from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Qatar and Bahrain

August 26, 2011

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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My post yesterday about Qatar’s support for the crushing of popular demonstrations in Bahrain has occasioned a fair amount of angry comment (here and on Twitter). My point was that when Qatar supports the call for democracy and free elections in Libya but assists in the smashing of demonstrations in Bahrain it is pursuing a foreign policy detached from principle.

Has this been Qatar’s policy in Bahrain? First, Qatar sent troops to Bahrain as part of the GCC force organized to assist its government in ending the demonstrations.

Second, Al Jazeera has clearly been pulling its punches about events in Bahrain.

But some comments have protested that on the contrary Al Jazeera has covered the troubles in Bahrain and even done a whole program on it. True—in English only. Bahrain did protest the show, called “Shouting in the Dark," but who is kidding whom here? When the owners of Al Jazeera–namely the royal family-decide that the protests in Bahrain are to be covered fairly by Al Jazeera English only, and slighted in Al Jazeera Arabic, they are doing a huge favor to the Bahraini authorities. Al Jazeera’s influence does not come from what it broadcasts in English.

So I continue to believe what I wrote yesterday: “Qatari diplomatic activity is designed to advance the interests of the tiny country and of its ruling family. Its adoption of the Libyan opposition, for example, is not based on any principle (such as liberty, democracy, or free elections), for the Qatari government and its TV station, Al Jazeera, have been notably silent about the crisis in Bahrain. There, they have backed the royal family and the Saudi-led GCC armed presence.” The only change I would make is to add that they have been silent in Arabic, where it counts.

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