The small Gulf nation of Qatar is investing millions of dollars into influential Washington, D.C., lobbying groups in order to rehabilitate its image with the American people and the Western world. As proven ties to terrorist groups and actors continue to mount, Qatar is now relying on an aggressive public relations campaign to solve its predicament.
Qatar is in the middle of a fierce diplomatic row with its neighbors over its alleged support for terrorist groups and its coziness with the terrorist regime in Iran. Neighbors such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE contend that Qatar is playing a double game with its allies, and the two nations have joined Arab nations in imposing a diplomatic and economic boycott of Doha.
Qatar refutes the allegations by claiming that they act as an intermediary for groups that would otherwise be unreachable to Western governments, such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Hamas.
The diplomatic issue has put the United States in an uncomfortable position, given that Doha’s Al-Udeid Air Base serves as the headquarters of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and hosts over 11,000 U.S. personnel. But Qatar’s dealings with nefarious actors and clear-cut jihadists has not only infuriated neighbors, but caused many Americans (such as President Trump himself) to demand that our CENTCOM partner stop providing safe haven to terrorists and their enablers.
Time and time again Qatar has promised to address these concerns and rein in the extremist elements inside its borders. However, intelligence continues to trickle out supporting detractors’ claims that Qatar not only continues to support terrorists, but also has high-ranking members of its government and society involved in arming and funding jihadists in Syria, Gaza, and elsewhere.
Western officials have alleged that Qatar is not only the foremost supporter of Hamas and the al-Qaeda-connected Al Nusra front, but also the Islamic State.
Currently, according to the UAE government, there are at least six different entities and 37 al-Qaeda operatives living in Qatar. Ryan Mauro of the Clarion Project reports that “Qatar is so hospitable to Al-Qaeda that Osama Bin Laden advised his son, Hamza, to move there as he prepared to step into his father’s shoes.”
Qatar is currently home to Egyptian Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who has called for suicide bombings against American soldiers stationed in the Middle East. Moreover, Qatar has long been the established residence of the chairman of Hamas. In June, Interpol listed 26 terrorists residing in Qatar who were wanted by foreign governments for extradition.
Given that Qatar hasn’t shown much interest in reforming its most fundamentalist elements, the cash-rich ruling monarchy there has decided to dump millions of dollars into a P.R. effort in the United States to boost its image with the decision makers in Washington.
Qatar now has multi-million dollar lobbying contracts with seven different Washington lobbying firms. Lobbyists are tasked with smoothing over (whitewashing) Qatar’s record on various issues, from its troubling terror ties to its diplomatic positioning to even its relationship with the Jewish community (which is troubled by its overt support for Hamas, which seeks to wipe out the state of Israel).
Republican, Democrat, and non-partisan focus firms have been deployed to work on Qatar’s behalf. Politico reports that Qatar was spending over $1.7 million a month ($20 million annually) on its lobbying — and that was before it inked its seventh contract on Sept. 3 with Stonington Strategies.
Doha is also moving boatloads of cash over to D.C. think tanks, seeking to influence the debate within Washington’s academics and elitist society.
Between 2011 and 2014, Qatar pledged at least $21.6 million to the center-left Brookings Institution. In 2014, Qatar agreed to “donate” another $14.8 million over four years to Brookings. Scholars there have admitted on the record that they cannot take “positions critical of the Qatari government in papers,” according to The New York Times.
In addition to Brookings, the influential, relatively non-partisan Rand Corporation recently completed a decade-long partnership with Qatar.
While Qatar’s lobbying efforts are centered in Washington, they’re also determined to reach a broader audience in the academic world, through collaborative projects with some of America’s top universities.
With mounds of evidence showing direct ties to terror, and having a leadership that does not intend on entertaining true reform, it remains to be seen whether Qatar will succeed in efforts to pay its way out of its current image crisis.