic Park, and rumours of buying football clubs surface periodically. It has also established major international institutions in media through the Al Jazeera news network, banking through the Qatar Financial Centre, technology and R&D through Qatar Foundation and the Qatar Science and Technology Park attracting leading universities and think tanks from the US and UK to have bases in Doha.

Qatar has a population of just 300,000 Qataris, and over 1.3 million expatriates. The government has invested considerably to enrich the lives of its citizens, with unemployment in 2011 almost non-existent at 0.2 per cent, and the CIA World Factbook section for 'population below poverty line' for Qatar showing 'N/A'. In contrast, the section on foreign reserves and gold shows over $31bn in assets held.

Qatar is no democracy: it is an absolute monarchy with no political institutions, yet Qataris did not join their Arab neighbours to revolt against their leaders in the Arab Spring. Its local population appears content with its stability and national investment programmes to increase education, health and services and overall living standards, though its low-paid expat population still await higher labour standards. The internal call for democracy among young Qataris fell sharply from 68 per cent in 2008 to just 33 per cent in 2010. The question of involvement in the Arab Spring -- where protesters call for democratic governance and inclusion -- will unravel within Qatar's borders in time, no doubt.

At a time when a large proportion of the world's wealth and power is held by BRIC countries, where the question of 'are you a democracy?' is no longer the price of entry for engagement in international relations, and where long-term economic and political stability and citizens' rights are vital, the world does need more players willing to mediate, challenge and support intervention when necessary.

Qatar's ambitious and capable political trajectory should not go unnoticed.

Zamila Bunglawala is Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Theresa May raises UK terrorist threat level to "critical"

A further attack may be "imminent" and armed soldiers will be deployed on the streets. 

After last night's horrific attack in Manchester, Theresa May has announced that the terrorist threat level has been increased from "severe" to "critical" - meaning a further attack may be imminent. The Prime Minister, following the advice of the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, said in a statement from No.10 Downing Street: "The work undertaken throughout the day has revealed that it is a possibility we cannot ignore that there is a wider group of individuals linked to this attack."

The new threat level, the highest available and last imposed in 2007, means that up to 5,000 soldiers will be deployed on the streets to replace armed police, guarding sensitive points such as parliament and railway stations. The intelligence services are likely to have been troubled by the relative sophistication of the Manchester Arens attack, a nail bomb, which murdered 22 people and injured 59 others.

May added: "This morning I said that the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, the independent organisation responsible for setting the threat level on the basis of the intelligence available, was keeping the threat level under constant review. It has now concluded, on the basis of today’s investigations, that the threat level should be increased for the time being from severe to critical. This means that their assessment is not only that an attack remains highly likely, but that a further attack may be imminent.”

Operation Temperer - allowing military personnel to take to the streets - had been enforced, May announced. “This means that armed police officers responsible for duties such as guarding key sites will be replaced by members of the armed forces, which will allow the police to significantly increase the number of armed officers on patrol in key locations. You might also see military personnel deployed at certain events such as concerts and sports matches, helping the police to keep the public safe.” 

The terrorist threat level was last raised to "critical" in June 2007 following the attempted bombing of a Tiger Tiger night club in London and the Glasgow airport attack. It was also increased after the failed 2006 Heathrow bomb plot. On both occasions, the "critical" status remained in place for less than a week. 

May will chair another meeting of the government's emergency Cobra committee at 9:30am tomorrow. The Conservatives and Labour have suspended all national and local election campaigning until further notice.

In her concluding remarks, the Prime Minister emphasised: "I do not want the public to feel unduly alarmed." She continued: "We have faced a serious terror threat in our country for many years and the operational response I have just outlined is a proportionate and sensible response to the threat that our security experts judge we face. I ask everybody to be vigilant and to co-operate with and support the police as they go about their important work.

"I want to end by repeating the important message I gave in my statement earlier today. We will take every measure available to us and provide every additional resource we can to the police and the security services as they work to protect the public.

"And while we mourn the victims of last night’s appalling attack, we stand defiant. The spirit of Manchester and the spirit of Britain is far mightier than the sick plots of depraved terrorists, that is why the terrorists will never win and we will prevail." 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496