03/09/2014 05:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Qatar's 'Small State Syndrome'

In psychology, the term "Napoleon complex" or "short man syndrome" usually refers to men of short stature who are characterized by overly-aggressive or domineering social behavior. It is believed that the behavior of these men is compensatory for their stature.

Most of us probably know people who suffer from this condition; however, upon monitoring the behavior of states like Qatar, one really wonders whether the same theory could possibly apply to nations as well as humans.

Qatar is a relatively small country geographically, it only gained its independence in 1971 and in a matter of only a few decades, saw itself transform from one of the region's poorest nations to one of the world's richest countries.

However, along with economic prosperity, many political analysts argue that over the years, Qatar has also developed an almost-Messianic obsession with having a role.

Begging to differ

Indeed, in the name of standing-out and in hope of being recognized as a global player, Qatar regularly made highly-controversial decisions when it came to its foreign policy.

Unfortunately, it was neighboring and fellow Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, that were often affected by these unjustifiably harmful decisions.


As such, Saudi Arabia's recent announcement, that it (along with fellow GCC countries Bahrain and the UAE) would recall their ambassadors to Doha, was quite understandable; though it could be argued that this measure is unlikely to be effective in ultimately curing Qatar from what seems to be a severe case of "Small State Syndrome."

On the other hand, what certainly wasn't understandable was Doha's response to the joint statement. Indeed, Qatar claimed it was "surprised" by the decision and also claimed that the rift with its neighbors was over "issues external to the Gulf Cooperation Council."

However, the least that could be said about Qatar's response is that it is hard to believe, particularly when several reports have attributed the decision to Doha's consistent interference in the internal affairs of its fellow GCC countries.

A controversial foreign policy

Serious questions began emerging about Qatar's foreign policy during the reign of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (1995 - 2013). Until this day, many decisions made during that era continue to puzzle analysts.

For example, Qatar supported the pro-Iranian militant group Hezbollah, and continued to do so even after the assassination of (the Saudi-backed) former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri (which Hezbollah is now officially accused of carrying out) as well as after the Shiite group's armed-takeover of Beirut in 2008.

Doha has also infamously backed President Assad of Syria up until the 2011 Syrian revolution against him. In the period that followed Hariri's assassination, Qatar invested heavily in salvaging Assad's tarnished image and reportedly assisted in reducing the international pressure on his regime through coordinated efforts with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Qatar only turned against Assad after his brutal retaliation to the 2011 revolution against him, however, when Saudi Arabia took the lead in supporting the Syrian opposition, it is believed that Qatar insisted on supporting extreme Islamist fighters such as Jabhat al-Nusra, against Saudi advice, and also sought to undermine Syrian National Coalition figures that were not loyal to or pre-approved by Doha.

Furthermore and for nearly a decade, Qatar also supported Muammar Qaddafi, Libya's controversial dictator, who among many things, was accused of plotting to assassinate Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.

Senior sources in Riyadh also say that following the toppling of Qaddafi in 2011, Saudi Arabia obtained audio recordings containing a conversation among top Qatari leaders discussing supporting an attempt to overthrow the Saudi monarchy. Unconfirmed reports hint that this audio recording was of Qatar's former Emir Sheikh Hamad and former Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim.

This of course wouldn't be out of context if we also consider Qatar's role in Yemen, where money was being reportedly paid to members of the al-Ahmar clan and pro-Brotherhood groups and where Houthis continue to be a source of instability to both Yemen itself and Saudi Arabia's crucial southern border.

Qatar also continues to support the Muslim Brotherhood (which Saudi Arabia has recently officially labeled a terrorist organization). Just a few weeks ago, Doha's support of the Brotherhood also became grounds of an official complaint by the UAE, which has been fighting the formation of Brotherhood cells on its lands.

Like father, like son

When Sheikh Hamad voluntarily abdicated in favor of his son, Sheikh Tamim, in June 2013, many observers were hopeful that this could mark a new era of understanding and cooperation in the Gulf.

Indeed, that was at least the feeling following Sheikh Tamim's first visit to Riyadh last August. Sheikh Tamim then returned to Riyadh in November and signed an accord with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. According to reports, the agreement included three items:

1- Cutting off all GCC ties with the Muslim Brotherhood
2- Ending broadcast privileges of Egyptian Scholar Yusef al-Qaradawi
3- Restricting movement of Iranian operatives within the GCC region.

However, despite the same terms being agreed again during the GCC's Kuwait Summit in December, Qatar has failed to deliver on all three items. This has led many to believe that Doha is in fact still ruled by the old guard and that Sheikh Tamim doesn't intend to introduce any changes to his country's controversial foreign policy.

If this is the case, then one has every right to ask: with friends like Qatar, who needs enemies?

*This article was originally published in the opinion section of Al Arabiya News.