The beginning of 2013 saw a flourishing of new publications in French about Qatar. For more than a decade, Qatar has carefully worked to shape its international image through a subtle diplomacy balancing between its alliance with the US and its ties with political Islam. With the beginning of the Arab Spring, Qatar has sided however with the revolutionaries, at the risk of making more enemies that it can afford and of losing control of its image.
Among these publications, Nicolas Beau and Jacques Marie Bourget’s Le villain petit Qatar, cet ami qui nous veut du mal deserves to be singled out. The title could not be more explicit. It can be translated as “Nasty little Qatar, this friend who wants to harm us.” At least, the readers know in advance what to expect …
As early as in the introduction, the authors claim that they want to reveal a “State Scandal”, the “hidden face” of Qatar. The French political elites, since the Sarkozy’s presidency have been bought by a small Authoritarian Islamic State from the Gulf, secretly committed to global Islamic hegemony and Jihad. The authors use mostly well-known material that they simply present under the most unfavorable light (treatment of the migrant workers, lack of democracy etc…). At the same time, they ignore the good side of Qatar. No credit is given to Qatari elites for the modernization of their country or for the promotion of women through education etc. In fact, it is hard to find a single positive line about Qatar in the entire book, although the authors deny that are engaging in a form of “Qatar-bashing”.
The book echoes in particular certain theories regarding the revolutionary events of the Middle-Est and that are gaining a new momentum as Syria is descending into Civil War and States like Tunisia and Egypt are struggling. We learn that Qatar is the head of a vast Islamic conspiracy. Al-Jazzera has been used by Qatar as a weapon of mass deception. Its goal was from the beginning to topple down secular regimes and after a brief democratic interlude to establish Islamic governments throughout the region. The Arab Spring itself was in fact manufactured by the US, with the support of Qatar and Al-Jazeera (originally an Israeli idea …). The Obama administration, having seen the failure of the Bush administration to spread democracy by war, decided to train bloggers who later played a pivotal role in the Arab revolutions. The authors are careful however to write that this conspiracy does not explain everything. There was a genuine anger against the corrupted regimes of the Middle-East.
Ultimately, this book falls into the same trap as most of the conspiracy literature. The central thesis is largely incoherent and present Qatar as more powerful than it is. On the one hand, Beau and Bourget show (probably quite correctly) that Qatari investments around the world are not always very successful. The perspectives on the long term are not correctly accessed. On the other hand, the book wants to make the reader believe that Qatari elites would be driven by a long-term goal of Islamic hegemony. Since the very beginning, Al-Jazeera was created for this purpose. Qatar, with the help of the US, would have initiated and controlled the Arab Spring from behind the scene. The authors fail to explain why the US would support a jihadist agenda that they fight in Afghanistan. No sure that Israel is fully comfortable with the plan of the other conspirators.
The book illustrates above all the lack of enthusiasm of France for the Arab revolutions. There is also a clear neo-colonial prejudice: Arabs could not have made their own revolutions. They were necessarily manipulated by outside forces. Also typical of conspiracy theories, the book has to present the conspirators as almost omnipotent, secretly controlling world events and if possible all sides of the conflict at the same time. The more absurd the conspiracy is, the more you are supposed to believe in its existence. We learn for instance that Qatar has a plan to solve the Israelo-palestinian conflict by overthrowing the King of Jordan and replacing him by the head of the Palestinian Hamas. Sure, it is going to work ….
It was probably unavoidable that the Arab Spring, an event that took most observers by surprise, would encourage dubious speculations. After all the French revolution since Augustin Barruel has been presented as the product of vast free-masonic conspiracy by counter-revolutionaries. The fact that Joseph de Maistre himself was a Freemason did not change anything to it.
It is not that there is no conspiracies going on. The world is full of conspirators (and conspiracy hunters ….). The problem is that most of these groups just fail and that that their actions have unexpected consequences for themselves and for others. Take Ahmadinejad for instance. He and his mentor Mesbah Yazdi probably believed in the imminent return of the Mahdi. Unfortunately, the Supreme Guide (who does control the security forces) had a different agenda. The conspirators were just fools, which does not mean that they did cause harm. And the all world knew, thanks to the divine internet. The conspiracy was out … After all, even the US government has also some troubles these days keeping its own secrets.
The attractiveness of conspiracy theories certainly comes from the fact, that disregarding complex socio-economic and cultural evolutions, they pretend to be able to account for unexpected events, to restore the intelligibility of the world. One should wonder if there is a direct correlation between the secularization of our worldview and the attempt to re-enchant history by conspiracy theories. There is an Intelligence behind the scene. It may not be divine but somebody knows what it is doing …
In the meantime, if the reader wants a solid study of Qatar, he should better have a look at Ennasri’s L’Enigme du Qatar (Armand Colin with a preface of Pascal Boniface). He will learn much more about Qatar.