Qatar – A Growing Force in Africa

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 The Persian Gulf country is increasingly using its economic resources deriving from the sale of hydrocarbons in order to increase its political and religious influence in the African continent.
qat2The economic tool is not the only one Qatar is using, the country also relies on media communication: the relevant role, the broadcaster Al Jazeera plays, shows it very clearly. On March 18, 2013, the leadership of the television announced the launch of a channel in French language. The declared aim is mainly addressing the French-speaking populations of Africa.
The Qatari TV has played an important role during the events of the Arab springs. It has been for years a platform from which the movements of the Maghreb protesters were able to express themselves. When the riots broke out in the north of Africa, Al Jazeera broadcast live images of the insurgents. Its critics say, however, that once the Islamists came to power in some of these countries, the broadcaster began to give them the white-glove treatment. It should be noted, finally, that this is a  publicly-owned network and has considerable financial resources.
North Africa and Mali
A constant feature of Qatar’s policy is its support to religious movements or parties promoting a specific interpretation of the Islamic religion, in particular those linked to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
Qatar has consistently supported some political opposition movements in North Africa, at the expense of others. The support to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is one of the clearest example of this policy. It is estimated that from February 2011 (when  Hosni Mubarak’s regime fell) to April 2013, Qatar sent aids to Cairo amounting to  8 billion dollars. At the beginning of May 2013, some officials revealed that, Qatar might buy $ 3 billion in Egyptian bonds in order to support the local currency.
qat3Qatar has, however, also supported some Islamic Libyan armed groups during the uprising against Gaddafi (ignoring the main opposition movements,) which  caused the protest of several groups. In Libya, on May 10, 2013, five hundred people demonstrated in Benghazi  against the Qatari interference in the affairs of the country. A similar event happened on the same day  in Tobruq. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan immediately intervened to stigmatize the fact and to reaffirm  ties with the Arab country. At the same time, the emirate categorically denied any attempt to interfere with Libya’s affairs.
The reaction against Qatar’s interference  was even stronger in Mali. Doha is accused to have  supported the Ansar Dine’s rebel group who took control of some towns in the north of the country in 2012, before being driven out by the French offensive started in January 2013. It should be clarified, however, that the support given, mainly consisted of  humanitarian aid (food, etc.). Both, civil society and the Bamako government protested against the above mentioned support in 2012, and according to some sources, they urged the Sheikh to stop financing the rebels.
 The local population and the opposition parties of several African countries have protested against the rent or sale by the governments of vast land areas to foreign countries (the so-called  land grabbing), such as those of the Persian Gulf. It is known, for example, that the Qatar-based Hassad Food,  has signed an agreement of this kind with Sudan in 2009 amounting to a value of  1 billion dollars.
qat4Intervention and radicalization
Western countries may have not noticed that in recent years, several African countries have been subjected to some religious interference. From Saudi Arabia and  Qatar, a trend aimed at  bringing back the Muslim religion to its original purity, is spreading across several countries basically denying the legitimacy of those strains of Islam that developed in Africa, and that in some cases were born there.
 Obviously this is a simplification, however, the  Wahhabi and Salafi Islam strains, stating that only the thinking and the practice that refer to the Arabian model are recognized, basically do not consider valid the practice of other confraternities. Some of them (such as the Mouride and Tidjani in Senegal) in West African countries, are religious movements that are massively spreading. In the north of Mali, the contrast between these two worlds has given rise to armed clashes. To be more specific, one of the two attacked the other one, exploiting its weak points. Armed groups having as their reference point the Islam of the Persian Gulf countries, led by people who had stayed in those places (such as Iyad Ag Ghaly, leader of Islamist group  Ansar Dine) have by force of arms occupied several cities. Timbuktu is the best known example of a city which had several religious buildings destroyed by extremists.
By supporting religion inspired conservative political movements, Qatar is influencing the policies of some African countries. First of all, the emirate contributes to outvote laic parties, including the nationalist parties. Secondly, Qatar marginalizes those  Islamic groups that practice the Islamic religion enriched by local elements. The emirate’s policy, which is likely to cause religious tensions (inside and outside the Islamic community) is more a threat, rather than a factor promoting new political balances . (A.C.)


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