Gas-rich Qatar annoys Arabs with pro-Iran policy

Wed Apr 1, 2009 8:08am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Andrew Hammond

DOHA (Reuters) - If this week's Arab summit didn't quite result in Arab unity as advertised, you could hardly tell from the smile on the face of the Qatari host.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak did not turn up but ridiculed Qatar as "small." King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia came only on condition that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made no surprise appearance, and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi publicly insulted Abdullah with a speech that soured the mood.

But the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and his charismatic prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim, maintained high spirits throughout, and with good reason.

With its liquefied natural gas investments now paying dividends, Qatar has the second highest per capita income in the world, although its population has doubled in five years to 1.5 million. Only 250,000 of those are nationals.

Now the tiny Gulf state is seeking to match its wealth with a role as a regional powerbroker, as part of what diplomats and analysts say is a wider strategy for survival between a rock and hard place: Iran to the east and Saudi Arabia to the west.

"It was a complete backwater 10 years ago and it was said that Al Jazeera was the only game in town. That's not true any more," said one Gulf-based diplomat, referring to the Arabic TV station the emir set up after ousting his father in 1995.

Nonchalant displays of wealth are all around in the boutique-style array of architecture on show: an Islamic museum designed by I.M. Pei, the architect behind the Pyramide du Louvre, a building shaped like a giant vase, cuboid structures in mirror glass that play with the Gulf sunlight.

U.S. PROTECTION   Continued...

<p>Arab and Latin American leaders pose for a group photograph at the end of opening session of the second Summit of Arab and South American Countries in Doha March 31, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah</p>