By Akhil Shah
October 14, 2015
At face value, Qatar’s engagement with the world is impressive. Doha has not only cultivated a strong alliance with the United States as the host of U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) and extended overtures to Israel, but until recently the tiny emirate truly also competed with its larger neighbor—the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—for a dominant role in the Sunni Arab world. A closer examination of Qatari foreign policy, however, demonstrates that a number of Doha’s initiatives have proven unsuccessful, diminishing the ultra-rich Persian Gulf emirate’s global presence.
Until 2011, Qatar sought to use soft power, particularly diplomacy, to increase its presence and establish the Gulf nation as a major actor on the international stage. However, after the Arab Spring erupted across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Qatar quickly shifted its foreign policy strategy. Instead of focusing on soft power, Doha became increasingly involved in regional conflicts, most notably in Libya and Syria. In the process, Qatar’s work to cultivate relations based on soft power was quickly undone and Doha’s status as an influential regional actor was diminished.
At this juncture, a key question remains unanswered. Where does Qatar go from here? It appears that the emirate is seeking to re-cultivate its soft power influence. However, rather than relying on diplomacy, the Qataris seem to be using the culture of competitive sports to promote their views. Branding is central and critical to Qatar’s long term plan, and they are heavily investing in global sporting ventures to promote their image before the world.
Akhil Shah is a counterterrorism and foreign policy analyst based at the University of Chicago.