IF money talks, then the pipsqueak, maverick emirate of Qatar has a voice like a foghorn.
However, it isn’t the ear-splitting volume of what’s bellowed that matters, it’s the mixed messages emanating from the capital, Doha, that beggar belief.
Because Qatar parrots from two scripts: one echoes the mantra of pro-Western, freewheeling capitalism; the other promotes a credo of anti-Western extremism, manifest in colossal financial support to terrorist franchises fomenting Sunni Islamist violence throughout the hellhole of the Middle East.
So, even by the Gulf’s duplicitous standards, few states are shot full of as many contradictions as Qatar, per capital the world’s third richest country – after Luxemburg and Norway – according to the International Monetary Fund.
Covering less than 4,500 sand-strewn square miles, its population of 1.8 million includes only 288,000 Qataris, the rest being expats and bonded foreign labourers, there to serve the absolute monarchy of the Al Thani clan and make the statelet prosper.
And prosper is an understatement. Sitting on the globe’s largest natural gas field and oil reserves conservatively estimated at 25 billion barrels, Qatar can indulge its sovereign wealth fund’s whims in a vast hash of investments.
They range from an airline and the TV channel, Al Jazeera – whose propaganda stretches far beyond the Middle East to Europe and the USA – to gargantuan chunks of international conglomerates.
The £100-billion Qatari Investment Authority (QIA), for instance, includes in its share portfolio huge stakes in Volkswagen, Siemens, Harrods, The London Shard, Heathrow Airport, Paris Saint-Germain soccer club, Royal Dutch Shell, Tiffany, Sainsbury’s, BlackBerry, Barclays Bank and a cluster of other stellar institutions.
Currently, the QIA is trying to buy London’s Canary Wharf, though so far its overtures have been rebuffed.
But, with £25-billion a year flooding in from energy sales, Qatar can punch multiple times above its miniscule weight and uses its vast wealth to exert disproportionate influence in all manner of subversive ways.
That’s why the mini-emirate is the cuckoo in the nest of international affairs.
Under the autocratic rule of Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who seized control of the country from his father, Khalifa, in 1995, Qatar’s brand rapidly expanded and it’s been further burnished by Hamad’s son, Tamim, who took over in 2013.
The 33-year-old emir has continued the deceit of being the West’s best of ‘frenemies’ by continuing to buy in Western expertise, weaponry and commercial assets, while exporting extremist Wahabbi Islam anywhere opportunity presents itself.
Though not official regime policy, Qatar gives a nod and wink to its host of obscenely rich citizens’ generosity to Al-Qaeda offshoots throughout the war-torn region and provides sanctuary to reviled hate preacher, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
The spiritual guru of the terror franchise – whose followers praise the Islamic State’s (IS) barbarities in Iraq and Syria as ‘great victories – once told Al Jazeera of his admiration for Hitler’s genocide of the Jews, vowing, ‘Allah willing, next time it will be at the hands of [we] believers.’
However, Qatar’s recurrent problem is misreading the runes, never more naively than in believing the Arab Spring would somehow herald an era of Sharia sunshine to replace the people’s yen for accountable democracy.
Despite Doha’s best efforts to prop up Egypt’s brief, Muslim Brotherhood government, the army’s counter-coup put paid to it.
A similar strategic cock-up besets Qatar in post-Gaddafi Libya, where it bankrolls Libyan Dawn, a bunch of jihadi thugs busy lining their own pockets through oil piracy in Tripoli.
Ditto meddling in Syria, where the emirate’s middlemen fund the Al Qaeda-linked cutthroats of Jabhat al-Nusra, only to have seen them seriously squeezed between forces loyal to the Al Assad tyranny and IS’s savages.
And Qataris could hardly hide their embarrassment when the Afghan Taliban were invited to open an office in Doha, only to hoist their inflammatory black flag over the building.
Then there’s the emirate’s funding of Hamas – long branded a ‘terrorist entity’ throughout the West – whose leaders purloined Qatar’s £250-million gift ‘to ease Gaza’s suffering’ to buy arms and build the network of terror tunnels which Israel destroyed in Operation Protective Edge.
Meanwhile, a six-star Doha hotel suite is where Hamas’s political supremo, Khaled Meshaal, calls home, counting his estimated £1.6-billion fortune, while his people scavenge through the ruins of their war-ravaged dwellings for the bare necessities of life.
It was reportedly at Meshaal’s request that Qatar allied itself with Turkey and laid down conditions for a ceasefire with Israel that heavily favoured Hamas…until, that is, Egypt pour scorn on them and sorted out a truce that reflected reality.
However, the emirate’s mule-headed determination to stamp its authority on anything and everything in the Middle East still knows no bounds, whatever the neighbours say.
And several can barely contain their rage over Qatar’s obsession with its revolutionary buddies, however impeccably Islamic they are.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have already withdrawn their ambassadors from Doha and, in July, Bahrain detained three Qatari as spies.
Still, there was some good news for Doha last week when FIFA – who else, when money talks so loudly? – dismissed accusations Qatar had ‘bought’ the 2022 World Cup, despite an Everest of circumstantial evidence that the emirate’s disgraced soccer sheikh, Mohamed bin Hammam, secretly paid millions to buy the votes of football officials worldwide.
The sweeteners, claim FIFA insiders, were doled out not to influence the destination of the Cup, but for bin Hammam – now banned from the game for life – to replace the smug Swiss, Sepp Blatter, as soccer’s unassailable supremo.
Qatar, though, is not out of the dock yet.
Instead, it faces stinging condemnation over its ruthless treatment meted out to poor emigrant worker, at least 1,000 of whom have died while working on the £77-billion World Cup construction sites. And that horrific number is expected to reach 4,000 by the time the tourney kicks off in eight years’ time.
Most scathing is a report by Amnesty International, which stated workers were effectively slave labour, forced to work 14-hour days for months on end, without wages, in temperatures of up to 45C/113F, and without adequate access to water, safety equipment or medical care.
But, as the Qataris might say, that’s a small price to pay for the kudos of being the first Arab state to host the World Cup.