On June 25th a new Emir took over the leadership of Qatar. The question is whether he brought with him new policies.
Yesterday a sign of the old Qatari orientation emerged: Egypt returned a remarkable $2 billion to Qatar. Relations between the two countries remain nasty: Egypt has closed the offices of Al Jazeera (the station owned by the Qataris), detained some Al Jazeera journalists, and refused to increase the number of flights between Doha and Cairo. As VOA reported, “Cairo’s relations with Qatar deteriorated after the Egyptian army deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on July 3. Qatar had been a firm backer of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and lent or gave Egypt $7.5 billion during the year he was in power.”
Relations have not recovered, suggesting no change in Qatari policy. I have heard it argued that this will simply take time; it is not yet three months since Sheik Tamim took over as emir. I have also heard it argued that he has not fully taken over, and that at least with respect to foreign policy his father the former emir, Sheik Hamad, remains very much in charge. The most one can say now is that this is a work in progress, and there is no way to know how far Tamim will depart from the previous Qatari alignment with groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood, that other Gulf Cooperation Council members view as enemies. If Qatari policy is driven by rivalry with Saudi Arabia, policy will not change much. If it is driven by ideological affinity with or sympathy for Islamists, the question is whether Tamim feels that sympathy as deeply as his father Emir Hamad, and the former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem, appeared to do.
One thing is not changing: the government of Qatar appears to sympathize with calls for change and for democracy everywhere but at home in Qatar.