WikiLeaks: Al-Jazeera Changed Coverage to Suit Qatari Foreign Policy
Qatar is using the Arabic news channel al-Jazeera as a bargaining chip in foreign policy negotiations by adapting its coverage to suit other foreign leaders and offering to cease critical transmissions in exchange for major concessions, US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks claim.
The memos flatly contradict al-Jazeera’s insistence that it is editorially independent despite being heavily subsidised by the Gulf state.
They will also be intensely embarrassing to Qatar, which controversially won the right to host the 2022 World Cup after presenting itself as the most open and modern Middle Eastern state.
In the past, the emir of Qatar has publicly refused US requests to use his influence to temper al-Jazeera’s reporting.
Read the related article “WikiLeaks cables claim al-Jazeera changed coverage to suit Qatari foreign policy” in the Guardian here.
Document 1: Qatari claims to support free press ‘undermined by manipulation of al-Jazeera’
Wednesday, 24 June 2009, 09:48
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 DOHA 000414
EO 12958 DECL: 06/24/2019
TAGS PREL, KPAO, SOCI, QA
SUBJECT: FRENCH ACTIVIST LEAVES MEDIA FREEDOM CENTER
REF: A. A) DOHA 313 (NOTAL) B. B) DOHA 287 (NOTAL)
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOSEPH LEBARON, FOR REASONS 1.5 (B) AND (D).
— (U) Robert Menard, a well-known French activist, left the Doha Center for Media Freedom on June 23, citing increasing restrictions on the center,s ability to operate. See paragraph seven for the full text of Menard,s resignation statement.
— (U) Menard,s departure follows several weeks of public attacks against his criticism of Qatar, as well as inaccurate accusations that he had invited a controversial Dutch journalist to Doha and had referred to Qatar publicly as &the worst place in the world.8
— (C) Contacts tell us that Menard did not work well with Qatari colleagues and did not make any efforts to mollify key Qatari media professionals, so had no allies when criticisms began to be leveled against him.
— (C) Menard, who made a reputation for himself as the outspoken director of France,s Reporters Without Borders for 23 years, never seemed like a good fit for Qatar. The Qatari Government officially champions media freedom elsewhere, but generally does not tolerate it at home.
— (C) Menard,s biggest mistake may not have been in criticizing press freedom in Qatar, but in assuming that Shaykha Mozah,s patronage of his project isolated him from all criticism and absolved him from the need to foster allies and friends within Qatar,s media and political establishment.
END KEY POINTS
1. (SBU) On June 23, Robert Menard posted a resignation statement to the website of the Doha Center for Media Freedom, citing increasing restrictions on the center,s operation as the reasons for his departure. He cites in particular Shaykh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, Chairman of the Center,s Board, as setting obstacles to bringing threatened journalists to Qatar.
2. (SBU) Menard told PAO that he never had a good rapport with Shaykh Hamad, who is also the Chairman of the Board of Al Jazeera, and the Qatar Radio and Television Corporation. Their last discussion, according to Menard, ended in a &shouting match,8 with Menard ripping up a document Shaykh Hamad had handed him, ordering that Menard, as Director of the Center, answer to a new group of Qatari senior directors.
3. (SBU) Menard,s resignation follows several weeks of public attacks, particularly by the Editor in Chief of Arabic daily &Al Sharq,8 who published a number of editorials against Menard,s criticism of Qatar,s media freedom (reftels). These attacks escalated to include false accusations that Menard had invited controversial Dutch journalist Flemming Rose to Doha, and that Menard had referred to Qatar as &the worst place in the world8 during an episode of the talk show &On en parle a Paris8 on a French television station.
4. (C) Embassy contacts say that these criticisms were secondary to Menard,s failure to create allies and friends within the close-knit Qatari media and political establishments. For example, he attempted to fire his Qatari deputy, Maryam al-Khater, who simply opened another office of the Center in another location in Doha, leaving Menard to work out of his hotel and several villas that had been rented for the purpose of temporarily housing foreign journalists.
5. (C) Other contacts criticized Menard for importing his own team of people from Reporters Without Borders, and not relying on any local talent, or even trying to build any. According to Menard, his Qatari colleagues were &unwilling to do anything8 and &wanted to block me at every turn,8 so he kept his distance.
6. (C) This distance, according to contacts, left Menard
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vulnerable when Qataris began to level criticisms against him for his leadership of the Center and his outspokenness about the state of media freedom in Qatar and the region.
7. (U) Full Text of Robert Menard,s Resignation Statement: Robert Menard and his team have left the Doha Centre for Media Freedom. “The Centre has been suffocated. We no longer have either the freedom or the resources to do our work”, he explained. “For several months we have made an independent voice heard, one that has exposed violence with concern for nothing but the truth. We have helped more than 250 endangered journalists and media all over the world, and I think we can be proud of that. “But some Qatari officials never wanted an independent Centre, free to speak out without concern for politics or diplomacy, free to criticise even Qatar. How can we have any credibility if we keep quiet about problems in the country that is our host? Now the Centre has been suffocated. We no longer have either the freedom or the resources to do our work. This cannot go on. I was willing to make any necessary compromises as long as the foundations of our work ) assistance grants, statements of opinion – were safeguarded. But that is no longer the case.”Menard went on: “This is a pity, especially as media freedom is particularly threatened in this part of the world. More than 30 journalists are currently imprisoned in the Middle East and North Africa. Since the start of the year, several journalists have been killed in the region: in Iraq, Iran and the Palestinian Territories. The Centre was always there to give assistance to families, pay lawyers, fees and help those who wanted to travel to less dangerous areas. “It was the first time that an international organisation for the defence of media freedom had been set up in a country outside the West. It was made possible by the Emir and his wife Sheikha Mozah. Thanks to them, we have completed projects such as starting an independent news agency for Somali journalists, providing bulletproof jackets in Somalia, Iraq and Pakistan, opening a press centre in Gaza, supplying newsprint to newspapers in Guinea-Bissau. Our work has not been in vain, and we can only hope it will be continued in some way.”Menard spoke about the obstacles encountered by the Centre and pointed to those responsible, particularly Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, who is also President of the Board of Al Jazeera: “Those who have caused us problems do not accept the idea of our independence and freedom of speech. They constantly put obstacles in our way, thereby going against the commitments we have made. “For example, Centre staff were prevented from leaving the country temporarily and had to apply for a permit whenever they needed to travel. Sheikh Hamad refused to sign administrative documents that would have enabled the Centre to take in journalists under threat in their own countries, as originally planned. His office told us recently that giving shelter to journalists from countries such as Iran might go against Qatar,s diplomatic interests. This confirmed that the Centre,s independence was, in his eyes, a myth. “Sheikh Hamad also tried to enforce new internal regulations, in violation of the Centre,s statutes and with a view to keeping tighter control over how the Centre was run. He would have had the power to censor the Centre,s statements. Finally, payment of the Centre,s budget, scheduled for 1 April, has been continually delayed and we are now unable to answer appeals from journalists in danger, in Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere. “Returning to more basic matters, Qatar has still not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, despite frequent promises. And the committee that was supposed to discuss a new law on the media – and on which we had been invited to sit – has still not held any meetings.” Menard concluded: “I do not doubt the sincerity of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah and her determination to advance the cause of freedom, especially media freedom. But she is not alone. And those who prefer to retain the status quo are many, powerful and obstinate. “No-one but her would have dared imagine a Centre like the one we have built here. Maybe Sheikha Mozah is too far ahead of her fellow citizens, too ,modern, for political figures attached to the status quo, too aware of the challenges in this world for dignitaries concerned only with their own interests.” The heads of the assistance, research and communications departments have also left the Centre. The Doha Centre for Media Freedom was set up on the initiative of Sheikha Mozah and Reporters Without Borders in December 2007. Menard, who became director-general on 1 April 2008, was the founder of Reporters Without Borders, which he headed for 23 years until 1 October 2008. End text of Robert Menard’s Resignation Statement
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Document 2: Al-Jazeera ‘proves useful tool for Qatari political masters’
Wednesday, 01 July 2009, 13:34
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 DOHA 000432
EO 12958 DECL: 06/30/2019
TAGS PREL, KPAO, QA, EG, IS, SA, IR, SU
SUBJECT: EMBASSY DOHA’S ANALYSIS OF QATARI PRIME MINISTER’S
AL JAZEERA INTERVIEW
REF: A. DOHA 421 B. DOHA 362 C. DOHA 225 D. DOHA 96 E. DOHA 422
Classified By: Amb Joseph LeBaron, reason 1.4 (B) (D)
(C) KEY ANALYTIC POINTS AND COMMENTS
— In a rare, 50-minute interview on June 24 on Al Jazeera’s Arabic news service, Qatar’s Prime Minister, Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, repeatedly described the United States as a “friend.” He called U.S.-Qatari relations “strategic.”
— For a small state normally cautious about aligning too closely with any other country, such a public statement designed to reach throughout the Arab world is bold. It is another indication of Qatar’s strong interest in upgrading the bilateral political relationship with the United States.
— That said, the Prime Minister’s repeated emphasis in the interview on Qatar’s right to its own opinion is not only a reaffirmation of Qatar’s foreign policy approach to the region. It is also a signal that Qatar intends to maintain and pursue state and non-state relationships that others such as the United States oppose, such as with Hamas, Hizballah, and Iran.
— Qatar’s mediation efforts throughout the Middle East and North Africa featured prominently in the Prime Minister’s remarks. These efforts reflect a small and vulnerable country’s acute dependence on regional stability as much as they do an ideological stance or religious impulse.
— But the Prime Minister spent the most time on Egypt. He strongly criticized (unnamed) elements in the Egyptian government. But, significantly, he did not criticize its President. He set ambiguous terms for re-opening the Israeli trade office.
— Despite GOQ protestations to the contrary, Al Jazeera remains one of Qatar’s most valuable political and diplomatic tools.
— Prime Minister Al Thani’s outreach to the United States is a response to President Obama’s energetic efforts to repair the U.S. relationship with the Arab and Muslim worlds. The U.S. Administration’s newfound credibility in the Middle East, bolstered by a tough stand with the Israelis over settlements, has made the U.S. a more attractive partner for Qatar and other Arab countries.
— Beyond the President’s historic speech in Cairo, other reasons exist for the Prime Minister’s remarks about the United States in the interview. These include Acting NEA Assistant Secretary Feltman’s recent successful visit to Qatar and the also recent and successful visits to Washington by Qatar’s head of state security and Attorney General. U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Scott Gration’s close working relationship with the GOQ on Qatar’s initiative on Darfur has likewise contributed. As also did the reclassification of Qatar to the Tier 2 Watch List for Trafficking in Persons.
End Key Points and Comment.
1. (U) Further to Ref A, Embassy Doha offers the following analysis and reporting on the Prime Minister’s rare and important interview on Al Jazeera about Qatar’s foreign policy in the region. The subjects covered in the interview, if not the questions themselves, almost certainly were worked out in advance. Thus the interview should be interpreted as a carefully-considered move by Qatar to explain to the Arab world and key members of the international community Qatar’s regional political and diplomatic policies.
2. (C) Qatari Prime Minister (and Foreign Minister) Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani’s June 24 interview on Al Jazeera Arabic television network broached many of the country’s most controversial and active regional foreign policies. The interview took place on “Bila Hodood” (Without Borders), one
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of Al Jazeera’s flagship programs, which covers political and social issues in the confrontational style of its Egyptian host, Ahmed Mansour.
3. (C) The Prime Minister discussed Qatar’s “strategic” relationship with the U.S. with surprising candor and explicitness, although his comments about the U.S. – Qatari bilateral relationship occupied a relatively small part of the program, and they occurred towards the middle of the interview. Repeatedly referring to the U.S. as a “friend” of Qatar, he expressed satisfaction with President Obama’s concerted effort to reach out to the Muslim world.
4. (C) Pointing to the U.S. administration’s campaign to halt Israeli settlement construction and resume Middle East peace negotiations, the PM remarked that he has “great hope” in the new administration. Notably, he asserted that Qatar will help the United States to the greatest extent possible if it is serious about resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Prime Minister also expressed satisfaction that the political dialogue and climate between his country and the United States have recently improved.
5. (C) These remarks by the Prime Minister about the United States represent fulsome praise for Qatar, a country that historically has publicly downplayed its relations with the United States and the American presence in Qatar. While it hosts Al Udaid Air Base, one of the largest and most important military facilities in the Middle East, Qatar’s desire to avoid the appearance of being a western outpost has led the GOQ to minimize the visibility of its security dependence on the U.S. In this context, the Prime Minister’s frank admission of a “strategic” relationship with the United States is significant.
6. (C) After several years of strained relations, the Prime Minister’s comments are encouraging public sign that Qatar is eager to mend political fences with the United States — although not without an important caveat (see para. 7, immediately below.) An upgraded political relationship with Qatar could manifest itself in increased cooperation on several fronts, from counter-terrorism and Middle East peace to Iraq and Afghanistan, as highlighted in Ref B.
Relations with Extremists
7. (C) However, the Prime Minister remarked several times in the interview that Qatar remains entitled to its own opinion on regional and international issues, saying “(we) have our own viewpoints, which no one can confiscate (read: dictate).” The Prime Minister was adamant: Qatar has the right to speak out and the right to pursue an independent policy line. The subtext of this is that Qatar, despite its stated strategic alliance with the United States, despite its membership in the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League, will not abandon its independence of thought and action. To Embassy Doha, the Prime Minister was signaling here Qatar’s — the Amir’s — firm intention to maintain its engagement with, and active support for, non-state actors such as Hamas and Hizbollah regardless of international pressure.
8. (C) That said, there was a complete absence of any explicit mention of Hamas, Syria, or Hizbollah Avoiding these fault lines is consistent with the apparent intention of the Prime Minister to reach out to the United States in the interview, and to telegraph that intent quite publicly to the Arab world and others. Because Qatar is unlikely to abandon ties with these parties, mentioning these relationships in the interview would only emphasize obstacles in the way of improved U.S.-Qatari relations. Hamad bin Jassim probably deliberately chose instead to speak in very general terms about regional peace and stability.
9. (C) In a similar vein, Prime Minister Al Thani’s brief mention of Iran was characteristically muted and probably calculated to avoid any appearance of Qatari bias vis–vis the current protests.
— (U) The Premier reiterated the Amir’s position, stated publicly on a state visit to Paris on June 23, that Iran’s stability is important for the Gulf region and expressed confidence that Iran will “bypass” the crisis.
QATAR’S MEDIATION PHILOSOPHY
10. (C) Taken as a whole, the Prime Minister’s comments reaffirm Qatar that has strategically chosen to present itself as a valuable regional mediator, a role in which small
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size is not necessarily a disadvantage. Such a role is also in Qatar’s acute self-interest. Tiny Qatar is acutely vulnerable to disruptions in the region; instability and chaos greatly increase the possibility that its sovereignty could be violated or its economic security undermined by its two neighbors with hegemonic aspirations, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
11. (C) The major exception to this regional approach is Qatar’s policies towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During the Gaza war, Qatar acted in a way that inflamed, rather than tempered, regional tensions. Recognizing the damage that this approach caused at the start of the Obama Administration, and in Qatar’s relations with other Arab states, Qatar’s leaders set out to rehabilitate their moderate image during the Arab League summit in Doha in March 2009 (Ref C).
12. (C) The Prime Minister’s interview continued this effort. The Prime Minister framed Qatar’s Gaza involvement in terms of Palestinian suffering. He chose not to justify Qatar’s actions in Gaza as promoting regional stability, a justification he used when discussing other regional disputes.
DIPLOMATIC FREEZE WITH ISRAEL
13. (C) On Israel, the Prime Minister said Qatar would re-open the Israeli trade office once the conditions that led to this action were undone and Israel made efforts to improve the plight of the Palestinians. (The office has been closed since January, in the aftermath of the Gaza War.) With such an ambiguous threshold for upgrading relations, Qatar appears in no rush to restore ties with Israel, although contacts between the two continue.
— (U) The Prime Minister denied that Qatar sought to play on the emotions of the Arab world when it closed the Israeli trade office. Exasperated, he remarked that Qatar’s Arab brothers wanted the office closed when it was open, but they want it open now that it is closed. He did not elaborate.
RELATIONS WITH EGYPT
14. (C) Knowing the clamor Qatar has caused in the region, the Prime Minister addressed head-on Qatar’s diplomatic tensions with Egypt, which began with differences over Israel’s actions in Gaza earlier this year and quickly degenerated into a media war between the two sides.
— (U) Egyptian charges have recently included accusations that Qatar helped plan Hamas’ takeover of Gaza in the summer of 2007 and Qatari complicity in Hizbollah’s alleged plot to stage attacks in Egypt.
— (U) Qatari efforts to mediate conflicts in Sudan have come under attack by the Egyptians, who argue that Qatar is interfering in Egypt’s sphere of influence.
— (U) Responding to Egyptian allegations of interference, the Prime Minister denied in the interview that Qatar worked (unsuccessfully) with the French to buy the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from his captors. He asserted that Qatar was just responding to a request for assistance from a friendly, non-Arab state. He maintained that Qatar entered the negotiations only on the condition that the terms of Egypt’s mediation were upheld.
15. (C) The Prime Minister suggested that Egyptian accusations were attempts by unspecified elements in Egypt to distract the public from that government’s domestic failures. Dismissing Egyptian accusations as “ridiculous,” he made no visible attempt to reconcile with the Egyptians, beyond an obligatory commitment to Arab Unity. The Prime Minister continud with the practice of blaming unspecified element within the Egyptian regime for the rift, while expressing admiration fo Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — no doubt toshow an Arab leader respect and avoid the appearanc of a personality-driven feud. Contrary to all vidence, Hamad bin Jassim denied that Qatar had ried to host a Gaza reconstruction conference inDoha after the Gaza war began to compete with one being held in Egypt (see Ref D). Knowing that Egypt’s role in advancing peace is important to the United States, the Prime Minister was likely also addressing his comments to an audience broader than officials in Cairo.
16. (U) Demonstrating Qatar’s indifference to current tensions, the Premier said the dispute would be resolved, but
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he did not know whether it would take one day or ten years.
— (U) The Prime Minister said that he had a meeting with Umar Sulayman, head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate, which was mediated by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faysal. While they “spoke on everything,” they did not agree on everything, he said.
RECONCILIATION WITH SAUDI ARABIA
17. (C) The lengths to which Prime Minister Al Thani praised Saudi Arabia in the interview merit further attention. They reflect Qatar’s calculation that it took tensions with other Arab countries too far during the Gaza war, endangering its strategy of maximizing its influence by preserving good relations with all countries. At a time when Qatar does not appear eager (and possibly able) to reconcile with Egypt, Qatar probably believes it cannot afford to alienate the other Arab powerhouse.
— (C) The Prime Minister recognized that Saudi Arabia had played a role in getting some Arab states to skip Qatar’s emergency summit on the Gaza war. But he argued forcefully that differences with Saudi Arabia were confined to discrete points of view, a reference, we think, to Iran, Hamas, and the appropriate role of Al Jazeera in the region.
— (U) The Prime Minister pointed to the two country’s resolution of the Khor Al Udaid maritime border dispute as evidence of improving ties. He also used conspicuously warm words to describe Saudi Arabia’s contributions, calling Saudi Arabia an important country and “the backbone of the GCC.”
THE DOHA AGREEMENT ON LEBANON
18. (C) In a positive sign for U.S. interests in Lebanon, the Prime Minister indicated that Qatar would not insist that the 2007 Doha Agreement remain operative, echoing comments he made in private to A/S Feltman (see Ref E).
— (U) Commenting on Lebanese Prime-Minister designate Saad Hariri’s statement that the Doha Agreement is at an end with the completion of the recent elections in Lebanon, the Prime Minister remarked that the agreement was just for a “certain phase.”
19. (C) The Prime Minister, when discussing Qatar’s role in trying to mediate the Al-Huthi rebellion in Yemen, dismissed Yemeni government accusations that Qatar funded the rebellion. The Prime Minister maintained that his country was a “fair broker” that helped forge an agreement that was not honored for no fault of its own. In response to calls from some in Yemen and the region for Qatar to reprise its mediation role, the Prime Minister indicated Qatar’s reluctance by noting that he would advise the Amir not to continue Qatar’s involvement in Yemen. The Prime Minister likely also calculated that bringing the issue into the open would increase pressure on the Yemeni Government to return to Qatar-led mediation.
AL JAZEERA’S ROLE IN QATARI FOREIGN POLICY
20. (U) The Prime Minister broached the subject of Al Jazeera and the “headaches” its has caused for the Government of Qatar, from tensions with Saudi Arabia to contributing to the current rift with Egypt.
— (U) Asked about Al Jazeera, he joked that Qatar should sell it, indicating Qatar was offered $5 billion for it at one time. He added that the money might be worth more than the headaches Al Jazeera has caused for the regime.
21. (C) Such statements must not be taken at face value as Al Jazeera, the most watched satellite television station in the Middle East, is heavily subsidized by the Qatari government and has proved itself a useful tool for the station’s political masters. The station’s coverage of events in the Middle East is relatively free and open, though it refrains from criticizing Qatar and its government. Al Jazeera’s ability to influence public opinion throughout the region is a substantial source of leverage for Qatar, one which it is unlikely to relinquish. Moreover, the network can also be
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used as a chip to improve relations. For example, Al Jazeera’s more favorable coverage of Saudi Arabia’s royal family has facilitated Qatari-Saudi reconciliation over the past year.
Document 3: Qatar using al-Jazeera as bargaining tool, claims US
Thursday, 19 November 2009, 12:06
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 07 DOHA 000677
EO 12958 DECL: 10/05/2019
TAGS PREL, AMGT, KSPR, QA
SUBJECT: THE MOVE TOWARD AN INTERAGENCY SYNCHRONIZATION
PLAN: THE RESULTS OF EMBASSY DOHA’S THIRD FIELD ASSESSMENT
REF: DOHA 140
Classified By: Ambassador Joseph E. LeBaron for reasons 1.4 (b and d).
— (C) Embassy Doha’s third interagency off-site was held September 30, 2009. The third in a series of semi-annual off-site sessions (reftels report on the first, held September 2008 and the second, held March 2009), the off-site’s objective was to review and update our field interagency assessment of key trends in Qatar over the coming 36 months.
— (C) The off-site identified three new trends with important implications for U.S. policy: the emergence of the GOQ’s internal security apparatus as a security force that eclipses in importance the Qatari military (para 4); the emergence of food security as a Qatari national security imperative (para 16) and the emergence of Critical Energy Infrastructure Protection as an area of increasing GOQ focus (paras 4, 8, 11 and 17).
— (C) The off-site concluded with a look at mechanisms for interagency synchronization to most effectively pursue the policy imperatives identified during the off-site discussions. Embassy Doha’s synchronization process has materially developed since the last off-site. We now have five active synchronization groups that bring together interagency players to achieve shared interagency goals identified through the multi-step synchronization process.
End key points.
1. (C) At our third inter-agency off-site, the interagency team focused on trends in the following areas:
— Political and Foreign Policy — Military — Intelligence and Counterterrorism — Crime — Economic and Environmental — Food Security — Trade — Society, Education and Media — Demographic and Consular
2. (C) The remaining sections of this cable, keyed to these topic areas, provide a short synopsis of our interagency conclusions, followed by a description of the interagency synchronization process. We have also looked back upon the conclusions reached in our two previous off-site exercises and assessed the overall state and movement of several key trends identified across the three off-sites.
POLITICAL AND FOREIGN POLICY TRENDS
3. (C) AL THANI RULE IS SECURE; CROWN PRINCE EMERGES
— (C) We expect the Al Thani family’s rule to remain uncontested over the next 36 months. Given the history of intra-family coups in this country and known rivalries between key members of the ruling family, however, we expect that some friction between powerful players will continue. The Amir’s health is reportedly poor but stable and we expect a smooth transition in power to his son after his eventual passing. To ensure that smooth transition, we expect to see the continued emergence of Crown Prince Shaykh Tamim as more than a figurehead, as his father continues to groom him for the highest office in Qatar. We predict that he will increasingly issue more Amiri decrees under his own authority and take on more symbolic leadership duties normally reserved for the Amir, such as greeting Eid well-wishers (something he did in September for the first time in lieu of his father).
— (C) The Amir and Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim will continue to dominate Qatar’s highly personalized foreign policy, although somewhat more attention will be paid to foreign humanitarian assistance and regional social and educational initiatives led by the Amir’s consort, Shaykha Mozah, than was previously the case. The new Minister of State for International Cooperation, Khalid al-Attiyah; the Amir’s Office Director (and daughter), Shaykha Hind; and the PM’s new Foreign Policy Advisor, Shaykh Mohammed (the Amir’s son), are part of a new generation of capable, Western-educated and energetic Qataris whose role in influencing and shaping foreign policy we expect to increase slightly over the coming 36 months.
— (C) Over all three off-sites we assessed little or no movement in the trend toward personality-based, authoritarian rule in Qatar. Seminal and wide-ranging education reforms may have planted the seeds that will move this trend towards rationalized, decentralized government, but these effects are still several years away.
— (C) Over the next 36 months, Qatar will continue to pragmatically pursue relations with Iran, with whom it shares the world’s largest non-associated natural gas field. Qatar will also continue to pursue its classic vulnerable small-state policies aimed either at pleasing as many players as possible or – where competing demands make this impossible – at containing and counter-balancing irritation caused by these policies. We expect Qatar therefore to persist in supporting problematic players such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria, even as it attempts to strengthen its relationship with the United States and its GCC neighbors. We expect the trend in favor of using Al Jazeera as an informal tool of GOQ foreign policy to continue undiminished.
— (C) Over the past three off-sites Qatar has maintained this trend toward small-state policies and an orientation towards the middle, with the exception of a sudden swing towards the radical camp (since subsided) that reflected high-profile pro-Hamas actions taken by the GOQ in the wake of the Israeli incursion into Gaza in January 2009.
MILITARY AND SECURITY TRENDS
4. (C) A NEW TREND: THE RISE OF THE INTERNAL SECURITY FORCE
— (C) The creation of a professional military force will remain a second-order priority for Qatar. The Qatar Armed Forces (QAF) is not a powerful force in Qatari society, which lacks a martial tradition. The QAF could put up little defense against Qatar’s primary perceived threats – Saudi Arabia and Iran – and the U.S. military’s presence here is larger and far more capable than Qatar’s force of approximately 8,000 men at arms. Nurturing this force over the next 36 months will therefore remain something of an afterthought for the Qatari Government.
— (C) The Internal Security Force (ISF), on the other hand, is quickly emerging as Qatar’s premier security force. While threats by terrorists or outside military forces will remain relatively low over the next 36 months, the Qatari Government recognizes that its economic and political survival depends on its critical energy infrastructure and is increasingly alarmed by vulnerabilities to that infrastructure. As Qatar focuses on its internal security, the ISF will continue to command a larger role in the three years.
— (C) In that connection, we expect to see ISF’s budgets for training and procurement increase; its requests for bilateral training programs to increase; and its role in the U.S.-Qatari bilateral relationship to grow.
— (C) Despite ISF’s increasing importance, the QAF will remain the steward of the U.S.-Qatari military relationship for the foreseeable future. Developments in that relationship on the Qatari side will continue to be personality-driven and flow from the top down. For that reason, we expect to see more frequent visits by QAF senior officers to the United States, and more senior engagement by U.S. component commanders over the coming 36 months.
5. (C) IMPROVEMENT IN U.S.-QATAR MILITARY RELATIONS
— (C) Tactical irritants involving customs and immigration for U.S. deployed forces will reduce over the next 36 months as senior U.S.-Qatari military engagement increases, and as deployed forces demonstrate their willingness to be “good guests” by developing and enforcing procedures – including disciplinary measures – designed to respect Qatari law.
— (C) Qatar’s annoyance at a relatively small percentage of infractions of Qatari immigration and customs laws by U.S. forces will reduce as deployed forces demonstrate that they take these infractions seriously, are transparent about the number and nature of them with Qatari authorities, and implement measures to address them. In addition, we expect the activities of the Embassy’s Joint Pol-Mil Issues synchronization group (see para 26) to boost the trend towards reduced friction in this key area.
— (C) The overall mil-mil relationship declined in warmth between the first and second off-sites – partly due to customs/immigration issues and partly due to diminished U.S. military engagement with Qatar at the senior strategic level. At the third off-site, the mil-mil relationship was trending upward, as improvements occurred in these two areas. 6. (C) REGIONAL SECURITY ARCHITECTURE: APPROACH INFORMED BY COUNTRY TEAM
— (C) The off-site team received a U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) brief on the concept of a Regional Security Architecture that will attempt – based on shared US-GCC interests and objectives – to create intra-GCC networks in the areas of leadership, equipping, operations, training, information-sharing and posture.
— (C) In shaping its approach to each country in the RSA, the briefer said CENTCOM will rely on Chiefs of Mission, who can deploy the situational awareness and interagency platforms of the country teams that they lead to find the best fit for the RSA as a mechanism to advance U.S. national security goals in each country in a synchronized, effective way.
— (C) The group assessed GOQ willingness to engage in military multilateralism as currently very weak, and predicted this weakness will impact negatively on the success of the RSA concept, unless primarily bilateral channels are activated to support it.
7. (S/NF) POOR CT COOPERATION TO CONTINUE
— Over the next 36 months, Qatar’s intelligence services will remain focused in priority order on:
a) regime protection; b) the existential threat from Iran; c) threats of increased criminal and/or collective labor activity by third-country workers; and d) counter-terrorism.
— As a result, to the extent the USG remains focused on counter-terrorism, cooperation between our intelligence services will remain poor, because Qatar’s State Security (QSS) simply does not see a credible terrorist threat here.
8. (S/NF) A BRIGHT SPOT: CRITICAL ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE PROTECTION
— We assess that the Qataris will be more amenable to cooperating on areas that they perceive to be of greatest threat, such as Iran and the threat it poses to Qatar’s critical energy infrastructure protection. We expect the Qataris to respond positively to any discussion of Iran and critical energy infrastructure protection (CEIP). The activities of our Critical Infrastructure Protection synchronization group (see para 26) in the coming months will be aimed at exploiting current dynamics in this area.
9. (SBU) Qatar’s crime index is among the lowest in the world, but has increased by more than 300 percent since 2005, due primarily to a doubling of the expatriate population, rapid economic growth, and the widespread use of the Internet.
10. (C) Qatar’s continued construction boom, overall economic growth, and rapidly expanding airline can be expected to attract criminal activity over the coming 36 months, but we do not expect a radical overall increase. 11. (C) Given these trends, over the next 36 months, we expect the GOQ to:
a) increase requests for training by the USG; b) increase its use of information technology to make up for a lack of manpower in order to monitor activity and conduct operations; c) increase cooperation with GCC and others on fugitive tracking and recovery; d) increase its critical infrastructure protection capabilities.
— (C) Over the past three off-sites, petty crime has remained low, with a slight increase assessed at the third off-site. Organized crime has remained low and steady over the three-offsite period, while terrorist financing remained moderate and steady over the same period. Cyber crime remained low, with a slight increase assessed at the third off-site.
ECONOMIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL TRENDS
12. (C) Qatar will continue to diversify its liquefied natural gas (LNG) markets, particularly in Europe, where it shows signs of positioning itself as a swing supplier. This enhances Qatar’s economic security and, by making more countries reliant upon a Qatari supply of LNG, this move will also contribute to Qatar’s physical security.
13. (C) Qatar’s reliance upon expatriate labor will continue unabated over the next three years, although we do not expect it to grow. While many of its major highway projects will be completed within that period, the need for expatriate labor will shift toward projects such as the expanded Doha International Airport, the seaport construction project, and the Qatar-Bahrain causeway.
14. (C) Qatar will continue its interest in environmental protection, and will seek U.S. assistance and expertise in increasing the capacity of its environmental bureaucracy. Such assistance, beginning with a GOQ study group expected to travel to the U.S. in December to engage with the USEPA (with a view toward the eventual placement of an EPA Fellow in the Ministry of Environment) will deepen over the next three years.
15. (C) Qatar will continue to show an interest in acquiring nuclear technology. Following a GOQ move away from acquiring such technology for energy needs, we expect the current trend in favor of acquiring it for medical applications to grow over the next three years.
A NEW TREND: THE IMPORTANCE OF FOOD SECURITY
16. (SBU) FOOD SECURITY EQUALS NATIONAL SECURITY
— (SBU) Gulf countries can produce no more than 10-15 percent of their own food needs, and therefore regard food security as a national security issue. To that end, Qatar has established a National Food Security Program (NFSP) under the direction of the Crown Prince.
— (SBU) The NFSP is tasked with developing a food security strategy for Qatar, and a strategy for leading the rest of the Arab world in developing new structures and partnerships for achieving food security for the entire region.
— (C) We expect the NFSP and others seized with food security over the coming 36 months to diminish their interest in highly complicated and risky land purchases in developing countries and to shift toward establishing partnerships with producers in developed countries, such as the U.S. We expect to see growing interest in learning about sophisticated financial instruments that can be employed to smooth out prices and supply gaps, such as commodity futures and virtual stocking. We also expect Qatar to improve its stocking capabilities, both onshore and off.
17. (SBU) STEADY GDP GROWTH = STEADY GROWTH IN U.S. EXPORTS — (SBU) U.S. exports to Qatar surged by more than 340% from 2003 to 2008, to a total of USD 3.2 billion, producing a trade surplus for the United States. As a result, Qatar has become our fourth-largest export market in the Middle East, overtaking Iraq, Morocco and Kuwait in recent years. We expect export growth to continue by 20-30 percent annually over the coming 36 months. High-tech imports will claim an increasing share of U.S. exports, and these will primarily be focused on the oil and gas sector.
— (SBU) Opportunities for greater U.S. exports will develop over the coming 36 months to the extent that port-of-entry difficulties are reduced for visiting businesspeople and U.S. businesses focus on newly-identified internal security requirements by the MOI, to include training and equipment for critical energy infrastructure protection. Our Critical Infrastructure Protection synchronization group (see para 26) will focus on shaping, influencing and exploiting opportunities in this key area.
SOCIETY, EDUCATION AND MEDIA TRENDS
18. (SBU) SOCIETAL ATTITUDES TOWARD U.S. WILL REMAIN CONFLICTED
— (SBU) Qataris’ views of the United States in general, and the advantages their country accrues through its relations with us, continued to decline through 2009. Qataris’ confidence in the USG to deal responsibly with regional problems has, however, continued to increase, marking a 15 point jump to about 50 percent from December 2008 to July 2009. We expect these conflicted views of the United States to continue over the coming 36 months, with the percentage of Qataris feeling confident in the USG’s ability to address regional problems steadily increasing as we responsibly end the war in Iraq and engage carefully with Iran.
19. (SBU) EDUCATION: SOCIAL CALAMITY OR BEGINNING OF A SOLUTION?
— (SBU) Qatari divorces tripled between 1986 and 2007, and anecdotal evidence suggests that larger numbers of Qatari women have decided to remain unwed. We expect these trends, which some Qatari observers refer to as a “social calamity waiting to happen,” to continue as long as the percentage of Qatari women achieving secondary and tertiary degrees far outstrips men.
— (SBU) The Qatari Government’s implementation of a remedy – an educational reform plan designed by RAND and considered one of the most ambitious in the world – will reach completion over the next 36 months, but will not produce measurable results that quickly. The reform, which is converting all Qatari public schools to something resembling U.S. charter schools, aims to make education more interesting and meaningful for students while preparing them to compete in today’s globalizing job market.
20. (C) AL JAZEERA WILL REMAIN A TOOL OF FOREIGN POLICY
— (C) Over the coming 36 months – in a trend that has held steady over the past three off-sites – the regional Al Jazeera Arabic news channel will continue to be an instrument of Qatari influence, and continue to be an expression, however uncoordinated, of the nation’s foreign policy. Qatar will continue to use Al Jazeera as a bargaining tool to repair relationships with other countries, particularly those soured by Al Jazeera’s broadcasts, including the United States.
— (C) Anecdotal evidence suggests, and former Al Jazeera board members have affirmed, that the United States has been portrayed more positively since the advent of the Obama administration. We expect that trend to continue and to further develop as U.S.-Qatari relations improve, particularly to the extent that Al Jazeera coverage is made part of our bilateral discussions – as it has been to favorable effect between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and other countries.
— (C) Over the past three off-sites we have assessed as steady the lack of overall media freedom in Qatar. Although overt and official censorship is not present, self- and discreet official censorship continue to render Qatari domestic media tame and ineffective.
DEMOGRAPHIC AND CONSULAR TRENDS
21. (C) Qatar’s actual population, which roughly doubled from 2004 to 2008, is around two million, according to the Minister of State for Internal Affairs. As many as 1.8 million of this population is of foreign origin. These numbers are expected to grow among every nationality and region of origin, checked only by Qatar’s economic prospects and Qatari security concerns about certain nationalities such as Pakistanis and Iranians. Indians account for the largest national group in Qatar with more than 467,000 people – about twice the number of Qataris.
— (C) As Qataris become an increasingly smaller minority in their own country despite a relatively high birth rate, we expect to detect an increasingly embattled feeling among Qataris that will result in:
a) tighter restrictions on unskilled laborers and an increased focus on recruiting more western, white-collar workers; b) diversification away from India as a primary source of labor; and c) policy decisions increasingly driven by the imperative of reducing the number of foreigners that were brought in on a temporary basis to build up the nation’s infrastructure.
— (C) The number of American citizens who registered with the Embassy grew by roughly five times from 2000 to 2008. The American community is expected to plateau at what we estimate to be the current number of Americans present in Qatar — about 15,000 (not including deployed military forces). Most of those Americans work primarily in the energy, educational and security sectors.
THE INTERAGENCY SYNCHRONIZATION PROCESS
22. (C) The DCM briefed the group on the status of “synchronization” – Embassy Doha’s whole of government approach to USG policy implementation in Qatar. The goal of synchronization is to arrange in space, time and purpose, for maximum effect, the plans and programs of the various elements of the U.S. Executive Branch.
23. (C) The beginning of the process is a Front Office review of the national, agency and department-level and Qatar-specific strategic planning documents relevant to Qatar’s operating environment (including those of agencies represented not in Doha, but regionally). Reviewing the objectives of these plans through the prism of the nine over-arching U.S. National Security Strategy objectives establishes that the two principle shared interagency strategic issues in Qatar are counter-terrorism and economic development.
24. (C) The six-monthly off-sites – which also embrace non-resident members of the Virtual Country Team – are the next step in the process, during which the Country Team analyzes key trends in Qatar and assesses the implications of trend directions for U.S. policy. The discussions, analysis and priorities thus generated, along with the Ambassador’s guidance, drive the establishment of goal-oriented synchronization groups – which are formed and disbanded as goals are defined and achieved – aimed at shaping and influencing the operating environment for the USG interagency in Qatar.
25. (C) Centered on interagency groups organized around achieving a shared interagency goal, the synchronization process brings together all elements of the interagency engaged in achieving that common goal in Qatar. Each group is lead directly by the Front Office, ensuring regular communication among group members and providing a sustained interagency perspective to guide the group’s activities. Our Virtual Country Team concept uses technology to enable participation in synchronization groups by non-resident agencies and departments that cover Qatar on a regional basis.
POST-OFFSITE SYNCHRONIZATION ACTIVITY
26. (C) As of November 2009, Embassy Doha had five active interagency synchronization groups, as follows:
— Security and Counter-Terrorism, which brings together the mission’s intelligence and law enforcement communities and relevant elements of the Country Team to achieve shared intelligence, security and counter-terrorism objectives.
— POTUS Initiative on Muslim Community Engagement, which aims at using the Embassy’s power to convene and make connections to operationalize the principles laid out in President Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech, with a Qatar-specific emphasis on economic development (including food security) and science and technology.
— Interagency Engagement with Qatar on Joint Pol-Mil Issues, which tackles deep-seated and wide-ranging shared civilian and military problems related to GOQ Customs and Immigrations policies and processes.
— Interagency Initiatives on Critical Energy Infrastructure Protection, which studies the complex state of play in the area of critical infrastructure protection, makes recommendation for interagency action, and acts a filter for the many USG interagency initiatives and interests that converge on this area.
— ILiAD Support to Diplomatic Operations, which exploits the monitoring, translation and analysis capabilities of ILiAD to support regional diplomatic operations. (Note: ILiAD is a three-agency Doha-based partnership consisting of the DNI’s Open Source Center, the FBI’s National Virtual Translation Center and DIA’s Combined Media Processing Center (CMPC) End note.)