How Qatar is playing a double game in France with Macron’s consent

Al Jazeera has played — and still plays — a destabilising role in the Arab world while concealing its obscurantist discourse by claiming it is defending freedom of expression.
Saturday 14/09/2019
Greeted with fanfare. Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the Elysee Palace in Paris, July 6, 2018.   (Reuters)
Greeted with fanfare. Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the Elysee Palace in Paris, July 6, 2018. (Reuters)

An unwavering supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar has ambiguous relations with France. French writer Jacques-Marie Bourget, co-author of “Le Vilain Petit Qatar: Cet ami qui nous veut du mal” (“The Ugly Tiny Qatar: This Friend Who Means Us Harm”), termed Qatar as a “champion of lies and dissimulation.”

For decades, Qatar has been weaving a web of economic, political and cultural ties with France, tinged with barely concealed mercantilism.

Since the publication of Bourget’s investigation in 2013, other books have appeared shedding light on the relations between Paris and Qatari leaders since 1995, the year of the bloodless coup led by Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, against his father Emir Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani.

The stated goal of the coup was to “reform the country and give it a place among modernised nations.” However, Sheikh Hamad’s putsch was directed mostly against the Saudi “big brother” and other Gulf emirates. It was also geared at promoting US interests in the region even if that was at the expense of the rest of the Arab world.

It is no coincidence that Doha’s new ruler, one year later, launched Al Jazeera, which was infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. The satellite TV channel has played — and still plays — a destabilising role in the Arab world while concealing its obscurantist discourse by claiming it is defending freedom of expression, except, of course, in the country it is broadcasting from.

The same year, construction started on the largest US military base outside the United States in Al Udeid within the framework of a defence agreement with Doha. This base houses about 10,000 US troops.

To buy the approval of the hawks in Washington, who have toyed with the notion of the Muslim Brothers being “freedom fighters,” Qatar paid $8 billion in advance while its economy was bleeding profusely. In 2018, Qatar again spent a few billion dollars to expand the base.

Before that, Doha offered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime, which has strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, a military base in the country. By generously opening their tiny territory to foreign bases, the Qatari leaders hope to buy an insurance policy while destabilising their imaginary enemies.

Towards the end of Francois Hollande’s term as French president, France, which prided itself on defending human rights and democracy wherever they are flouted, did not hesitate to sign with Qatar in 2015 an arms contract for the delivery of at least 36 French Rafale warplanes, knowing that the tiny Gulf state was a major financier of Islamist organisations and their terrorist offshoots, including in France’s traditional areas of influence in Africa.

It was one example of the mercantile but dangerous relations between the two countries. Hollande’s France was marching in the footsteps of his right-wing predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Hollande’s successor as president, Emmanuel Macron, did not deviate from this transactional strategy. He refused to criminalise the Muslim Brotherhood in France under the pretext that it has not “violated the laws of the republic.” However, the material evidence for Qatar’s public and occult financing of this movement in France and Europe is not lacking.

On September 24, the Franco-German TV channel ARTE is to broadcast an incriminating documentary titled “Qatar: guerre d’influence sur l’islam d’Europe” (“Qatar: A War of Influence on Islam in Europe). The film is the result of an investigation led by Georges Malbrunot from Le Figaro and Christian Chesnot from France Inter.

The two journalists spent two-and-a-half years investigating Qatar’s strategy for control of Europe’s Islam. They directly confronted some of the players in the strategy.

As stated by Flach Film and ARTE, the documentary producers, what started the investigation was a USB storage device delivered in 2016 by a whistle-blower to Malbrunot and Chesnot and which contains thousands of confidential documents from the opaque Qatar Charity, an NGO founded in 1992 and operating in 70 countries.

Lists of donors, including members of the reigning Thani family, bank transfers and mail were included in the leak, the producers said, revealing the emirate’s proselytising offensive in Europe, with this powerful organisation financing 140 mosque projects, Islamic centres and schools, all of which are linked to the nebula of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Qatari officials denied the allegations, despite so much evidence against Doha.

Two decades ago, Richard Labeviere, a major figure of antiterrorist investigations, found evidence that Qatar Charity, a Doha financial arm, was the central hub of the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy. Labeviere published a book in 1999 detailing how Qatar’s “terror dollars,” to borrow his expression, circulated the terrorist nebula in Europe and elsewhere through Qatar Charity.

Macron must have known about this, at least during his time as economic adviser to Hollande and as minister of the economy but that did not prevent him from courting the sponsors of the Muslim Brotherhood in France through the Union of Muslim Organisations of France, which changed its name to Muslims of France in the hope of wiping out traces of its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

On April 17, 2018, Macron received the leaders of the Syria Charity organisation — reportedly not without links to Qatar Charity. The president of the NGO, which is active in Syria, is Syrian Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Alolaiwy, who boasted on Facebook to have unlocked “an envelope of 50 million euros ($55 million).”

Macron’s complacency did not escape the former Gaullist deputy, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, president of Debout La France, who declared on the news channel LCI that “Emmanuel Macron attacks the democratically elected heads of state of Hungary, Italy, America and Russia and turns a blind eye to Islamic terrorism.”

“Something is wrong with the president, I tell you, because France’s enemy is Islamic terrorism. France’s enemy is those who want to destroy our values. He talks all day about values but he chooses the wrong enemies,” Dupont-Aignan said.