Syria is a nation rapidly descending into civil war. As the story we are told by the mainstream media goes, this is a result of the Syrian government’s brutal crackdown on a popular protest movement of the Syrian people.
As is all too often the case, the truth is an entirely different story. The civil war which is developing in Syria today in fact did not really begin as a civil war, since one side (the “opposition”) has been entirely paid for and organized by outside forces opposed to the Syrian government, including the United States and many of their allies in the Middle East. Proxy war is really the more accurate term to describe the violence which was initiated by a group of people who began their “protest movement” not with peaceful demonstrations in major cities (as was the case in Tunisia, Egypt and many other countries of the “Arab Spring”), but with heavy arms in a small town near the Jordanian border. Nonetheless, the Syrian government has necessarily responded to these provocations, with the result of the Syrian army fighting the armed opposition to maintain control of the country.
For a more detailed account of events in Syria to date, please see some of the previous articles published in Fire This Time at www.firethistime.net. Now, let us return to the focus of this article: Qatar.
Qatar's Role in Syria
Why, you may ask, did I begin an article on Qatar with an explanation of events in Syria? Because Qatar is in fact very much an actor in the Syrian conflict.
Let us review some of the facts of Qatar's involvement in Syria:
>In January 2012, Qatari king Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani called for military intervention in Syria, proposing that the Arab League send troops to the country. The proposal was rejected by the Syrian government.
>On February 8, Israeli intelligence news agency Debka reported that British and Qatari special forces had been dispatched to Syria to aid Free Syrian army rebels.
>At an April 1st “Friends of Syria” meeting in Istanbul, Qatar, together with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, pledged $100 million to pay the salaries of Free Syrian Army fighters.
>In July, Reuters reported that a secret base has been set up by Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the Turkish city of Adana. According to Reuters, “Adana is home to Incirlik, a large Turkish/U.S. air force base which Washington has used in the past for reconnaissance and military logistics operations. It was not clear from the sources whether the anti-Syrian "nerve centre" was located inside Incirlik base or in the city of Adana.
Qatar, the tiny gas-rich Gulf state which played a leading part in supplying weapons to Libyan rebels, has a key role in directing operations at the Adana base, the sources said. Qatari military intelligence and state security officials are involved.
'Three governments are supplying weapons: Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia,' said a Doha-based source.”
What is Qatar's Interest in Syria?
Qatar has invested a significant amount of money and resources into supporting the anti-government forces in Syria, so clearly they have a specific interest in aiding the rebels and bringing about the downfall of the Syrian government - but why?
Like many other Persian Gulf kingdoms, Qatar's foreign policy is often aligned with US and British interests. The roots of this relationship can be seen in Qatar's history.
Qatar is a tiny country of 1.7 million (just 250,000 of whom are citizens) on the Qatari Peninsula in the Persian Gulf. The country as it exists today has its foundations in the division of the Ottoman empire after its collapse at the end of World War I. At that time, the British empire recognized Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim al Thani as the country's king, ushering in the al Thani dynasty. In exchange for British military protection, al Thani was not to cede any of his territory except to Britain and not to enter relationships with any other foreign governments without explicit British consent.
In 1968, Britain decided to end this treaty with Qatar, along with other similar ones signed with a number of other Persian Gulf kingdoms. As a result, Qatar declared independence in 1971, just a few months before the termination of the treaty. Unlike other countries in the Middle East and around the world, Qatar has never waged a struggle for independence, instead remaining as a firm ally of imperialist interests in the Middle East since its colonial days. Today, Qatar's alliance can be seen more clearly with the US, but the interests are essentially the same.
The effects of this history are very much reflected in Qatar's actions in Syria today. The United States has pursued an aggressive policy against the Syrian government; Qatar has followed, often stepping up to the plate to do the “dirty work” that the US and the Obama regime do not want to be seen doing. In fact, the Wall Street Journal noted recently that “The US is in many ways acting in Syria through proxies, primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.”
Qatar Today: A Staunch US Ally
The US established diplomatic relations with Qatar in 1972, after the country's independence. Over the last quarter century, Qatar has become an important partner for the US in the Middle East. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991 (the first US war in Iraq), Qatar played host to US forces and the Qatari military supported the US in certain key operations. Following this, Qatar and the US signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement. In 2003, the US Combat Air Operations Centre for the Middle East was moved to Qatar's Al Udeid airbase south of the capital, Doha. Today, US Central Command operates out of nearby Camp As Sayliyah, and the Al Udeid airbase operates as the logistics and command hub for US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Located in the Persian Gulf, Qatar holds an important strategic position for the US in the Middle East. The fact that US Central Command - the most important US base of operations outside the US - is located in Qatar is strong evidence of the close military and strategic ties which Qatar and the US share.
However, while the Obama regime is crying out about human rights abuses and lack of democracy in Syria and Libya, they turn a blind eye to awful human rights abuses and a total lack of democracy in Qatar.
Qatar A Reactionay Despotic Regime
Being an absolute monarchy, no legislative elections have been held in Qatar since 1970, when there were partial elections to the legislative assembly. Although the Sheikh Al Thani has promised that legislative elections to a consultative body will be held in 2013, these elections have been delayed three times already, and even under this system the king would still retain absolute power in decisions on the country's affairs.
As for freedom of speech and other basic civil rights, even the US State Department acknowledges these rights are severely limited in Qatar, although they ignore these rights violations in practice. According to a 2003 State Department report on human rights practices in Qatar, “the Constitution provides for freedom of assembly; however, the Government severely limited this right in practice. The Government generally did not allow political demonstrations.
The Constitution provides for freedom of association; however, the Government severely limited this right in practice. The Government did not allow political parties or international professional organizations critical of the Government or of any other Arab government.”
Beyond the limitations on free speech and democracy for its citizens, there is an even darker side to democracy and human rights in Qatar: the plight of foreign workers. Foreign workers, mainly from Southeast Asia, compromise 80% of Qatar's population and 94% of its workforce. A number of organizations have reported widespread abuses of human and worker's rights by employers of migrant workers. According to Human Rights Watch, “workers reported a range of problems, including unpaid wages, illegal salary deductions, crowded and unsanitary labor camps, and unsafe working conditions. All but four of the workers said they paid recruitment fees ranging between US$726 and $3,651, borrowing from private money lenders at interest rates that ranged from 3 to 5 percent per month to 100 percent interest on their debt per year.”
Under Qatari law, there are no wage standards for migrant workers, nor are they allowed to strike or form labour unions. As well, Qatar's sponsorship system ties a worker's legal residence in the country to their employer sponsor, and according to Human Rights Watch, “migrant workers cannot change jobs without their sponsoring employer’s consent, except in exceptional cases with permission from the Interior Ministry. If a worker leaves his or her sponsoring employer, even if fleeing abuse, the employer can report the worker as “absconding,” leading to detention and deportation. In order to leave Qatar, migrants must obtain an exit visa from their sponsor, and some said sponsors denied them these visas. Workers widely reported that sponsors confiscated their passports, in violation of the Sponsorship Law.”
Foreign workers who come to Qatar are often lured there under false pretences of the type of work they will be doing and the salaries they will receive. Once there, they cannot move, change employers or leave the country without their employer’s permission, and must endure any conditions to which their employer subjects them. Qatar, which claims bragging rights to being the wealthiest country in the world with a per capita GDP (amongst its citizens) of $102,943 USD, is for all practical intents and purposes built on the back of slave labour.
Qatar: A Puppet of Imperialism in the Middle East
The hypocrisy of Qatar in promoting “human rights” and siding with the opposition in Syria is evident when one looks at the living conditions for migrant workers in Qatar and the regime's absolute silencing of political dissent. However, Qatar's actions in Syria are not new or isolated; as mentioned above, Qatar has been supporting imperialism in the Middle East for many decades.
The counter-revolutionary role of the Qatari regime in the Middle East has become increasingly evident since the beginning of the “Arab Spring” protests. Qatar played an active role in the NATO bombing campaign which helped to overthrow the independent government in Libya, dedicating a large part of their air force to this effort. The Qatari regime also sent hundreds of troops to support the “rebels” in their overthrow of the Libyan government. The Guardian notes that Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the leader of the rebel's National Transitional Council “described the Qataris as having planned the battles that paved the way for victory”.
The NATO bombing campaign, and other initiatives in support of the “rebels” in Libya were not aimed at supporting people struggling for democracy and independence. They were instead aimed at overthrowing an independent government which the US and their NATO allies saw as an roadblock to expanding Western interests in North Africa. If promoting freedom, democracy and independence for the people of the Middle East and North Africa was their goal, why have they allied themselves with some of the most repressive and anti-democratic regimes in the Middle East, such as Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia?
Qatar has in fact also been an active supporter of the repressive Bahraini regime, which has tortured or killed thousands of its citizens who have been peacefully protesting for democracy and independence from the US and Saudi Arabia since January 2011. Qatar sent troops to Bahrain as part of the Peninsula Shield Force, the military arm of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of Persian Gulf kingdoms. Human Rights Watch reports on the situation in Bahrain have included testimony from many activists that Peninsula Shield Forces troops were involved in abuses, killings and other atrocities against the Bahraini people.
The Importance of the Qatari Regime to US Interests
The Middle East today has become the epicentre of a worldwide battle between people struggling for independence, democracy and human rights and the forces who oppose them. On one hand, there are the regimes of the US, Canada and other NATO countries, which are trying to establish their military, strategic and economic interests in the Middle East. On the other, there is the people of the Middle East, who are waging a battle for their rights in the face of severe repression.
This battle has been played out in Iraq and Afghanistan, where people have been fighting for independence from foreign occupation. It has also being waged by the people of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and other countries in their struggle to free their countries from US puppet governments and foreign domination.
Within this struggle, the Qatari regime has been playing an important role in helping the US in particular to establish their interests in the Middle East. By supporting the United States politically and militarily, they are trying to ensure that independent governments such as the ones in Iran, Syria and the former government of Libya are brought down, and that the mass independence movements in other countries do not succeed.
The Qatari regime sees both its security and economic interests as aligned with the United States: neither want to see the success of independence movements which could wrest both political power and control of resources from the hands of the United States and the regimes which support them. Beneath the image of glamour and wealth which the Qatari regime tries to display for the world, it is fundamentally an anti-democratic force which is attempting to re-establish colonialism in the Middle East in the interests of the US capitalist class.
Two Sides: Take A Side!
In the battle for freedom, democracy and human rights being waged in the Middle East, there are two sides: the side of ordinary people who are struggling for genuine peace, independence and democracy, and the side of the US, NATO and their allies who are fighting for control of resources and trade markets under the guise of “freedom” and “human rights” in Libya, Syria and elsewhere. We must carefully look at the facts and support countries and movements who are fighting for genuine freedom, democracy and also independence.
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