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Qatar's stubborn pursual of self-interest is hurting its reintergration with the GCC

Qatar’s stubborn pursual of self-interest is hurting its reintergration with the GCC

It has been three years since four GCC members decided to isolate Qatar over its brazen terrorist allegiances but the country has refused to change its colours.

The third anniversary of the economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar is looming but very little has changed in the attitude and actions of the tiny, gas-rich country, which has for long been punching above its weight in the geopolitics of the region. The boycott was enforced by four countries of the GCC, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in the face of several dubious connections Qatar was nurturing with extremist organisations across the Middle East and North Africa. But the country has been unrepentant and unrelenting.

It has been well-established that the government of Qatar has been funding extremist Salafist groups and activities in Western countries for years through several charitable organisations. It has both overtly and covertly supported banned organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Taliban, Al Qaeda-affiliates like Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and more, in addition to pitting various rebel groups in Syrian against one another. This cozy relationship with such contentious elements has enabled it to act as a mediator and negotiator during hostage crisis and prisoner exchanges, earning it ill-gotten goodwill among the West.

Qatar has also been criticised for using Qatar Foundation as a front to meddle in major universities in America and spread its idealogy in educational institutions. Ostensibly funding Arabic language programmes in elementary and high schools, it has been accused of targeting teachers who in turn influence children and teenagers. It has been using its investments in top-tier universities like Weill Cornell, Texas A&M, Georgetown, Northwestern, Virginia Commonwealth University, which all also have branch campuses in Doha, to sway public opinion in its favour.

It has been using this modus operandi in other countries too. Italy was in furor this week after its parliament ratified an agreement with Qatar which will allow it to fund Islamic organisations and build mosques in the country. The move has angered right-wing groups and centrists alike because of Qatar’s affiliations and also the expressed opinions of some within the country to use platforms like these to spread their harmful ideology.

Italy signed the deal when it was in the midst of a financial crisis and has passed it now while its economy is under attack from the coronavirus pandemic. While it needs the tens of millions of euros the deal will bring into the country, its political leaders are wary of Qatar’s intentions of furthering Muslim Brotherhood interests in the country. Fund-raising letters for the Italian projects from Doha-based Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusul Al Qaradawi opening spoke about the “conquest of Rome” through “preaching and idealogy”. Under these considerations and more, it is likely that the GCC countries will continue to uphold the boycott, and for good reason.

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