Editor’s Note: In an interview with NPR’s Robert Siegel, Ibrahim Sharqieh discusses the role that Qatar has played in supporting the Libyan uprising — and what it stands to gain.
ROBERT SIEGEL, NPR: The Libyan rebels received decisive air support from NATO. But there was another, less publicized, smaller-scale but equally remarkable foreign involvement in support of the uprising, the involvement of Qatar.
Qatar is a peninsula, a little smaller than Connecticut. It juts north into the Persian Gulf. On the south, it borders Saudi Arabia. It is rich in oil and natural gas. Its population is only about 900,000. And while it is an Arab country, a monarchy ruled by the al-Thani family, the majority of its residents are non-Arabs, non-citizens from India and Pakistan. Qatar is also home to the TV channel Al Jazeera. It will host soccer’s World Cup and it was an important player in Libya.
Ibrahim Sharqieh is deputy director of the Brookings Doha Center. Doha is the capital of Qatar. And, Ibrahim, first, what did the Qataris do in support of the Libyan rebels?
IBRAHIM SHARQIEH: That Qataris’ support to the Libyan rebels has been politically, diplomatically and militarily. We had about five Qatari fighter jets. In Qatar, we had about the training of Libyan rebels. And Qatar also played an important role in developing an Arab League support through the military intervention in Libya, which this Arab League support actually has provided the umbrella for the NATO intervention and for the military intervention and provided the legitimacy that, for example, was missing in Iraq.
SIEGEL: Why? What are the motives behind Qatar’s involvement in Libya and some of its broader ambitions in the region?
SHARQIEH: Oh, there are many theories. The one that makes the most sense in my view is that Qatar is supporting the revolution for humanitarian reasons. And in addition to this, Qatar is working and supporting the revolution is they’re strictly with its vision for its role in the region and in the world.
SIEGEL: One thing we should note, though, in this year of the Arab Spring, one thing Qatar isn’t is it isn’t a democracy. It isn’t an elected parliamentary republic.
SHARQIEH: Well, there is very high level satisfaction of the people here in the country, of the political system and of its leadership. So there haven’t been – we haven’t seen any cause for change or any protests or any different types of complaints. So the system seems to work and we seem to have a stable country. That distance itself very far away from the protests that are happening in the region.
One of the things Arabs always ask a new administration is ‘Please avoid doing things on the Arab-Israeli issue — and tell the Israelis not to do things that would create a crisis.' That, which would be a normal thing for Arab governments to do, is magnified by the anti-ISIS imperative.