Lecture | Qatar Foreign Policy: Trends under Sheikh Tamim

On February 19, 2015, OxGAPS held the lecture titled “Qatar Foreign Policy: Trends under Sheikh Tamim” delivered by Dr. Jamal Abdullah, Head of Gulf Studies Unit at the Aljazeera Centre for Studies. The lecture, chaired by Dr. Ahmed Al-Shahi (Research Fellow, St Antony’s College) started with a brief historical introduction stating that since Qatar’s independence in 1971—and like other small states in the gulf—the county was under the umbrella of Saudi Arabia.

However since Qatar had a change in leadership in 1995, when Sheikh Hamad Al Thani came to power, big changes started to take place. Qatar adopted a policy of independence and openness, leveraging three main strategies. The first was very good relations with neighbours, whereby Qatar worked towards resolving its border disputes with Saudi Arabia. The second was with regards to allies. As a small state, Qatar signed a series of treaties with powerful countries such as the United States, Great Britain and France. Finally, Qatar looked to build itself a brand name, such as in the spheres of sport and religion. Qatar also wanted to build a niche for being a key mediator on regional affairs, cultivating close ties with opposing parties such as with Iran and Israel, Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia.

Qatar’s mediation efforts took a hit with the 2011 Arab uprisings, where it decided to take a stand and support the popular movements against governments. Hence between 2011 and 2013, Qatar moved from neutrality to influence. This caused a lot of problems for Qatar which also saw itself under a media war. Hence when Sheikh Hamad relinquished power to his son, Sheikh Tamim, Qatar regressed to focusing on internal issues. Dr. Abdullah ended the talk with the example of how under greater international scrutiny ahead of the world cup, Qatar announced that it will cancel the Kefala system currently in place.