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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Sport et islamisme, mamelles de l’émirat

by Hassane Zerrouky

Sport and Islamism, teats of the emirate

Translated Wednesday 21 January 2015, by Ciaran Edwards

Despite being the host of the Handball World Championship, which starts today (15 January 2015), Qatar is primarily a country that finances global Islamism.

“Qatar finances PSG and terrorism” read one banner in the stands of the Furiani stadium during last Saturday’s match between Bastia and Paris Saint Germain before it was taken down. Although excessive, the Corsican supporters’ words nevertheless highlighted a truth: Qatar has been using sport as a diplomatic tool to give itself an international image that bears no relation to its true political weight – an image which masks a much less playful regional policy: supporting Islamist groups. On the sporting front, in addition to the Handball World Championship which begins today (15 January 2015) in Doha, this small country accommodates sporting events every year, such as the Open tennis championship and the FINA World Swimming Championship (25m). Even better than that, in 2019, Qatar will host the World Athletics Championships, and then the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Hosting the Olympic Games in 2024 is among its goals.

With this frenzy for sports left, right and centre, each event funded with hundreds of millions of dollars, and with media coverage by Al Jazeera and by IN SPORTS, the Qataris expect political and media returns from their investments just as much as economic ones, and look to make everyone forget about their pro-Islamist diplomacy. Acting under the American umbrella – linked by a defence agreement with the US, Qatar is the headquarters of Centcom (the US Central Command for operations in the Middle East and Asia) – with the religious endorsement of the defender of global Islamism, the Egyptian Yusuf Al Qaradawi - this emirate wants to play with the big boys in order to influence the evolution of the Middle Eastern scene. The outbreak of Arab revolts – relayed by Al Jazeera, a true media strike force – will allow it to make itself a regional player. In Libya, in alliance with Paris and London, Doha acts as though it’s supporting both the Muslim Brotherhood and the jihadists in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LFIG, a Libyan branch of al-Qaeda) run by Abdelhakim Belhadj, Tripoli’s current military governor.

It’s the same case in Syria: in the heart of the Arab League, while obstructing any political solution based on an acceptable compromise for all the protagonists of the crisis, Qatar campaigns for military intervention. And this, all while financially and militarily supporting the various armed groups, mainly the (Salafist) Islamic Front but also, even though it has been denying it recently, the al-Norsa Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. And if Qatar, just like Saudi Arabia, has turned its back on “Islamic State” (“IS”), it’s because the group has gone beyond its given scope: the jihad against the regime in Damascus and nothing else. In Mali, Qatar has been suspected of providing logistical aid to jihadists who had invaded the country before being stopped by French intervention. Well, doesn’t the Afghan Taliban have “diplomatic” representation in Doha? The Qatari belief in a lasting victory for the Islamists in countries shaken by popular revolts – whether by elections or jihad, which would have served its strategic interests – is fading away. The one-two punch suffered by the Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia, the chaos in Libya and Syria, and the incursion of IS in Iraq and Syria are in the process of reshuffling the geopolitical cards, and have seriously tarnished the image of this country that perhaps has nothing left other than sport (and, of course, money) to keep itself in the media’s spotlight.

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