HomeWorld NewsEXPLANATION: Qatar's role in diplomacy ahead of the 2022 World Cup

EXPLANATION: Qatar’s role in diplomacy ahead of the 2022 World Cup

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For decades, Doha has opened its doors to Taliban warlords, Islamist dissidents, African rebel commanders and exiles of all stripes.

Now the tiny emirate is receiving additional scrutiny as it hosts more than a million soccer fans from around the world for the 2022 World Cup.

Qatar’s quest for global influence is wide and deep. Filled with billions in gasoline, the country has tried to mediate conflicts far away, but its brash stances have also sparked diplomatic conflicts at home. Three Persian Gulf neighbors, along with Egypt, severed ties with Doha in 2017, accusing it of financing terrorism and harboring fugitive dissidents.

Qatar denies the charges, but there is no doubt that the emirate has pursued contrary policies.

Here’s a look at the country’s outsized role in diplomacy around the world.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban opened a political office in Doha in 2013, with Washington’s consent. The insurgents made their home in the elegant capital. Qatar’s Islamist leanings and close ties to the group ultimately proved vital, as Doha played host to US diplomats and Taliban officials seeking to end America’s longest-running war. Amid the frenzied US airlift from Kabul last year, Qatar stepped up again. It received almost half of all Afghan and American evacuees, more than any other country, and received praise from President Joe Biden. Now, Qatar has a key role as interlocutor between the new rulers of Afghanistan and the West.

SHELTER FOR ISLAMISTS

Unlike its neighbors on the Persian Gulf, Qatar is sympathetic to political Islam. In the early days of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, he banked on Islamists across the region. In Egypt, Qatar and its Al Jazeera satellite news network backed the democratically elected but divisive former president who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood. After the military-backed ouster of Mohamed Morsi, Qatar gave his supporters refuge. Qatar also backed powerful Islamist militias when wars broke out in Libya and Syria. That triggered accusations that Qatar was financing terrorists. But Doha’s ties to militant groups have sometimes proven important to the West, which has used them to negotiate the release of hostages in countries like Syria. While Qatar enjoys a reputation as a safe haven for Islamic militants and other assorted wanderers, it has seen violence in the past. Former Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who lived in exile in Doha, was killed in a car bombing in 2004.

ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

Qatar openly provides a base for the leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules the Gaza Strip. After the 2007 split between the feuding Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, Qatar sought to mediate to end the rivalry, which still continues. Doha also has low-level ties to Israel, cooperating with the country to provide much-needed aid to impoverished and blockaded Gaza. Qatari payments to Gaza have been used to buy fuel, pay civil servants’ salaries and provide cash to families in need. Qatar has also been key in negotiating ceasefires between Israel and Hamas that have restored calm after four wars, most recently in 2021, as well as countless minor skirmishes.

CHAD

Qatar has served as a mediator between Chad’s military government and rebel groups as the African nation grapples with the aftermath of the 2021 assassination of its president Idriss Deby Itno, who has ruled the country since 1990. Deby’s son, Mahamat, 38 years. Idriss Deby, now heads the board. In August, Chad signed a compromise in Qatar with more than 40 rebel groups and opposition figures ahead of planned national reconciliation talks. However, the Front for Change and Harmony in Chad, the country’s main rebel group accused of killing Deby’s father, did not sign the pledge. It is unclear whether the pledge will be enough to ensure the success of the talks as the planned 18-month transition from military rule to democracy comes to an end. Elsewhere in Africa, Qatar helped broker an end to a diplomatic standoff last year between Kenya and Somalia, who were at loggerheads over various issues, including oil-rich waters in the Indian Ocean.

IRAN

Qatar sits across the Persian Gulf from Iran and shares its huge offshore natural gas field with Tehran. That is what Doha requires to maintain good relations with the Islamic Republic. While Oman has long served as a go-between for the US and Iran, Qatar recently hosted proxy talks between Iran and the US on Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal. Their high-level ties also see senior officials from both countries hold phone conversations amid the nuclear negotiations. Al Jazeera covers Iran intensively and often sympathetically. On the other hand, Qatar has bolstered its own army and is home to the forward headquarters of the US Army’s Central Command.

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