The tiny Persian Gulf sheikhdom of Qatar exerts an international influence in financial, military, political and theological affairs that's way out of proportion to its diminutive physical presence as a peninsular appendage of Saudi Arabia's eastern coast. Thanks to its enormous wealth, courtesy of abundant oil and natural gas reserves, Qatar has been flexing its muscles both regionally and well beyond.
Independent since 1971, this former British protectorate that is led by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, a Sandhurst Military Academy graduate, not only has been on a major spending spree, snapping up prime properties from London to China, but is also reportedly bankrolling the global jihad movement.
Home away from home since 1961 for the Muslim Brotherhood's senior jurist, the Egyptian Yousef al-Qaradawi, Qatar is the headquarters of Al-Jazeera television. Al-Jazeera is owned by the Qatar Media Corporation and is the broadcast outlet of choice for jihadist groups from Al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah to the Muslim Brotherhood. Seeking access to the U.S. market for a while, Al-Jazeera just got its foot in the door to propagate its anti-American, antisemitic, terror and violence agenda with the acquisition of former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV network this January.
During his long exile in Qatar, al-Qaradawi developed a massive following across the Muslim world through use of the internet and TV. His hugely popular TV program, "Life and Islamic Law," which airs weekly on Al-Jazeera, is viewed by tens of millions of Muslims.
The Qatar Foundation hosted the January 2012 launch of the Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE), whose Director of Research is none other than al-Qaradawi's protégé, the scion of the Brotherhood's founding family, Tariq Ramadan.
Inaugurated just in time to begin providing guidance on Islamic legislation for all the new Ikhwan-dominated regimes now consolidating power across the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, CILE aims to ensure that 21st century realities remain firmly aligned with core Islamic teaching.
There should be no lack of practical applications to occupy Ramadan and the CILE staff, as Qatar reportedly has been backing its ideological convictions with money — lots of money.
According to the New York Times, the Obama administration first gave its approval in early 2011 for Qatar to send weapons shipments to Libyan rebels fighting to oust Muammar Qaddafi, who had been working to suppress Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Once the U.S. government reversed its policy in order to support the jihadist rebels whose ranks were dominated by Al-Qaeda, it was Qatari money and Qatari weapons that put them on the road to victory. U.S. and NATO support, coordinated out of Benghazi, Libya by Christopher Stevens, the U.S. designated liaison to the Al-Qaeda militias, ensured the subsequent expansion of Al-Qaeda beyond Libya and across the Islamic Maghreb as well as West Africa.
Reports in the French media in mid-2012 accused Qatar of providing unspecified amounts of weapons and funding in dollars to Al-Qaeda-linked militias across North and West Africa, including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO, in French) and Ansar al-Dine.
Apparently betting on the continued rise of Islamic influence across the region, Qatar is parlaying its Islamic credentials for both business and jihadist objectives. According to the respected French weekly Le Canard Enchainé, Qatar is well-entrenched in the region — but especially in Mali — and has been operating under cover of a network of humanitarian NGOs it has established there such as the Qatari Red Crescent, madrassas and other charities.
Regular flights operate from Qatar to northern Mali towns like Gao and Timbuktu. In addition to empowering the Islamic Awakening that has swept the region since 2011, Qatar has another reason for expanding its influence in Mali's Muslim north: It is said to have its eye on vast mineral, oil and gas riches that lie under the Sahel sand and already has begun discussions with the French oil giant, Total, about exploitation of those reserves.
The Qatar Central Bank has announced plans to establish an agency to monitor "humanitarian donations" to ensure they don't fund terror operations. At least two prominent French politicians have some questions for Qatar about that. French National Front party leader Marine Le Pen and Communist Party Senator Michelle Demessine both challenged Qatar's motives after Qatari Prime Minister al-Thani called for "dialogue" with Mali's jihadist militias.
The Qatari emir's earlier October 2012 visit to Gaza had already given a boost to both the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood that rules the Strip as well as his own jihadist credentials. And with a Hamas office already established in Doha and one for the Taliban soon to open there, it's not surprising that France might be a bit dubious about Qatari outreach to yet another set of Islamic jihadis, this time right in the heart of France's former colonial empire in Africa.