June 27, 2024 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 613

The Plot To Restore Al-Andalus

June 27, 2024 | By Amb. Alberto M. Fernandez*
MEMRI Daily Brief No. 613

There is a famous character in Spanish history named Count Julian of Septem (today, Ceuta, in Spanish Africa). He may have been a Visigoth or a Byzantine or a Christian Berber or a completely imaginary figure. At some point, Arab chroniclers commented that it was this Count Julian (or Bulian or Urban) who facilitated the crossing of invading Muslim armies into the Iberian Peninsula from North Africa in the early eighth century A.D. As such Count Julian has been reviled in print. Spanish exile novelist Juan Goytisolo, a bitter leftist critic of what Spain had become, exalted Conde Julian in a celebrated 1970 novel of the same name precisely because he saw him as a destroyer of the Spain he reviled.

Count Julian, the traitor, the destroyer of Spain came to mind with news of the First Spain-Qatar Strategic Dialogue celebrated on June 21, 2024, in Madrid only a few weeks after Spain recognized a Palestinian state.[1] Spain is not the only country to have a strategic dialogue with Qatar. In fact, it is a latecomer, following on earlier initiatives with the United States, the United Kingdom, and, as of 2023, Italy.

Qatar has been lavishing attention on leftist-ruled Spain for several years now. The decision for a new "strategic alliance" and five billion Euros in new Qatari investments for Spain dates back to May 2022.[2] There is, of course, one interesting difference between Qatar's strategic dialogue with Spain and that held with other countries, and that is history. Qatar is an Islamist state and dreams of Spain, of the recovery of Muslim-ruled Al-Andalus, are not only a vague if popular notion among the Muslim masses but an actual rallying cry among Islamist and Jihadist figures, including the likes of Osama Bin Ladin, Abdullah Azzam, and Qatar's own Al-Jazeera channel.[3] For many in the West, the concept of Islamic Spain is a kind of gauzy dream of tolerance which is divorced from a more complex reality.[4] For key figures in the world of Islam, the two greatest tragedies to befall the Umma were the fall of Palestine to the Jews and the fall of Al-Andalus to the Christians.

Among the elements in the latest agreement between Qatar and Spain is the establishment of the Tamim bin Hamad (Qatar's ruler) Chair in the Study of Arabic and Andalusi Heritage at the University of Granada.[5] For those who believe in Qatar's permanent bad intentions, this may be damning but actually the University of Granada has offered a degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies since at least 2011. The university was founded in 1538 by the King-Emperor Charles (Carlos V), grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic conquerors and extinguishers of the Emirate of Granada, last remnant of Muslim rule on the peninsula. Qatar's influence is always problematic but this university only recently, on its own voted to cut all ties with Israeli universities.[6] And Granada has had an active leftist/Islamist activist community which every year demonstrates against the historic Dia de la Toma each January 2, the anniversary of the fall of the city to the Catholic Monarchs.[7] The same Spanish leftist/Islamist activist ecosystem seeks to restore Islamic prayers in the Cathedral of the nearby city of Cordoba, once the capital of Spain's Umayyad Caliphate.[8]

With its Islamist worldview and interest in exerting influence, there is little doubt that Qatar, looking at the big picture and the long run, would love to guide Spain in certain Islamic directions. But it does not have to do so. The energy-rich emirate, with all its wealth and ambitions, is not the main plotter here but merely an active co-conspirator. Our main villain is Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

It is Sanchez rather than Tamim bin Hamad who is our Conde Julian, for his own purposes setting in motion policies that – if not restoring Islamic rule in Al-Andalus – will lead to the rebirth of new and divisive Islamic politics and influence in Spain. Spain's Muslim community is smaller and more recent than that of its northern neighbors. It is one generation removed or behind the ferment that has been seen elsewhere in the continent. A 2015 estimate projected that France would be over 10 percent Muslim by 2030, the United Kingdom 8.2 percent and Germany 7.1 percent. Spain was projected to have only a 3.7 percent share.[9] But with Spain's rickety leftist-separatist coalition set to remain in power until 2027 (if it holds together), Sanchez's current policies will shape the demographics of Spain's future.

And making money from Islamist Qatar is only one strand of those policies. Another is support for immigration from Africa and the Middle East, overwhelmingly Muslim immigration. The Spanish Left is not only allowing in increasing numbers of possible workers but also eventual future voters with the expectation, as seen in France, the United Kingdom and Germany, that they will overwhelmingly favor the political left.[10] The creation of new ethnic communities and new sources of pressure not only helps the political left at the ballot box but also in more indirect ways. The idea is that the new arrivals and the left will have the same adversaries, not just at the ballot box but in society writ large. It will mean weakening the considerable, albeit declining, power of the Catholic Church in the Spanish educational system and possibly boosting the number of persons dependent on the state. The hope is also, of course, that the new immigrants will pay taxes and generate income, to "pay for the pensions" of an aging native population.[11] Here the ruling leftist government in Spain is making the same mistake made earlier in Paris and London that migrants are merely economic agents and that thorny things like culture, religion, and ethnicity either do not really matter in the long run or will work out in favor of the ambitions of the political left.

Anyone who follows Spanish politics is familiar with the tiresome refrain of the Spanish left/far-left (PSOE/Sumar/IU/Podemos) of the absolute priority of stopping the rise of the "far-right" in Spain and in Europe. Far-right has become an inaccurate if convenient label for parties and figures who differ in any way from the near hegemonic discourse of the left in Europe. The irony here is that Sanchez has finally found a supposed "far-right" that he can not only stomach but embrace. A state which is theocratic and imposes religious law by force, that practices state censorship, that uses government money to promote religion, that exploits workers, that punishes sexual immorality, that rigorously restricts immigrants. That "far-right" partner is Qatar and a growing number of those in the West that share Qatar's worldview.

*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI.


[1], June 22, 2024.

[2],de%20la%20salud%2C%20la%20ciencia%20y%20la%20innovaci%C3%B3n, May 19, 2022.

[3] See MEMRI Daily Brief No. 85, Spain In The Crosshairs Of Islamism, March 28, 2016.

[4], August 31, 2022.

[5], June 22, 2024.

[6], June 20, 2024.

[7], January 2, 2023

[8], January 25, 2022.

[9], January 16, 2015.

[10], November 19, 2023.

[11], April 30, 2022.

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