During a period when European colonialism was met with armed resistance, Algerian-born French writer Albert Camus’ suggestion that an Arab colonialism replace the French one was controversial. From a different angle, the idea of replacing one system with another is now legitimate after the Arab Spring. The differences in the comparison are considerable, but the point is the same: revolting nations are not interested in exchanging their dictators for Gulf-funded governments the way colonialism was replaced with authoritarian states.
In a past post, I spoke of the new Qatar being a mysterious country funding political Islam in the region after the Arab Spring. Several readers were bothered by the questions asked, but did not note that the whole idea of the post was to raise questions about a closed country turning revolutions into political and economic investments, its tools being a media network, an ambiguous foreign policy, and huge projects that seem too massive and unnecessary.
Qatar’s role has been underestimated, but now, its dominance is a reality that can no longer be ignored.
For decades, the Wahabi project in Saudi Arabia has been the subject of academic focus. The role of the kingdom is evident in funding Islamist movements and supporting regimes that do not clash with their interests. The Palestinian Authority, the Bahraini regime, and Yemen’s former president Saleh are a few of the many benefactors of the Saudi project.
The birth of Qatar as a regional power does has produced a power struggle with Saudi Arabia, with Qatar seen as an intimidating force in the manner of Iran.
With sectarianism successfully taking hold in the Gulf after the Bahraini revolution, Iran was portrayed as possessing grand powers. Saudi Arabia was never going to give importance to its opponent, but now that a ‘foreign monster’ is needed to keep the people silent, Iran is depicted as being all-powerful.
On the other hand, Iran is making use of this image to keep the focus away from the voices speaking out against a theocratic dictatorship. Qatar, however, is playing wisely with both opponents.
Around the Arab world, Islamist groups are accused of being supported by one of those three powers: Muslim Brotherhood by Qatar, Salafis by Saudi Arabia, and the Shia by Iran. I see these Islamist movements having a short life. They have no flexibility or experience in running a state. They came with the mentality of the opposition that was silenced by dictators, but in few months played all their cards. By speaking of their past struggles, Islamists are no longer able to manipulate the people simply because people are more in need of an immediate change in their life conditions.
Ruling a country like Egypt or Tunisia is not easy and it is surely not easier after the revolutions and the sudden political and economic shifts of the past two years. With Egypt decentralized, Qatar has more space to play, especially alongside Brotherhood regimes. Yet this power can fail too.
Gulf money is attempting to manipulate the region and control the region’s revolutions before they hit home. Gulf money is playing the game of political Islam. Is this the right investment? The ongoing examples tell us it is not. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are in the game of neo-colonialism, but they do not see how quickly the shifts are happening; they do not realize that they are betting on one horse instead of investing in long-term relations with the revolting countries. The Pan-Arabist project was gone soon after European colonialism, and Gulf colonialism will fail soon with those puppet governments climbing to the chairs of power.
* Published in AlAkhbar