Postgraduate in International Studies and
History from Christ (Deemed to be University), Bangalore
Research Intern at O.P.Jindal Global University, Haryana.
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Emergence of Qatar- a historical account:
The Bani Khalid extended their powers in the Eastern Arabia region, stretching from which Qatar to Kuwait in the first half of the 18th century. The important seaport of the Gulf, Zubara, in terms of exportation of pearls to the different parts of the world, became the headquarters of the Bani Khalid administration in Qatar- became the crucial transit port for their Eastern and the Central Arabian territories. Qatar thus was slowly emerging in significance.
The Al Khalifa and the Al Jalahima sections of the Bani Utub tribe during 1760’s founded the city of Az Zubarah while migrating from Kuwait to Qatar’s northwest coast. Az Zubarah became a thriving centre of trade and pearling, due to Bani’s lucrative trade engagement with Kuwait, despite of hostilities between the Al Khalifa and the Al Jalahima.
The attacks on Az Zubarah led by Omani Sheyakh who ruled Bahrain from Bushehr in Iran, led the Bani of Qatar and Kuwait capture Bahrain in1783. The Al Khalifa claimed sovereignty over Bahrain and ruled it for years. This angered the Al Jalahima, since they felt deprived from their share and thus they moved closer to the Qatar coast to establish Al Khuwayr, using it as a staging point for maritime raids against the shipping of the Iranians and Al Khalifa. Post this, majority of the Al Khalifa clan migrated to Bahrain and established a shaykhdom that sustains to this day. That they left only a token presence in Az Zubarah meant that the Al Jalahima branch of the Bani Utub could achieve ascendancy in Qatar, with their leader, Rahman ibn Jabir Al Jalahima, earning a reputation as one of the most feared raiders on the surrounding waters. (Report, 2012)
The early nineteenth century saw the continuing bloody conflict between the Al Khalifa, the Al Jalahima, the Iraniansthe Omanis under Sayyid Said ibn Sultan Al Said, the nascent Wahhabis of Arabia, and the Ottomans. This period witnessed the growth of British power in the Persian Gulf as a result of their growing interests in India; for securing passage for East India Company ships through the Gulf. The 1820 General Treaty of Peace between the East India Company and the shaykhs of the coastal area ensured safe passage to the British, also acknowledging British authority in the gulf. (Al-Otabi, 1989). Bahrain was a player to the treaty and assumed that Qatar, a dependency, was a similar party in the treaty.
The influential Al Thani family moved from Fuwairat to Doha in 1847, under the leadership of Mohammed Bin Thani. He strengthened his position within Qatar and even externally by creating alliance with Faisal Bin Turki, the Amir of the second Saudi state, who himself paid a visit to Qatar in early 1851. Finally, by early 1860s Shaikh Mohammed Bin Thani emerged as the most important figure not only in Qatar but in the whole Arabian Peninsula. The situation became volatile in 1867 when a large Bahraini force sacked and looted Doha and Al Wakrah. This prompted, following the Qatari counterattack, to impose a settlement in 1868. A treaty was reached on 12 September 1868, between Shaikh Mohammed Bin Thani and Colonel Lewis Pelly, British Resident in the Gulf, recognizing the independence of Qatar. The peace treaty and Pelly’s mission to Bahrain were milestones in Qatar’s history because they recognized the distinctness of Qatar from Bahrain, as two separate regions.
The expansion of the Ottoman Empire into eastern Arabia in 1871 made Qatar vulnerable to occupation. Shaikh Mohammed Bin Thani made a plea to the Ottomans at Al-Hasa for protection against any external attack. Although Thani’s son, Qasim ibn Muhammad Al Thani, accepted Ottoman sovereignty in 1872, Muhammad Thani opposed Ottoman occupations over Qatar. Subsequently, in 1876, Mohammed Bin Thani handed over the administrative responsibility of Qatar to his son Shaikh Jassim Bin Mohammed Bin Thani. Shaikh Jassim Bin Mohammed Bin Thani was given the Ottoman title of Qaim-Maqam (Deputy Governor) of Qatar in 1876, after he took responsibility of the Qatar region. Ottoman attempts to increase their power in Qatar included appointing Ottoman official including administrators at Zubara, Doha, Wakrah and Khor al-Odaid and by establishing a Custom House at Doha and strengthening their garrison at Doha. (Ekinci, 2017). Qasim’s refusal to permit an Ottoman customhouse in Doha led to conflict between the Ottomans and Qasim, in March 1893, 15kms away from Doha, in which Qasim’s supporters drove out the Ottoman forces. The Ottoman defeat was a landmark event in in the modern history of Qatar due to the courage with which Shaikh Jassim and his people faced up the Ottomans. This defeat, and Qasim ibn Muhammad’s embrace after the turn of the century of the resurgent Wahhabis under Abd al Aziz ibn Saud, marked the de facto end of Ottoman rule in Qatar. (Anscombe, 1999). The Ottomans left Qatar in 1915. Qatar became a British colony in 1916 and finally gained independence in 1971.
The Qatar Crisis
The Qatar crisis showed its signs of birth on the 5th of June, 2017. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates(UAE), Egypt and Bahrain imposed a diplomatic and economic embargo on Qatar, and though there have been efforts by various channels to end this crisis, there are weak hopes for it to end and the global communities are now viewing it as a new normal for dealing with the Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC) countries. Since over 60 percent of Qatar’s trade was transited through the UAE ports and Saudi border crossing, the blockading countries expected the isolation to cause a painful disruption to the Qatari economy. (Habibi, 2019). The anti–Qatar bloc suggested reasons for the Qatar crisis as being Qatar’s economic dimension with Iran, impact of Al-Jazeera and Qatar’s support for Muslim Brotherhood . The four allies gave Qatar a list of 13 demands which Qatar refused to comply with as it considered it to be infringement on their sovereignty, leading to the escalation of the tension. While the crisis entered its third year in 2020, there are few hopes that it will be resolved soon.
Muslim Brotherhood: a major nail in the coffin?
The emergence of Muslim Brotherhood is viewed to be threatening by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as it seeks to establish a “global Islamic State ” under its authority, intending to topple the Muslim governments that do not have Brotherhood affiliation. And both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi feared that the Brotherhood’s success in Egypt, Tunisia, and beyond would energize underground Brotherhood groups within their respective countries. (Trager, 2017). The Emirati government was working to dissolve al-Islah, the local Brotherhood branch, as it viewed their traditional influence within the state’s educational institutions as threatening. Also in 2014, Saudi declared “Muslim Brotherhood” group as a terrorist organization, which led to the countries cutting off ties with Qatar to punish Qatar for maintaining ties with Iran and supporting Islamist group like the Brotherhood and Hamas.
It also needs to be noted that majority of the demands branch out of the concerns of Qatar’s relation with Muslim Brotherhood which the four countries view to be a threat in the region. The difference in the foreign policies of the GCC countries highlights the cringe in mutual relation. Unlike for other GCC countries, Iran has been in a close relation with Qatar. While Saudi and UAE were leading the counter revolutionary vibes of the 2011 “Arab Spring”, Qatar’s news network al-Jazeera advocated the 2011 uprisings. However, in terms of Egypt, their views are mostly diverged . While Qatar maintained its support for Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi and UAE supported the 2013 that removed the then President Mohammad Morsi from power.
Now it becomes a major point of contention that although much have spoken about Qatar’s independent foreign policy and backing Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Gaza, as well as Brotherhood-affiliated militias in Libya and Syria, why has Qatar still pursued this policy at such great costs?  Furthermore, Brotherhood’s support to democracy puts things at odds and even poses a threat to Qatar’s monarchical system. Also, Saudi, Qatar and UAE share certain conservative social values linked to Wahhabism, making it unlikely would be supportive of this activist social movement.
A brief development of the issue
Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood can be traced back to history, with the arrival of Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in the country. He was born in1926 in Egypt and is one of the most influential Islamic scholars or “ulama” in the Arab world. Qaradawi was one of the region’s most recognizable Islamic scholars, or ʿulamāʾ. He was among those scholars who decided to forgo high-ranking positions at Egypt’s leading education institution al-Azhar to join the movement of Muslim Brotherhood. “Founded in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood is the world’s most influential Islamist organization. The Brotherhood’s mission is to Islamize society through the promotion of religious law, values, and morals. It has long combined preaching and political activism with social welfare to advance this objective” . (Laub, 2019). He had immense influence on Qatari society in terms of religion and politics, making Qatar’s question of support for the Brotherhood a social and personal question.
Due to Gamal Abdul Nasser’s instances of repression of the Brotherhood, Qarawadi left Egypt in 1961. While many of his Brotherhood supporting peers found refuge in Saudi Arabia, the country welcoming these people as a part of “Islamic solidarity campaign” to counter the pan-Arab socialism supported by Nasser, he was instead sent to Qatar. During that time, Qatar, the wealthiest country in the world in terms of $GDP per capita owing to its vast natural gas fields, was still some way off and it was still a protectorate under the British. Furthermore, Qatar at that time did not have any notable religious or scholarly institutions to spread its ideologies and beliefs. Qaradawi, a respected Islamic scholar went to Qatar at a time when the country was going through and educational vacuum and was in need to be enlightened to the contemporary world. The other Brotherhood scholars going to other gulf countries, unlike him had to carve out their own space among the established scholarly institutions of the respective countries whereas Qaradawi designed the pathway of knowledge which he wanted to impart among the philosophically weakened Qatari society. He soon became the President of the Qatar Education Ministry’s first Institute of Islamic instruction (maʿhad dīnī), founded a year before through a lot of difficulties. To Qaradawi, the vacuum of religious-educational institutions in Qatar provided him an opportunity to implement the socio- cultural reforms which he and others had been encouraging back in Egypt. His memoirs point out that along with the sole focus on Islamic and the Islamic sciences of rhetoric, grammar and morphology, he redesigned the curriculum of the institution to import prominence on foreign languages, science, and mathematics. He pointed out although initially he faced opposition from the students while implementing the reforms, he continued on his path and preached that these changes were necessary to be better equipped to the present challenges of the modern day. “Qaradawi felt that studying these subjects would give his students “a deep and true understanding of the social reality,” which they would have to deal with as scholars, imams, and leaders in Qatari public life”. (Baroudi, 2014)
The reforms introduced by Qaradawi brought him to the notice of the then Emir of Qatar, Ahmad b. ʿAli Al Thani. A personal relation grew between them and Qaradawi was appointed as the personal religious teacher of the Emir during the month of Ramadan. Qaradawi was granted Qatari citizenship by the Emir in 1969. The Qatari royal family became major supporters of Qaradawi and his preaching, and further funded his trips globally as he visited grassroots Brotherhood-affiliated organizations in Pakistan, Malaysia, Europe, North America, Indonesia and the Far East. Thus in this context, Qaradawi’s teachings and his support for Islamic Brotherhood gained a strong hold in the Qatari society. (Roberts, 2016)
The influence of Qaradawi was further brought into prominence in 1996 with the founding of Al- Jazeera ; he is being referred to as “one of the most celebrated figures in the Arab world.” Al Jazeera took a leading front in broadcasting his Friday sermons from Doha’s Umar Ibn al-Khattab mosque. His show “Sharia and Life” on Al- Jazeera gained much prominence. These events addressed almost on a weekly basis. This spread of influence enabled the Qatari Emir in 2004 to support the founding of The International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), and Qaradawi was appointed as the President. While this transnational network of scholars had an independent space of operating, it shared subtle linkages with Qatar’s soft power and foreign policy goals.
With the coming of Arab Spring of 2011, Qaradawi used his influential position on Al-Jazeera and IUMS in order to provide legitimation from an Islamic legal perspective for the growing uprisings in the region (the exception was only in Bahrain, where he supported the ruling Sunni regime). However, in a precursor to the crisis, the coup in Egypt, after July 3, 2013, saw the Brotherhood-led government violently removed from power. Qaradawi’s protest against the coup through al-Jazeera became a source of friction between Qatar and the supporters of the new regime in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE.
Among these growing tensions, the 1st Riyadh Agreement was signed on November 23, 2013 to address the strain in relations among the GCC countries and insulate the region form the impact of the Arab Spring, even if it initiated encouraging counter-revolutions to reinstate former regimes. It lays out commitments to avoid any interference in the internal affairs of other Gulf nations, including barring financial or political support to “deviant” groups, which is used to describe anti-government activist groups. (Herb, 2017). Tensions continued and eventually Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar on March 5, 2014 alleging Qatar of violating GCC principles of not interfering in countries domestic issues. Egypt further issued arrest warrant on December 6, 2014 for Qaradawi’s arrest through Interpol on charges for incitement to murder (presumably for his opposition to the 2013 coup). However, the warrant went unheeded.
Thus, the Qatar crisis came as result to resolve the underlying tensions that led to strain in relations between Qatar and its neighbours pre-2014. Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood is a key point of divergence in opinions and friction between Qatar and the GCC members which was evident by diverse positions taken by these countries over the 2013 coup in Egypt. However, Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood has a long history in the country, tangled with Qarawadi’s personal history in Qatar. It was not simply a result of power politics within the Gulf region. Qaradawi took the leading role in building Qatar’s religious education institutions from scratch and his students like Maryam al-Hajari, have continued to show similar influence in the region like him. On June 9, 2017 Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE in June 2017 issued Qatar with a list of names of Brotherhood leaders in exile in the country, including Qaradawi, asking their expulsion. However as assumed, Qatar did not approve it since expelling Qaradawi and his Brotherhood fellows would be far more than a case of political action; it has deep rooted religious and cultural sentiments in the country.
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author (s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Jindal Centre for the Global South or its members.