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Qatar: The mouse that 'punched above its weight'

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19 May 2008 12:23

Perhaps the most cliched term used to describe Australian influence is that we ‘punch above our weight’. The term itself has formed the basis of Boyer Lectures and learned articles. The current Australian Foreign Minister has even critiqued the concept, provocatively claiming that we punch below our weight.

One country that could justifiably lay claim to the title is Qatar, whose diplomatic aspirations and efforts belie its size. With a native population of approximately 150,000 (and guest workers numbering three times that number) but with the third largest natural gas reserves in the world, the Qataris have been extremely active in translating financial clout into diplomatic activity. Many people would be aware that Qatar plays host to the al-Jazeera television station, and of the so-called Doha round of WTO negotiations conducted in Qatar in 2001. But the country has done much more than just act as a keen host of trade talks and journalism.

The latest example of Qatari diplomatic initiatives is the high profile role the Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Shaykh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, has taken in discussions to end the standoff between pro- and anti- government forces in Lebanon, culminating in a political dialogue between the groups held in Doha last Friday. Qatar was also involved in Lebanon following the 2006 war, contributing troops to UNIFIL and large sums of money for reconstruction. Elsewhere in the region, the Qataris have been at the forefront of mediation efforts in Yemen between the government and the Zaydi Shi’a al-Houthi movement.

In 2006 Qatar became the first Gulf country to occupy a seat in the UN Security Council. It hosts an Israeli trade mission in the country, and the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, attended the Doha Forum this year. Qatar has also been active for the past few years in establishing a Palestinian-Israeli negotiation track. Qatar’s overactive diplomatic stand has earned it some enmity from other Arab countries that see the conflict mediation role as theirs by right, but the Qataris appear to delight in occasionally swimming against the tide in regional politics.

If any country could draw legitimate pugilistic analogies from its influence relative to its size, it would be Qatar.

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