Qatar the Mediator

In the Western news over the past few years, the term "mediator" has begun to come up in relation to Qatar, particularly involving the country's work in mediating conflicts and controversies in other Arab nations. An International Herald Tribune article from July 9, 2008, suggests that the mediator role was born in 1995, when the current emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, carried out a bloodless coup against his father, and began working to transform Qatar from "a sleepy, inward-turned backwater into a dynamic new state," with a laudable goal to have "good relations with everyone."

To date, their main success is considered to have occurred in May 2008, when lengthy months of negotiations between the various factions in Lebanon led to an agreement to end what is often referred to as the country's "protracted crisis."

Where else has Qatar recently been involved in negotiation? Between the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah (2006 and 2012), for the successful release of imprisoned Bulgarian nurses in Libya (2007); and a peace agreement between the government of Yemen and rebels (2007).

Why should Qatar succeed as a mediator? One reason that comes up in several news reports: It is a small, wealthy, well-placed Arabic country, that is no threat to anyone, and which doesn't have a strategic agenda. The final item is exactly why, sources often suggest, that other larger countries have failed in their negotiations — they do have an agenda.

But the fact that Qataris want "good relations with everyone" also has problems: Think of the saying, "politics makes strange bedfellows." For example the country has relations with Israel, but also supports Hamas and has good relations with Syrian-backed Hezbollah. And it has good relations with Iran, while also housing a US military base. Or as stated in a July 9, 2008 New York Times article, "… the Qataris have fashioned a reputation for themselves as independent-minded arbitrators who will cozy up to anyone — Iran, Israel, Chechen separatists — in pursuit of leverage at the bargaining table." So while the openness may bring leverage in bargaining, it can also cause annoyance to allies, and can cause strained or broken relations with certain groups, because of its support of other groups, as in the case of Ethiopia breaking off relations with Qatar due to Qatar's relations with Eritrea.

And this interest in international affairs makes it no surprise that one of the international universities that has set up a branch campus at the Education City in Qatar is the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar.

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