A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Those Qatari Coup Rumors

After my post yesterday about nothing much happening in August, a commenter rightly noted that the Gulf and Arab blogosphere has been somewhat abuzz about rumors of a possible military coup in Qatar over the last week. These rumors started to spread a day or so before I left DC, and I didn't comment because at first at least they seemed to be concentrated in sources that, when it comes to Qatar, need to be approached with caution: mostly Saudi media such as elaph.com, who share the Kingdom's antipathy toward the Qatari government, (some of elaph's reporting here and here, in Arabic), and some sensational websites. Once it was picked up by the pro-Israeli news aggregator MEMRI it gained a new lease on life. The basic story was that a series of dismissals and retirements of senior Qatari officers stemmed from a failed coup, or perhaps a discovered plot. There were hints the Chief of Staff was involved and indications that differences over foreign policy, probably involving Iran, were involved.

I didn't post then because of the suspect nature of the sources and because I was leaving town. I thought at the time and still think this needs to be approached cautiously. Apparently the US intelligence community is being dismissive, and while there have certainly been occasional plots in Qatar — a well-known one early in Sheikh Hamad's reign in the mid-90s aimed at restoring his deposed father, and rumors of dissidence in the military and arrests in 2002 — there isn't much history of military coups in the Gulf, usually because the Rulers pre-empt long before any plot can mature. I suspect if anything is behind these stories, it's another such case. It will probably become a little clearer over time, though this is one story where Al-Jazeera won't be leading the story. My conclusion: worth watching, but consider the sources. And since I already have a category called "coffeehouse gossip," I'm including this under that rubric.


PM said...

The most interesting thing about this is the total media blackout in Qatar, although they know it is being published and discussed all around them. It’s so bad that even the internet forums that are frequented by ex-pats working in Qatar are practicing self-censorship out of fear of losing their right to operate their internet businesses.

Perhaps the biggest irony is that I, along with many others, came to Doha in 1999 as part of the Ruling Family’s move to open up the country and make Qatar (in the oft repeated words of Sheikha Mozah) “a knowledge based society”. The establishment of the DCMF (Doha Center of Media Freedom) and its subsequent problems with certain power brokers in the country, made it very clear to me that Qatar is in a marked state of regression. I think this will continue until most of the signs of progress that the country has enjoyed since the Emir has been in power are decimated. As is VERY clear: many Qataris actually desire to be in 7th century Arabia — as long as their energy sector revenues keep lining their pockets so they can enjoy all the finest frills in life that the West has to offer, without the actual contamination of our “values” (i.e., freedom, guaranteed human rights, religious tolerance, etc.).”



Anonymous said...

They say no smoke without fire, but let's not forget that bored schoolboys also play with matches. And I can imagine any number of frustrated dissident Arab journalists in London stuck at home with their lap-tops, avoiding swine flu, and encouraged by one bit of disinformation to spin out a whole yarn.

The Elaph, As-Siyassi and other Arabic online reports are clearly running with a bit of disinformation and plugging it for what its worth. I was intrigued to see how Elaph's original story of a military mutiny soon mutated into one involving a diplomatic mutiny (that is, 13 Ambassadors recalled from their post - which is true - refused to serve in the Foreign Minister's office - which I find hard to believe). Diplomats rarely mutiny, and when they do, they do so singly. Qatar's well cared for diplomats have too much to lose by opposing the powers that be.

I also don't buy the argument of PM that Doha is in a marked state of regression just because it ejected Pierre Menard of DCMF. If anything, I'd argue they are progressive and have opened up their eyes to the Trojan Horse of Human Rights as a cover for dominating and influencing a small state's destiny.

Security services keenly watch what's happening here, and with such a small population that's not hard to do.

As long as the current political configuration at the top stays secure, don't expect any sudden surprises. The Emir, Sheikh Hamad, is not to be dismissed. He is a subtle genius at wielding power and maintaining his authority.

RT said...

Robert Menard was a poor choice to head the DCMF. Anyone familiar with his background should have known that he was a flamboyant sort given to courting controversy with a flair for self promotion.

Within the short time the Centre was open, at least twice he took differences with his patrons public -- posting letters addressed to Shaykha Muzah on the DCMF website. One about influential Qataris both within and without the DCMF trying to obstruct its mission.

PM said...

Just to clarify for both Anonymous commenters, I did not mean to imply that this news of a coup attempt is not suspect or that Menard is any kind of lynchpin in the regressive changes taking place in Qatar. The opposition to DCMF (as an organization that would also look at what happens IN Qatar) among those who actually have some power to wield is of far greater concern than any individual (i.e., Menard). Anyone who has lived in Qatar since 1995 could enumerate a very long list of changes and events that would support the notion that Qatar is undergoing a huge inner struggle between members of society inclined towards ultra-conservative religious factions and those supporters of the Emir's reforms interested in developing the country. If you live in Qatar and actually knows Qataris, you can ascertain the same information.

RT said...

Making changes in a traditional society is difficult, especially when there are external factors as well as internal ones.

And even some self-professed modern societies have troubles with social change as the current experience in the United States might suggest.

BTW are you also an anonymous poster?

PM said...

Yes, I understand that and believe me I have been a huge supporter of the Qatari efforts. Having been invested in their development for the past 10 years, there is nothing I would love to see more than their success. It's been a bit discouraging over the past few years though and yet the term "insha'Allah" seems to apply.

I am not anonymous per se. I have had a blog for years but have come under threats in the past year or so and have had to suspend my blogging activities and keep a lower profile.

Anonymous said...

You don't have to live in Qatar or any of the Gulf states to make a statement like "Qatar is undergoing a huge inner struggle between members of society inclined towards ultra-conservative religious factions and those supporters of the Emir's reforms interested in developing the country." This conservatives and reform struggle as one of the other Anon posters pointed out happens in nearly every society.
My point is a simple one - you can't use the human rights prism to judge whether the country is heading in the right direction or not. Especially not when you have rabble rousers and attention seekers like Menard involved. Furthermore, I think the conservatives versus reformists argument obscures an even simpler point about the current behind-the -curtain struggle - tribes fighting over the proceeds from a large well of natural gas.

RT said...

From Dictionary.com

Definition of anonymous
1. without any name acknowledged, as that of author, contributor, or the like: an anonymous letter to the editor; an anonymous donation.
2. of unknown name; whose name is withheld: an anonymous author.
The definition does not involve the reason for not using one's name just the mere fact that one does not.

I would be very interested to know why you apply the label Anonymous to others.

PM said...

Just a mistake on my part, RT. When I posted my first response I thought both previous posters referring to Menard were listed as "Anonymous". Later I saw that you were actually listed as RT. A simple mistake, really. And what was your point?

PM said...

Yes, I agree "Anonymous". The division of profits from the natural resources is a big issue. I just don't think it is the leading issue.

Anonymous said...

Only a matter of time before the dust begins to settle and then we might have a clearer picture of what happened. If this is true, then dont be surprised that after Ramadan is over you will hear that the Prime Minister of Qatar lost his job, since many rumors are saying that he was behind overthrowing the Emir. I wouldnt be surprised. Just be looking at Qatars history, see how many al-Thanis were overthrowed by members of their own family since the late 1800s. Perhaps 3-4 people... So dont be surprised. Some people are saying that the prime minister was running the whole show in Qatar and that he decided to take an extra leap and risk overthrowing the Emir. Who knows... Only time could tell. But if you see the prime minister removed from his position in the coming month then youll know this rumor wasnt false. Qatars media is also staying really quiet about this issue, which makes it more suspicious and believable that an attempted coup actually occured.