By Abdel Rahman Youssef
Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, finished his first visit to the US days ago, after he took office nine months ago. The tour included various political, economic and research aspects that raised questions about the way the American decision maker sees Qatar’s role in the Middle East, and the size of political relations between the two countries.
Although the visit seemed positive in regard to the meetings between officials and decision makers like Obama, Kerry and members of Congress, on the political level there seemed to be opposing opinions by right-wing Republican parties. Amr Abdel Atty, specialised researcher in American affairs and co-editor of The International Politics Journal in Egypt, told Daily News Egypt that he believes that this opposition was due to the Republican Party’s win and the effect of pressure groups supporting Israel in US policy. They believe that Qatar is threatening the stability of the Middle East by providing support to armed groups that the US considers terrorist organisations. So there was pressure on the US administration that demanded Qatar stops supporting terrorism. There were laws to be enacted in Congress which implied that Qatar supports terrorism.
Mohamed El-Minshawi, specialised researcher in Middle Eastern affairs in Washington, told Daily News Egypt there is a division within the US. The division is based on a partisan basis, and revolves around everything that Obama does or chooses not to do. This is why right-wing parties were objecting to Obama receiving the Emir of Qatar, because Qatar played strong intervention roles with Islamic movements in the region. Also because it’s now the only supporter to Gaza through reconstruction projects, and its last stance towards the war on Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, the group classified as terrorist by America.
El-Minshawi said that the voices of Democrats see that Qatar has a big role when it comes to cooperation with the US, not only politically: roles of intercession, affecting a lot of important issues like Libya, Egypt and Yemen, and similar attitudes like refusing the Egyptian strike against Libya. On the military level, however, the US owns one of the largest air force bases in the Gulf, in Qatar, where there are more than 15,000 American soldiers. From this point the American aviation performed its air sorties in the zone, according to the US Air Force’s Central Command website, highlighting that, according to the Qatari Minister of Defence’s speech last year, the last arms deal between Qatar and arms companies in the US reached $36bn, including equipment like helicopters, apache and Anti-tank missiles.
El-Minshawi explains the number of visits and interests for Qatar saying that the US’ need to deepen its relations with regional partners reflects a recession in US dominance in terms of Arab countries’ political decisions, unlike before. The reason for this recession is what seems as the weak influence of Washington on the Arab capitals. On the other hand, Arabs, whether rulers or ruled people, are aware of this recession, after some Arab governments imposed new regimes, which Washington did not initially accept.
The timing of the visit was after the Qatari Minister of Finance announced pumping Qatari investments worth $35bn into the US within the next five years. This will be included in the technology and infrastructure sectors. According to El-Minshawi, this reflects expected improvement in relations between both countries.
Regarding the Emir’s visit to the city of Houston in Texas to attend a reunion with the directors of major power companies, organised by ExxonMobil Company, Abdel Atty sees that, because Qatar is a major energy-producing country, it exerts effort to invest with these gas sector companies. Thus, it aims at having investments to be able to impose pressure and have greater power that would compensate for its being a small country. On the other hand, the US does its best to push Qatar against Russian aid and stand by its European allies on the gas issue, in case that Russia pressures Europe on this score. This way, the US plan will let Qatar provide these countries with the gas needed.
Numbers in Economics
According to the US’ Official Center for Statistics figures, the amount of US exports to Qatar in 2014 reached $5.174bn, while the amount of Qatari imports reaches $1.656bn. It is clear the commercial profit is favourable to the US, with a difference of $3bn and $517m. The United States Trade Representative states that Qatar ranks in 57th place on the US’ list of commercial partners, with a commercial exchange of $3.6bn. Qatar has recorded the highest international individual income from the gross domestic product (GDP), as per the statistics of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in 2014.
El-Minshawi sees that Sheikh Tamim’s visit to Washington’s University of Georgetown in Washington, which has a branch in the Qatari capital, Doha, as one of the soft power tools that Qatar works on developing, along with economic power. The university’s director held discussions with Sheikh Tamim for almost an hour, in the presence of university students and researchers. The talks’ intention was to concentrate on the educational and cultural levels, aside from the economic power Qatar is looking to develop.