Qatar, a tiny emirate that thinks and sees itself big

Qatar is just a few days away from hosting the FIFA World Cup, the opportunity for the small Gulf state to rev up light force and to keep your eyes away from its often negative reputation. This influence on the regional and global scene goes far beyond sport.

From our special correspondent in Qatar,

Sport is an important part of our DNA ‘ confirmed the Emir of Qatar, the Sheikh, last September Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. As soon as you are on the Paris-Doha plane, football invites you into the cabin: it is the players of the national team who follow the safety instructions broadcast on Qatar Airways screens. From the airport, which has been enlarged to welcome more than one and a half million supporters from all over the world, a third of the country’s population, to the center of the capital, the ten kilometers are dotted with flags and welcome messages in all languages. The stalls of the Souk Waqif compete with products bearing the Mondial logo…

The emirate did not save. Hotels, fan zones, restaurants are preparing for the planetary event far from criticism and calls for boycotts. This World Cup is the most expensive in history: $6.5 billion has been spent on stadiums, including the largest Lusail, which can seat up to 80,000 spectators and work continues around three weeks after kick-off.

To get there, a gleaming subway was created; in the stations and trains everything is in the colors of the Mondial; Thousands of agents are posted every twenty meters to inform incoming tourists. Cost of the project, 36 billion. Figures that match the sporting ambitions of the wealthy emirate, the world’s fourth largest gas exporter in 2021 (after the US, Russia and Australia).

In the corridors of the Doha Metro. © Anne Bernas/RFI

This policy of major work in sports, which began in the late 1990s with the emirate’s accession to the IOC, is to make Doha one of the hubs of world sport. In 2006, Qatar organized the Asian Games, the third sporting event in the world. ” With this, the country shows that it is able to host such events “, analyzes Nabil Ennasri, PhD in political science and author of The Qatar Empire (co-written with Raphaël Le Magoariec). A policy realized in 2010 with the granting of the organization of the 2022 World Cup.

► Also read: Is football part of Qatar’s culture?

At the same time, Qatar is multiplying the infrastructures dedicated to sport (training centers, sports clinics, etc.) to ensure that this know-how comes from its territory. For example, the Aspire Academy, founded in 2004, is designed to train future Qatari champions, and the high-tech infrastructure on more than 250 hectares is the envy of people far beyond the borders of the emirate. ” This area of ​​influence is part of a diversionary strategy notes that a local journalist is included in the columns of Duck files. We dazzle and presto, eyes averted from embarrassing issues. »

Investing in sport, in PSG, in BeIN sport, allows Qatar to expand its influence, to be respected by other nations, to set the international agenda, and that light force is not from yesterday and is by no means limited to the round ball.

A long-term vision

If theEmir Tamim is the spearhead of this sports diplomacy, the country’s influence in other areas, its image around the world, dating back to June 1995 with the coming to power of the father of the current Emir Hamad, who launched the gigantic Qatar National Vision 2030 In a context after the Cold War, relations between nations are now mainly based on outreach diplomacy. And Qatar’s first success in this area is the launch of channel Al Jazeera.” the central lever of Qatari soft power ‘ remarks Nabil Ennasri. ” At one point, the channel was even better known than the country it was hosted in. »

The goal is to balance internationally, without constraints, to spread ideas, through culture, media, etc. Qatar also invests heavily in youth education programs in the Arab world. In the cinematic field, it now surpasses historical Egypt thanks to the Doha Film Institutefounded in 2010.

► Also read: In Qatar, criticism of the World Cup is bad

The Doha Film Institute in the Katara district of Doha.
The Doha Film Institute in the Katara district of Doha. © Anne Bernas/RFI

rivalry with neighbors

This gentle diplomacy therefore also extends to the cultural level. In order to be able to compete with its Emirati neighbour, Qatar has once again set itself big dreams. The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, inaugurated in 2008, designed by the architect IM Pei (at the origin of the pyramid of the Louvre in Paris) is part of this influence. This €350 million masterpiece, which houses the world’s largest collection of Islamic art objects, towers over Doha Bay and aims to show that the emirate produces culture as well as gas. The same goes for the National Museum of Qatar, designed by Jean Novela marvel that extends over more than 40,000 square meters and hopes, through its collection, to create a national history for this young country, just fifty years old.

At this level, in terms of multiculturalism, we find ourselves in a form of rivalry, of strategic competition, mainly with the United Arab Emirates but also with neighboring Saudi Arabia, which consists in establishing in one’s own country the different streams, which allow the country break free from the dependence on hydrocarbons ‘ continues Nabil Ennasri.

The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.
The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. © Anne Bernas/RFI

And to do that, Qatar must be able to absorb the maximum flow of capital, goods, skills and knowledge. ” Qatar wants to become a central element on the strategic, academic, university, cultural, sporting, media and general entertainment and tourism chessboard. The country expects 6 million tourists by 2030 (up from 2 million in 2019), tourism is far from within the reach of all budgets as the cost of living there is so high that GDP per capita was $61,000 in 2021.

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A light force Diplomacy to “spread peace in the world”

This Qatari soft power is also expressed at the diplomatic level; the small emirate of almost 11,600 km2 (equivalent to a third of belgium) wants to play in the top league in view of the current world conflicts. ” We are doing everything in our power to bring peace to the region ‘ the Emir explained in his exclusive interview with Point.

In fact, for a long decade Qatar has proudly assumed the role of mediator on a regional but also international level; He leads many international initiatives, whether mediation or development aid, in coordination with international organizations.

We have always been seen as partners against conflict, radicalism and anything that we believe does not represent our society ‘ boasted Qatari diplomacy spokesman Majed Mohammed Al-Ansari. ” Since the 19th century, Qatar has been built on the idea of ​​the need for balance and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. He was always a smaller neighbor than the others in the area. The challenge was to maintain our sovereignty while maintaining good relations with our neighbors. This has now been extended to Qatar’s international vision. As His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said at the UN, we small and medium-sized countries will accompany the development towards multilateralism, a multipolar international system. It is our duty to find ways to reduce conflicts between great powers. Small and medium-sized countries, unlike the great powers, are able to play this role. We have the agility and in Qatar the wealth to make it happen. And we have the mindset. And the Foreign Ministry spokesman mentioned some issues in which the emirate played a key role: the talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan, the conflict in Chad, the dispute between Somalia and Kenya, between Eritrea and Djibouti and, of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We believe that the end of the violence in Palestine can be achieved through dialogue and mediation, but also by recognizing the need to respect the Arab peace initiative (…). We believe that Israel is currently moving away from the agreed points by moving into a situation of full escalation with the Palestinians. Which can only have a negative impact on the situation within Israel and with the Palestinians ‘ the diplomat added.

If the 2022 World Cup is a success, if calls for a boycott take a backseat, there is a strong possibility that the planetary event will be the light force Qatar has continued to diversify its soft power areas, moving away from its original main strength, hydrocarbons. With the Mondial, the emirate wants to convey that the region is not only a source of conflict, poverty and discrimination of all kinds, but that it is an essential part of the world for the rest of the planet. ” And the best way to do that is for the whole world to come to Qatar for the World Cup ‘ concludes Majed Mohammed Al-Ansari.

Doha in pictures

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