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From daily The Guardian in Britain:
Emir of Qatar aims to paint positive image of country on UK visit
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani faces controversy in London as officials flatly deny accusations that Qatar bankrolled Isis
Ian Black, Middle East editor
Monday 27 October 2014 19.15 GMT
Qatar’s youthful emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has his work cut out in London this week selling a positive image of his small but fabulously wealthy country – especially in rebutting persistent claims that it supports the jihadis of Islamic State (Isis).
Sheikh Tamim – on his first official visit to the UK since succeeding his father in 2013 – is seeing David Cameron and the Queen, while a Qatari-British Economic Forum will showcase mutual investment opportunities. The Qataris already own some of London’s priciest real estate, from the Shard to Harrods. Winning the 2022 World Cup and furious controversy over the rights of migrant workers has kept them in the limelight – sometimes very uncomfortably.
So far so familiar. But accusations that Qatar bankrolled Isis in Syria and Iraq is testing its PR capabilities to the limit.
Qatari officials flatly deny the claim. Doha certainly backed Islamist rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, and some were radicalised as the war dragged on and western countries dithered. But it did not knowingly support extremists, they insist. And now the Gulf state is a member of the US-led coalition designed to “degrade and ultimate destroy” Isis – along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Jordan. Arab military participation is important. But emphasising the wider effort to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the group, US officials have praised the Saudis and Emiratis for cracking down on donations to Isis and other groups. Last week, however Qatar and Kuwait were singled out as still “permissive jurisdictions for terrorist financing,” in the words of the US Treasury.
The issue has been amplified by a murky PR war. Data unearthed in the US has shown that one company which briefed journalists on Qatar’s activities had been retained by the UAE, its bitter conservative rival. Qatar recently engaged the services of a high-profile London firm which specialises in reputation management. The Emiratis and others especially loathe Al-Jazeera, the influentiual satellite TV channel owned by the Qataris.
Egypt and Israel, united by opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian movement Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, are also said to have weighed in to lambast Doha over Isis and other issues.
“The Emiratis are trying to throw as much mud as they can at the Qataris and there is the new Conservative link to the Zionist lobby, which is up in arms because of Qatari relations with Hamas,” said a well-placed Arab observer. “There are some powerful media tycoons who are hostile to Qatar as well for their own business reasons.”
Independent experts say Qatar was reckless in supporting some of the rebel groups fighting Assad. Alleged links to Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida affiliate, have been especially damaging. The group recently released 45 UN peacekeepers it had been holding hostage on the Golan Heights after Qatari mediation and the reported payment of a $20m ransom.
“Qatar has been rather foolish in allowing funding from Doha to some rather nasty groups – though not to Isis directly – and it’s not limited to Syria,” said HA Hellyer of the Brookings Institute’s Centre for Middle East Policy. ”Having said that the media portrayal of Qatar plays into the wider proxy war across the region, with Qatar and Turkey on one side and the Emiratis, Egypt and the Saudis on the other. Nobody has investigated Kuwait deeply, for example, although many suspect it also played a big role as a financial hub. Qatar has Al Jazeera and others, but everyone is playing a game through PR agencies or media outlets.”
Eli Lake, a Daily Beast reporter who was briefed by the Washington firm working for the Emiratis, tweeted sarcastically: “UAE hires PR firm to smear Qatar. If only Doha had some way to defend themselves in the media, like a global television network or something.”
British government officials say that the Qataris are now coordinating their efforts on Syria more closely with the US and Saudi Arabia. Still, last month a Qatari businessman accused of terrorist financing was added to a list of individuals facing sanctions in the UK.
There are new indications that Washington is moving toward a wider and protracted military intervention in the Middle East in the name of combating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS): here.