Qatar is seeking to reassert itself on the regional stage by wielding its financial clout and launching a flurry of diplomatic activity 18 months after it was rocked by an Arab boycott intended to isolate the gas-rich state, the Financial Times reported.
Exuding renewed confidence underpinned by petrodollars, Doha has this month welcomed two foreign leaders desperate for financial support, offered $500m to embattled Lebanon, and hosted talks between the Taliban and the US.
“They are starting to be punchy again,” said Neil Quilliam, a Gulf expert at Chatham House. “There will still be red lines about where they go, but they have weathered the storm [of the embargo] and they are certainly feeling confident.”
The swirl of diplomacy is also signalling that Qatar feels it is over the worst of the financial impact of the boycott, which began in June 2017. When Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar, they accused Doha of sponsoring Islamist groups and terrorism.
But it was widely seen as a heavy-handed attempt to rein in what they view as Doha’s nefarious meddling in regional politics and weaken its ties to Iran.
During the first year of the blockade, Doha kept a low profile as it focused on stemming an economic crisis. It repatriated more than $30bn held overseas by the Qatar Investment Authority to stabilize the financial system; sought out new trade partners; and spent heavily on Washington lobbyists.
Qatar last week announced that it planned to buy $500m in Lebanese bonds as that country grapples with a fiscal crisis.
Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister, touched down in Doha where he secured a pledge that Qatar would lift an import ban on Pakistani rice and welcome another 100,000 workers from the south Asian nation.
Next up was Sudan’s embattled president, Omar al-Bashir, who chose Qatar as his first foreign trip after a wave of protests erupted last month against his autocratic rule.
Both Pakistan and Sudan have also received financial aid from Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, while Khartoum has deployed troops in Yemen to back the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia and UAE are the most influential Arab states, boasting the region’s largest economies, the most assertive foreign policies and the closest ties to the Trump administration.
Still, analysts say Doha has learnt lessons and is likely to tread carefully. Qatar’s larger neighbours have long considered it a maverick bent on punching above its weight. But relations plummeted after the 2011 uprisings rocked the Arab world.
Gulf states reacted by becoming more interventionist, getting involved in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, often with Qatar on opposing sides to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
“When they played the political games they got it wrong. They have gone back to what they know, which is pumping gas, making money and trying to be a friend to all,” Michael Stephens, head of Royal United Services Institute’s Qatar programme said. “I very much doubt that they will be looking to overtly interfere into other people’s politics anytime soon.”