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The Brief – Qatar, the cunning state

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Some countries are called “cunning states”. Cunning means the quality or skill of being clever at planning something to reach your goals, even by tricking others. Qatar is often referred to as a “cunning state”.

In the EU bubble, Qatar’s name was mostly mentioned in the context of the ongoing Qatargate scandal, with hefty bribes allegedly paid to MEPs and other officials to advance the interests of the tiny but rich peninsular Arab country.

In that period, it concerned the 2022 FIFA World Cup, hosted by Qatar, amid criticism of alleged bribery in the bidding process, human rights violations, and, specifically, the treatment of migrant workers who build the sports facilities.

Essentially, Qatar was the corruptor in the shrine of European democracy, but the tide has turned since then in favour of the small Arab state.

A fresh episode was the release of Belgian national Olivier Vandecasteele, held as a hostage in an Iranian jail, in which Qatar played a positive role and hosted the prisoner exchange (five Iranians held in the US) on the tarmac of the Doha airport.

Qatar also got a bonus: Belgium dropped an arrest warrant for the Qatari labour minister, who allegedly played a role in the Qatargate scandal, as a courtesy.

That’s cunning, indeed.

Then, all of a sudden, Qatar is getting international praise for having played a key role in negotiating the release of some 50 hostages captured during the heinous Hamas rampage in Israel on 7 October.

“Qatar should be commended for that”, Hugh Lovatt, a senior policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), told Euractiv.

“Europe and the US should now work with Doha to release the remaining Israeli hostages and advance a political track to provide a lasting and sustainable solution for Gaza”, Lovatt said.

In his words, this came after weeks of intense Qatari mediation efforts between Israel and Hamas leaders, many of whom are based in Qatar.  

And there you have it: Hamas leaders, including possibly the masterminds of the 7 October slaughter, live a comfortable life in the futuristic capital of Doha, and some analysts even suggest that Qatar is a financial backer of Hamas.

“Their financial support of $30 million per month is proven and public,” said Didier Billion, deputy director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS).

Israel was reportedly perfectly aware and used to escort the vans carrying the Qatari cash from the Ben Gurion airport to Gaza (there is no airfield in the Palestinian enclave).

The EU has rightly decided to phase out gas imports from Russia and is now scrambling to import liquified gas from Qatar, although this country provides a haven for the Russian oligarchy and, according to some reports, serves as a platform for circumventing the Western sanctions on Moscow.

There is obviously a fine line between what the West considers terrorists, in this case, Hamas, and being courteous with their paymaster. Realpolitik during the Cold War meant being courteous with dictators like Romania’s Ceausescu because he pretended to be independent from Moscow. 

This, today, is probably Realpolitik 2.0.

As a journalist, I have sensed the same duplicity with Al Jazeera, the Doha-based TV empire.

Qatar is a tiny country in the Arab world, but it owns the most powerful media instrument. I sometimes watch Al Jazeera in English. Last night, a highly emotional Al Jazeera senior analyst repeatedly accused Israel of genocide without any reaction from the anchor, while debates on whether Israel’s actions do, or could constitute genocide, continue.

Friends tell me the Arabic version of Al Jazeera, watched by so many millions of Muslims, including in Europe, is much more radical towards Israel.

Are these double standards? With basically all the Russian media shut down on EU soil, the Qatari media is enjoying privileged treatment in the EU.

Isolated among the Gulf States until 2017, Qatar has paradoxically managed to steer a successful course through the economic conflict waged against it by turning to Europe. Yes, the EU has whitewashed Qatar vis-à-vis its Gulf peers!

If Qatar’s mediation could indeed help release the hostages, let’s give credit to Doha. But the EU should not be naïve: Qatar, the cunning state, has its own agenda and is very good at achieving its goals.

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The Roundup

The European Parliament adopted its position Wednesday on legislation to reduce packaging waste, weakening some key measures on the table following a tense debate on the role of reuse, recycling and bans.

The European Parliament has outright rejected a proposal on the EU’s pesticide reduction plan, effectively killing off the regulation in a move lamented by green groups but celebrated by EU farmer associations.

Italy and Germany want to circumvent the Alps by transforming gas pipelines into ones capable of carrying hydrogen, a clean burning gas that Berlin hopes will aid it in decarbonising its industry.

The European Commission argues that the upcoming pharmaceutical revision must not favour incentives to industry over the availability of medicines, while drug manufacturers warn that in pharmaceutical research and development, Europe is already lagging behind major global competitors, the United States and China.

NATO has warned its members that too much red tape is hindering troop movements across Europe, a problem that could cause major delays were a conflict with Russia to erupt.

The right-wing camp in Europe always presents a united front regardless of internal differences, while the progressive forces are divided and do not know how to articulate and effectively communicate their messages, said Martin Schulz, former president of the European Parliament.

Faced with an increase in the amount of waste produced, the European Commission wants to introduce regulations to reduce the quantity of packaging and make it more sustainable, but environmental groups warn pressure is being put on forests to produce more paper, which some see as a more sustainable option.

Europe’s top rights court on Thursday ruled Poland violated Lech Wałęsa’s human rights in a case stemming from allegations the celebrated pro-democracy leader was a Communist agent collaborating with security services.

The European Union executive on Thursday approved €900 million in advance payments to Hungary under its hitherto frozen share of recovery funds, as the bloc seeks to overcome Budapest’s veto of aid to Ukraine.

Last but not least, don’t miss this week’s EU Politics Decoded: The little-noticed vote to change the EU treaties.

Look out for…

Fourth EU Clean Air Forum in Rotterdam on Thursday-Friday.
Parliament President Roberta Metsola meets Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib on Friday.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participates in EU-Canada summit in St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Thursday-Friday.
Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council meets in Brussels Thursday-Friday.
Informal meeting of equality ministers in Pamplona Thursday-Friday.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Alice Taylor/Zoran Radosavljevic]

 

 

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