Following what is said and written about the Gulf state of Qatar in the news is a learning experience.
Reports often reflect either hatred of this “tiny and wealthy-by-luck” state, or infatuation with the unprecedented success of this “small-but-mighty” nation.
There seems to be nothing in between. Even “unbiased” Western journalists and researchers well-known for their “professional” coverage and study of the Middle East sometimes find themselves, or rather are to be found, in an awkward situation and producing a strange type of journalism.
Bias is a sin in journalism, as is mixing personal interests with reporting.
Objectivity is the goal. This is what university departments of Mass Communication have been teaching for decades.
Even though journalism in the Arab world is far from being at its best, we might have expected more professionalism on the other side of the planet.
In 2011, the Western media, and more specifically the American, fell in love with the “ambitious” “good-will policies” of the small Gulf state of Qatar, which, it said, aimed to modernise the Middle East and give it a helping hand to pull it out of its decades-long stalemate and into a brighter future of modernity, peace and prosperity.
Among the strongest “prosperity” attempts made by Qatar, strongly applauded by many voices in the West, was this Gulf state’s intervention in Libya.
When The New York Times wrote admiringly of Qatar’s intervention in Libya as a “turning point” in early April 2011, the situation in that country was not yet clear.
Some could see storm clouds on the horizon, even if others only felt the breezes of the Arab Spring.
Others still were already starting to realise that what appeared to be a bright future was in fact a fiasco.
In an article entitled “For Qatar, Libyan Intervention May be a Turning Point”, the New York Times did not hide its fascination for Qatar as “the first Arab country to grant political recognition to the Libyan rebels.
Its six Mirage fighter jets flying with western Coalition partners are giving the United States and European allies political cover in a region long suspicious of outside intervention,” it said.
The paper said that Qatari officials were discussing ways to market Libyan oil in order to give the rebels against the then Libyan regime crucial financial support.
Qatar was looking for ways to support them with food and medical supplies, it said, as well as with the extremely powerful tool of media support, with Qatar helping the Libyan opposition create a TV channel using a French satellite to offset the state-controlled Libyan media.
Western political and military leaders sang the praises of how this small but powerful and ambitious state was bringing about a turning point in the region through its courageous intervention.
French defence minister Gérard Longuet said that this was the first time that there had been such a level of understanding between Europe and the Arab world.
This “level of understanding”, among other actions and interventions, played a vital role in bringing about what the region has turned into.
Any discussion of the disasters that have hit the region, including the black hole of Syria where Qatar has also played a role, cannot avoid discussion of Qatari actions.
In June 2013, the New York Times reported on what it called the “outsize” role played by Qatar in Syria, where, according to American and Middle Eastern officials “with knowledge of intelligence reports on weapons transmitted to the Syrian rebels, Qatar used a shadowy arms network to move at least two shipments of shoulder-fired missiles to Syrian rebels who have used them against [Syrian President Bashar Al-]Assad’s Air Force.”
The reason why the shipments came under the spotlight was not an inquiry into why Qatar was supporting “fighters” in another country, but instead was because the then US administration of president Barack Obama had repeatedly implored its “Arab allies” to keep one type of deadly weapons out of “rebel” hands, and that was shoulder-fired missiles.
Obama’s reason was fears that one day a terrorist group, especially one related to Al-Qaeda, could use them to shoot down civilian planes.
Only a few months later, fighters belonging to the Al-Nusra Front were pictured flying Islamist flags in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo while heading to the frontlines of jihad.
According to the US magazine Foreign Policy in an article published in March 2017, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian representative, the Fateh Al-Sham (JFS) group later renamed Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), was eagerly pursuing the long-term objective of a merger of the armed Syrian opposition groups under a broad transnational Islamist umbrella. Al-Qaeda has called this goal a “uniting of the ranks”.
However, the ranks of terrorism have never been as variable and at times paradoxical as they are today. In June 2017, US President Donald Trump supported Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain’s blockade of Qatar because of the latter’s support for terrorism in the region.
Trump accused Qatar directly of sponsoring terrorism at the highest levels. He said that he had decided that the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding of terrorists and its adherence to extremist ideology.
Despite the fact that neither that funding of terrorism stopped, nor the adherence to extremism came to an end, Trump described his guest the Qatari emir Tamim Bin Hamid al-Thani as “a partner in the fight against extremists” just a few days ago.
He even told him that “you’ve now become an ally in the fight against terrorism” and referred to him as “a great friend.”
However, this “great friend’s” prime minister was the guest of honour at the wedding of the son of “one of the world’s most prolific terrorism financiers”, according to the UK Sunday Telegraph newspaper last week.
Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani was photographed with Abdel-Rahman bin Umayr Al-Nuaymi, designated a few weeks ago by his own government as a financier of terrorism following similar designations made by Britain, the US and the UN Security Council, at this wedding.
Experience tells us that there is no such thing as a great, a slight or a forever friend when it comes to politics, arms, and money.
While the future of the Middle East might not lie entirely in the hands of its own nations for well-known reasons, it is worth thinking about adhering to the second-best alternative: getting hold of the facts since the future depends on the present.
The writer is a journalist at the Al-Hayat newspaper.
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly