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Qatar's Role as a Mediator in the Middle East

According to prominent international relations theories, nations with significant hard power are influential in decisions on global affairs. Conflict mediation, considered among these decisions, is an area preferably allocated to global powers. The main reason behind such a tendency was these nations' worldwide dominance and their ability to enforce implementation by the actors involved. Reality has proven the limitation of these international relations theories. The last decades have witnessed the emergence of small nations which have shown their proficiency in conflict mediation. Among them, Norway and Qatar are two that have developed their international presence through mediation. The role of Qatar has significant importance since it’s a part of the world's most conflicted area.

by Anshad Usef

States within the Middle East tend to have ideological and political lineage towards regional powers. Proxy wars and sectarian clashes in the region have transformed it into a hazardous area globally. The factors behind this development are its dependency on other states, sectarian emotions and political affinity. The underlying causes of the conflicts in the region will have traits of one or more of these factors. Qatar, a small country with a prosperous economy, has been able to avoid these traits. In this context, it is interesting to examine the role Qatar takes in conflict mediation initiatives in the Middle East.

Until the 1990's Qatar was considered, in the international arena, to be a Saudi protectorate. From the beginning of the 21st century, Qatar increased its political engagement on the international level. It was evident that Doha will no longer be dependent on Riyadh. Consequently, the WTO Doha round in 2001 was a breakthrough for Qatar and the following years witnessed more intervention in global events.

Qatar's intervention in the Lebanon Crisis of 2008

After its independence from French rule in 1943, Lebanon witnessed several civil wars based on religious tension. The civil war between 1975 to 1990 was considered to be the most brutal one. The fighting resulted in the death of around 90,000 civilians, and two-thirds of the Lebanese population became displaced (Sune, 2011). The war also destroyed Lebanon’s infrastructure and, eventually, the total collapse of its economic sector. After the end of the civil war in 1990, it returned to a stable democratic system.

The crisis of 2008 instilled a fear in the Lebanese citizens and the international community whether it would return to a civil war as in 1975.

The crisis of 2008 instilled a fear in the Lebanese citizens and the international community whether it would return to a civil war as in 1975. The Lebanese government tried to decrease the influence of Hezbollah, a Shia militia group, by cutting down its telecommunications network and sacking officials suspected of involvement with the group. This resulted in the occupation of Hezbollah forces in parts of Beirut and, consequently, shutting down major air- and seaports. For a country like Lebanon, which was slowly emerging from the destruction of civil war, it would be unthinkable for them to overcome another conflict. In May 2008, both parties involved in the conflict reached an agreement supported by Qatar as a mediator. The two sides agreed on a framework for new parliamentary elections in 2009 and, under the auspices of the new president, to start a dialogue that would lead Hezbollah to lay down its arm. As a result, with its mediation, Qatar succeeded in averting civil war in Lebanon.

Hamas and Fatah unification attempts

The Palestine-Israel conflict has an evident presence in the geopolitics of the Middle East. The scattered Palestine resistance movements were considered to be an obstacle in the path to Israeli - Palestine peace talks. Both Gaza Strip and West Bank were governed by two different Palestine resistance movements - Hamas and Fatah. The unification of these two parties was crucial for an organised Palestinian society. The Fatah–Hamas Doha agreement of 2012 was an attempt towards such a result. Both parties agreed to end more than four years of separate governance in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-controlled West Bank. Furthermore, they decided to form an interim unity government to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections. However, the agreement has not been successful because of internal disputes in the representation of the interim government.

US - Taliban peace talks

The American intervention in Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 is considered the longest war in US history. Even though Washington attained its objective in the initial year of battle, the re-emergence of Taliban rebels turned the war into a stalemate.

Consequently, the US realised that military victory was unattainable, and the economic and military costs of the conflict became untenable. Eventually, the US and Taliban found a way to end this conflict. As a first step, Qatar allowed the Taliban to open an office in Doha in 2013. It is considered to be the first office of the Taliban outside Afghanistan after the US intervention.

In the following years, Doha supported and facilitated peace talks between the US and the Taliban. In 2020, both parties agreed to a ceasefire and eventual US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Building on these three particular case studies, the following policies of Qatar can be considered as an influence on its increasing role as a mediator in the region.

Financial Aid

Infrastructure and the economic sector are among the first to collapse with the rise of conflicts. Rebuilding this is a difficult task for the warring parties. In the mediation process, the development of the regions after the conflict must have a particular priority. Studies of mediation have demonstrated that financial aid offered by mediators to the involved parties for reconstruction can have different outcomes in different cases. Although largely inconclusive, these studies suggest that material incentives and cooperation offered to the weaker party tend to decrease the level of conflicts (Schrodt, 2004). We can see that Qatar has invested heavily in the regions where it has mediated to end wars.

If we look at, for example, the new Afghanistan administration under the Taliban, Qatar has donated around $50 million in aid. Apart from that, 188 tonnes of food and medical assistance were shipped to the country (MOFA Qatar, 2021). Doha also sent a specialised technical team to work on repairs to Kabul International Airport to allow the arrival of vital humanitarian aid and the movement of people to establish safe corridors to deliver urgent assistance.

As a result form the fighting in May more than 4,000 Gaza homes were destroyed or damaged, with losses estimated by the World Bank up to $380m.

In the case of Palestine, Qatar was one of the top foreign contributors. Doha focussed on addressing the humanitarian crisis in both Gaza and West Bank. In May 2021, the Israel-Palestine conflict escalated, resulting in the highest number of civilians’ death after the 2014 war. Even after the fighting ended, Israel shut down all aid towards Gaza Strip. In August, as an effort from Qatar, Israel allowed Doha to send aid towards Gaza. As a result form the fighting in May more than 4,000 Gaza homes were destroyed or damaged, with losses estimated by the World Bank up to $380m. As a result, both Egypt and Qatar have each pledged $500m for reconstruction. Qatar, in particular, has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to Gaza’s poorest families in recent years. These funds have been a critical source of stability for the impoverished territory, where unemployment is currently approximately 50 per cent (Al Jazeera, 2021).