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October 25, 2021 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 330

Qatar's 'Democracy' Charade

October 25, 2021 | By Yigal Carmon and Alberto M. Fernandez*
Qatar | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 330

A strange conjunction of events took place in the late summer of 2021. In Tunisia, the country's democratically elected President Kais Saied suspended parliament and changed government officials, citing his authority under Tunisia's constitution to do so. At almost exactly the same time, the democratically elected government of Afghanistan was being overthrown by a radical Islamist insurgent group – the Taliban – closely allied with the global terrorist organization Al-Qaeda.


Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Aal Thani, left, and President of Tunisia Kais Saied.

If you relied on the content of Qatari-owned media, chiefly the notorious pan-Arab television network Al-Jazeera in Arabic and in English[1] and other outlets in English, you would think that President Saied was a villain and that the Taliban were heroes, or to put it slightly differently, that preserving democracy in Tunisia involves opposing its democratically elected president but when it comes to democracy in Afghanistan, that can be discarded, and the total monopoly on power by the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and the Haqqani Network was not only something to be praised, but to be recognized and supported.

You would also think that the actions of American Democratic legislator Ilhan Omar, calling for a law against Islamophobia,[2] or accusations against France on that phobia, are to be trumpeted while actual demonstrations of Afghan women bravely standing up to the Taliban on the streets of Kabul, is something to be studiously ignored. The fact that Al-Jazeera's own female broadcasters, whose presence add a veneer of pluralism to the network, ignore the plight of Muslim women in Afghanistan (while highlighting selected cases in the West) only adds insult to injury. In this topsy-turvy world of Qatari foreign policy and propaganda, words like democracy, human rights or women's rights are mere tools to be used against your opponents but not against your close allies ruling in Kabul, Gaza, and Ankara today.

This open political hypocrisy by the Qatari leadership has had the most receptivity in heightening Western pressure on the Tunisian president and in misunderstanding the reality of Qatari support for the Taliban as some sort of even-handed mediation. In both cases, there is a clear goal. In Tunisia, it is about marshalling support for Islamist politician Rachid Ghannouchi and his Nahda Party above anything else. In Afghanistan, it is about marshalling support, resources, and acceptance for the Taliban. The path to supreme power for Islamists in Tunisia was thought to be through party politics, in Afghanistan, it was through the guns and suicide bombers of the Taliban. The goal is the same in both cases.

Western exhaustion and desperation on Afghanistan make it exquisitely susceptible to anyone who can, as the Qataris intimate, "deliver" Taliban good behavior (such good behavior has not actually happened in any tangible way whatsoever, but the Taliban have learned from their sojourn in Doha to say some things that the West wants to hear). Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani actually lauded recently the suicide bombers whose sacrifice was a key part of the Taliban's "Islamic system" coming to power, promising plots of land and money to surviving family members.[3] Above all, the West fears waves of Afghan refugees heading toward Europe and an Al-Qaeda safe haven in Kabul. Taliban assurances "mediated" by Qatar are extraordinarily flimsy but the West has little else left to rely on after the calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan.

As far as Tunisia is concerned, the anti-American Ghannouchi is only the latest Islamist politician to beguile a West, and especially the United States, desirous of reaching some sort of accommodation with Islamist politics.[4] Earlier Western iterations of this strange fascination focused on figures such as Turkey's Erdoğan or Egypt's Muhammad Morsi, even on Hamas in Gaza.

This American and Western "softness" on anti-Western Islamism has been a bipartisan malady, from the George W. Bush administration to this day. The Obama Administration coddled the ruling Islamists in Egypt while seeking an accommodation with Iran.[5] Even President Trump, derided as "Islamophobic" by his political enemies, was extremely forbearing to the Islamists in power in Turkey and Qatar, and it was Trump who initiated the fateful deal with the Taliban.

Qatar initially supported President Saied, when it seemed that his nationalist and populist credentials would be useful to the Gulf state.[6] The rhetorical track record is not hidden.[7] But its recent about-face on the Tunisian president has found resonance in U.S. Congress, of all places. Tunisian journalist Imed Bahri noted recently that Ghannouchi and his loyalists are "manipulating members of Congress, [asking them] to interfere in Tunisian affairs and help the Islamists to return to power from which they were driven out on July 25, after 10 years of bad governance, mismanagement, terrorism, and corruption that brought Tunisia to its knees."[8]

There seems little doubt that the deceivers in Doha have played a key role in demonizing a democratically elected Arab president while elsewhere supporting religiously motivated totalitarians and simultaneously maintaining a family dictatorship at home where the ruler, prime minister, ministers of interior and foreign affairs are from the same family, none of whom were elected to anything. There is indeed a democracy deficit in the Middle East, but the princely hypocrites in Doha and their hired broadcast media mouthpieces are the last voices that should speak on this subject.

*Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI. Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President.

 

[1] Arabnews.com/node/1519151, July 2, 2019.

[2] Twitter.com/AJArabic/status/1451926393491755010, October 23, 2021.

[4] Middleeasteye.net/news/tunisia-us-lawmakers-slam-kais-saied-cement-rule, October 15, 2021.

[5] Jpost.com/Opinion/Why-did-the-Obama-administration-support-Morsis-Muslim-Brotherhood-563641, July 28, 2018.

[6] Thearabweekly.com/qatar-seeks-tidy-image-through-tunisian-presidents-visit, November 22, 2020.

[7] Al-ain.com/article/president-tunisia-expose-jazeera, July 29, 2020.

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