For anyone who has been following Qatari foreign policy over the past decade, or has had a chance to read Article 7 of the country’s 2003 constitution, which explicitly states that the country should strive to be an international peacemaker, Doha’s recent attempts to mediate between Israel and Hamas should come as no surprise. Mediation has been the stock-in-trade of recent Qatari foreign policy; it made similar diplomatic forays in Yemen in 2007 and 2008, Lebanon in 2008, and Sudan in 2009 and 2010.
The political context underlying Qatar’s latest diplomatic intervention, however, has exposed the risks inherent in its broader strategy. Doha’s foray into Gaza comes amid a heated Saudi–Iranian proxy war across the Middle East and an ongoing dispute within an unprecedentedly polarized Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Qatar is a part. Although Qatar’s foreign policy has not changed, it is no longer going to be able to pose as a neutral arbiter.
Doha is clearly motivated by a belief that, at a time when the influence of traditional regional powers -- Egypt and Saudi Arabia above all -- is thought to be waning, it can gain ground on, or even surpass, its peers. Qatar’s goal has been to endorse and sponsor the rise of political Islamists (specifically, the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates), which it sees as the region’s largest and deepest political force, and thereby increase its own influence. Its public strategy for accomplishing that goal has been to present itself as a tireless mediator in the region’s most pressing conflicts.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have serious issues with Qatar’s regional politicking. Rather than an honest broker, they consider Doha an interloper intent on undermining the regional status quo -- and their political and security interests. Qatar’s leader, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani understands that these countries consider the Muslim Brotherhood a major political threat, and are doing everything they can to crush it. That is
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