A visit from the Gulf: Qatar′s emir in Germany | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 17.09.2014
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A visit from the Gulf: Qatar's emir in Germany

On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the emir of Qatar in Berlin. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is one of the Middle East's most influential leaders - but his politics are controversial.

His gestures are graceful, his expression impassive: Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is a master at hiding his thoughts. For 10 years, the emir of Qatar prepared for his role as head of state, in part by attending the British military academy, Sandhurst. A year ago, he inherited the position from his father. Today, the 34-year-old is the youngest head of state in the Arab world - and one of the most influential.

His powerful position is mainly due to the huge amounts of oil and gas that have brought unimaginable wealth to the small Persian Gulf state. Qatar is a world leader, with a per capita income of nearly $100,000 (about 77,200 euros) in 2013.

In recent years, the emirate has bought shares in many large corporations, including Volkswagen (15.6 percent of common shares) and construction giant Hochtief (10 percent), and is also investing in Siemens and Deutsche Bank. As the emir met Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday for bilateral talks, economic cooperation were high on the agenda.

Capital for large corporations

Natural resources in the Gulf are finite, and the emirate wants to diversify its economy. Michael Stephens, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar (RUSI) think tank, explained the strategy.

Deutschland Frank-Walter Steinmeier besucht Katar

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Qatar in June

"If Qatar runs out of money, then a lot of social problems might be coming down the line and if your economy is based on oil and gas, then that is a big problem," said Stephens. "This is a long-term strategy to invest in many, many different countries across the world, including in Europe, that will in the long run - they hope - increase their stability at home and increase their portfolio, economically and politically."

The emir's father, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, increased his country's economic output sevenfold during his reign from 1995 to 2013. But economic influence wasn't enough for him. He also involved himself in foreign policy, first as a mediator in conflicts within the Arab world. In 2008, the opposing Lebanese parties came to a compromise with the help of Qatar, paving the way for new elections. A year later, the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels also signed an agreement in the Qatari capital, Doha.

Overambitious emirate

With his ambitious foreign policy plans, the former emir also made ​​numerous enemies, one reason being Qatar's support of the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions. After the election of Egypt's first democratically chosen president, Mohammed Morsi, Qatar's leadership transferred billions in loans to Cairo. The state-owned television channel Al Jazeera also backed the Brotherhood, even as the Brotherhood's mounting powers made it increasingly undemocratic. Qatar was heavily criticized for its policies.

When Sheikh Hamad surprisingly gave way to his son in June 2013, many hoped that the young emir would make a course correction. So far he has not succeeded, said Stephens, also pointing out Qatar's other engagements in Syria, Libya and Tunisia.

"Ultimately, Tamim did want to quiet down his country's foreign policy. But it has been very difficult for him to step out of the shadow of his father," he said.

Change of course?

Katar Presse Newsroom beim Nachrichtensender Al Dschasira in Doha Englisch

The controversial Al Jazeera is based in Doha

There was even trouble recently with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the club of Gulf monarchies which alongside Qatar includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. In the spring, three of the six GCC members withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar over the emirate's decision to continue supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates see the Islamist movement as a threat to their rule.

Since then, however, Qatar seems to have bowed to the pressure. Over the weekend, several leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood based in Doha were expelled from the country.

Like the other Gulf states, Qatar has pledged its support to the US-launched alliance against the "Islamic State" militants. Germany is also part of the alliance, and Chancellor Merkel plans to speak with the emir on the latest developments in Iraq and Syria.

Rich Qataris are said to have financially supported the radical forces fighting in the disputed territories. But in the future, these financial sources will soon dry up for the Islamists - a decision agreed to by the alliance against the "Islamic State." The 29 states involved in the alliance have said they want to give greater support to the moderate Syrian opposition forces. For Qatar, this could mean a change of course - and an opportunity for Tamim to develop his own foreign policy profile.