By Anne Bartlett
June 20, 2013 - There is a certain intractability to Sudan’s conflicts these days, which defies logic or, it seems, any moral responsibility. The inability to move the international community off its course of pandering to Khartoum’s interests seems both irrational and unreasonable, given the significant upsurge in violence in Darfur and the critical situation now facing the population in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Consider what would happen if any government elsewhere (let’s say North Korea, for example), had the temerity to actually cross borders, drop bombs on innocent people, blatantly shut off oil supplies and sponsor militias to purposefully create instability in a neighboring country. In such a case, the whole world would be up in arms, diplomatic secure phones would be buzzing with telephone traffic and condemnation would be both swift and decisive.
Yet, when it comes to South Sudan and the rights of marginalized people inside Sudan, anything goes. The Sudanese government can cause havoc, force people to work like slaves in gold mines in Darfur, starve local communities who are now corralled in camps, oversee non-existent health provision leading to the worst global outbreak of yellow fever in decades and terrorize people in the Jebel Marra to within an inch of their lives. A wanted war criminal, Ali Kushayb, can drive around as Commander of the Central Reserve Forces (known as Abu Tira) in South Darfur with no sanction at all. In South Kordofan and Blue Nile, the government can block humanitarian access, shell local populations and purposely locate itself close to civilian populations in towns like Kadugli so as to create maximum civilian casualties. Being even handed in its dispersal of war criminals, it can install Ahmed Haroun as the Governor of South Kordofan who is currently busy hosting football championships, while also overseeing the murder of innocent people.
The big question is why the silence? Why is the international community so compliant with the Sudanese government while all this unspeakable horror is going on? Why are they so full of what needs to happen elsewhere in the world, while apparently so blind to the rights of the people of Sudan? Why can Obama stand in Berlin talking about freedom and the horrors of the Stasi, while being unconcerned about the horrors of the NISS and indicted war criminals? Why are certain dictators worthy of US attention, while others aren’t?
The answer of course lies in the dirty hand of Qatar in world geopolitics. Across the world today Qatar is so busy in trading its cash for influence in world affairs, that it has been able to compromise the diplomatic credibility of the USA, UK, much of Europe and North Africa. It has been doing this quietly by using its relationships with the likes of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, to shine its credentials of having some control over the Muslim Brotherhood and the ikhwan influence that is fast spreading across the Sahel. It has been doing so at the expense of its neighbors in the Gulf, notably the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and also at the expense of people suffering inside Sudan, who, it appears, have no rights at all.
Buying its way into the hearts of governments across the world, Qatar has set its sights high. In the United Kingdom, it has agreed to invest more than £10 billion in infrastructure projects that include energy plants, road and rail projects and even the new ‘super-sewer’ project under the capital, London. Elsewhere in London, Qatar has recently invested in Harrods, the Shard skyscraper and Heathrow Airport. Outside the capital, discussions are also underway to fund a new £14 billion nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point in Somerset, planned and operated by EDF, the French energy giant.
Not wishing to lose out on Qatar’s largesse, France has also agreed to allow the Emirate to invest millions in its depressed ‘banlieues’ – the rings of poor suburbs with high immigrant populations that surround Paris. What was originally slated to be an exclusively Qatari project was however not taken up by Sarkozy due to the pressure of impending elections. It was however later adapted by François Hollande to include a joint plan between the French government, French private sector and the Qatari government, after accusations that the plan could amount to an ‘Islamic Trojan Horse’ being allowed deep into the heart of depressed Muslim areas. Undeterred the Qataris have continued to work on the issue, promoting a sixty five million dollar fund for young entrepreneurs from these areas. They have also bought football clubs, hotels, office buildings and public companies.
This pattern of influence trading and soft power usage spans much of Europe, including bailouts to the Greek government, interest in privatizing the defense giant Hellenic Defense Systems and buying six of its islands. In Germany the ‘Aamal Company, one of the Gulf region’s fastest growing diversified conglomerates, has signed an agreement with Vivantes International Medicine, the biggest hospital group in Germany, to create a joint venture (JV) outpatient medical centre in Doha’. In a spirit of reciprocity, Qatar is also investing in property and the leisure industry in Berlin.
In the USA, the Emir has developed strong relationships on account of the Defense Cooperation Agreement, which moved the U.S. Combat Air Operations Center for the Middle East from Prince Sultan Airbase in Saudi Arabia to Qatar’s Al Udeid airbase south of Doha, the Qatari capital. Udeid and other facilities in Qatar now serve as logistics, command, and basing hubs for the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of operations, including Iraq and Afghanistan’. Education city, Doha, now hosts six top US universities: Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, Cornell, Texas A&M and Virginia Commonwealth. US think tanks such as the Brookings Institution also call Doha home. Working closely with Qatar on the current crisis in Syria, the US is also developing strong diplomatic relationships with the Emirate as it moves forward.
Qatar’s spiderlike web of influence is growing at a rapid pace and spreading across the globe. The fact that Qatar has the ear, and has cultivated relations of dependence with many western governments, means that it has a lot of leverage in the case of Darfur, not only to keep pushing the Doha Peace Process as the only game in town, but also to ensure continued support for the Sudanese government and its operations. Elsewhere it can keep the pressure on the government of South Sudan and on the so called ‘rebel’ movements like the SRF operating on the border, while turning attention away from Sudan’s own sponsorship of militias inside South Sudan.
The question is how ill-informed and self-interested the world community can get. Are they so entranced by Qatar’s message that they have failed to notice the fact that the Emirate is speaking out of both sides of its mouth? Do they really think that once they’ve bought into Qatar’s influence over the Muslim Brotherhood, that it will end there? Are they too lazy to look a little further down the road to see what might be heading in their direction? Yes, it is easy to hit the soft targets like South Sudan and the already pulverized people of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Yes, it is easy to sell innocent people out in exchange for economic benefit and fat cat deals. However, getting too involved with such a government, as they will soon find out, can be rather unpredictable. As with so many situations where people get into bed with the devil, the international community had better pay attention to who they will wake up with in the morning.
Dr. Anne Bartlett is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Graduate Program in International Studies at the University of San Francisco. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org