How does a parliamentary monarchy collect money?

Shady regional power in the Gulf

Doha, the capital of the Gulf emirate of Qatar - one of many state visits. Emir Hamad Bin Chalifa has just said goodbye to the German delegation at the airport. He walks the red carpet to his limousine - and: to the reporter's microphone. The opportunity to rush ahead with a question: will Qatar implement the announced democratization soon? Will there be elections and a parliament soon?

"At the moment we are striving for a fully valid parliament. It will be so far in about a year and a half. We will continue, one step at a time. Parliament should be our next step."

So a constitutional monarchy? Separation of powers? With everything that goes with it?

"Yes, yes. I wouldn't like being so powerful at all - it's that simple. We should practice what other countries do for the benefit of the people."

Hamad Bin Chalifa al Thani was always good for a surprise. It was primarily statements like this that made the ruler of Qatar a kind of enfant terrible for his colleagues, the other emirs and kings of the Gulf. He particularly irritated the al Saud family in Riyadh with breaking taboos. But hardly anyone would have expected that he would actually vacate his throne and simply retire.

Sheikh Hamad bin Chalifa Al-Thani has given power to his son (dpa / picture alliance / Tim Brakemeier) But that is exactly what he did three months ago. Since then, Qatar has had a new emir. So far we only know his name: Tamim Bin Hamad al Thani. And we know: that he is now one of the most powerful decision-makers in the Arab world.

Even after the traditional hundred-day period since the new emir came to power, there is still not much new knowledge about him, observers and analysts in the Gulf region are somewhat at a loss. Oliver Borszik, entrusted with the research of the Emirate of Qatar at the Hamburg GIGA Institute for Middle East Studies, lists the little that has become known so far:

"Like his father, he was educated at the British Military Academy in Sandhurst, then began his career in the army of the emirate, then also became deputy commander of the armed forces. Before he became an emir he was also active in various political fields, for example in Food security, sport, the environment and finance, for example, brought the 2022 World Cup to Qatar ... "

But in the end, even Qatar expert Oliver Borszik can only admit:

"Not much is known about Sheikh Tamim so far."

Hardly bigger than a soccer field, but a great power in foreign policy

The country itself does not reveal itself at first glance either. One thing is certain: over the past twenty years it has developed from a sleepy sheikdom into a global player. To get an impression of Qatar's meteoric rise, one only needs to rent a dhow, a traditional boat, and drive a few dozen meters out to sea on Doha's coastal road, the "Corniche". From there, a skyline that is reminiscent of Hong Kong presents itself. A shimmering glass skyscraper next to the other ...

"If you want to cross Qatar from north to south, you don't even need a full hour, from east to west it takes three quarters of an hour. Then you have seen all of Qatar. So the country is tiny."

Omar is a freelance journalist from Sudan. As a foreigner, he belongs to the majority of the population, which is made up of Arabs of all nations, but above all Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinos. Gulf Arabs of Qatari nationality are only a small minority.

"Compared to their small country, the Qataris are extremely active in foreign policy. Half a million people, a country hardly bigger than a football field ... But in terms of foreign policy, Qatar is a great power, much larger than Lebanon, for example."

The year 1995 is considered to be the key date. At that time, Hamad Bin Khalifa, Tamim's predecessor, bloodlessly ousted his father, who was largely ossified, from office - much to the annoyance of its powerful neighbor Saudi Arabia. There one saw Qatar as a mere appendix of their own country and in the old emir a willing vicarious agent. The Al-Saud dynasty in Riyadh made preparations to remove the putschist again. So Hamad Bin Khalifa needed some kind of life insurance; something that made him independent from his large neighbor, Saudi Arabia. And that appeared in the form of the Al Jazeera television channel. The emir decided to promote and finance the first critical and independently reporting news channel in the Arab world.

Al Jazeera made Qatar virtually invulnerable - because it adopted the international standards of freedom of expression: Qatar's path to becoming a regional power would have been inconceivable without the Al Jazeera broadcaster. The journalists working there no longer saw themselves as court reporters for paying dictators; they no longer avoided controversies, but portrayed them; the media monopoly of state broadcasters was broken; opponents and supporters of the regime clashed during discussions. Long-standing Arab prohibitions on thinking are now overridden, taboos such as: no criticism of a ruler, either internally or in a neighboring country.

Al Jazeera as the trigger for the "Arabellion"

Al Jazeera newsroom in Doha (dpa / picture alliance / Tim Brakemeier) Long before Tunisian President Ben Ali was overthrown, even before the beginning of the so-called "Arab Spring", official representatives of his regime suffered crashes during discussion programs with the opposition in Al Jazeera Defeats.

Many observers have now agreed: Qatar's broadcasting license for Al Jazeera, 1998, can be seen as the first step towards the "Arabellion", which was to break out thirteen years later.

When young people took to the streets in Tunis in 2011 against the regime of the long-term secular dictator Ben Ali, Qatar was among the first to support the change. It also sponsored the revolution in Egypt with a lot of money. And Qatari fighter jets flew side by side with French and British planes over the Libyan city of Benghazi.

But in the meantime the image of Qatar among the Arab revolutionaries has changed; especially in Tunisia, the pioneering country of the "Arabellion". Because Qatar, according to the Tunisian human rights activist Radhia Nasraoui, is trying to turn the freedom movement around - into an Islamic movement:

"Many Tunisians can only take note of the enormous sources of money the Salafists have at their disposal in their country. According to many sources, this money comes mainly from Qatar and other Gulf states. in order to prevent any positive development in Tunisia. And the Qataris have every reason to do so. Under no circumstances do they want the young people to start the uprising at home too. "

Qatar - a country that finances Salafists and extremists around the world? - This tendency can definitely be observed, confirms Oliver Borszik from the GIGA Institute for Middle East Studies:

"The money flows primarily through the government of Qatar, which means that the emir can arrange for funds to flow into these countries. But there are also influential people, influential spiritual people who live in Qatar, very wealthy individuals, who then You can do it autonomously, but you can also agree with the monarchy how this money will flow. But we are not aware of that, we cannot understand how exactly these processes run, because this system of support is a system that is not transparent from the outside. You simply cannot look into the cards, it is also not possible to get reliable information about it. "

Islamic absolutism under the guise of democracy

The test to the example - location: the bazaar of Doha. The journalist Omar points to a shop. Blinded shop windows, a kind of switch inside. It could be a bank, an exchange office, or an international money transfer service provider:

"This businessman here is collecting money for Islamic welfare. You just have to tell him what exactly you want to support, you pay in and get a receipt. But it's only about big things; for example the war against the Russians in Chechnya. You support the Muslim cause, in every Muslim country. "

The strategy is obvious. First of all: help to overthrow secular dictators or autocrats. Then: Build an ultra-conservative Islamic-based absolutism, use elements of democracy to undermine democracy in the long term.

"This dual strategy clearly exists. In Qatar, any protests should be kept small and avoided. But in the Arab world, especially in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, Qatar jumped on the bandwagon very early on to stand behind the uprisings and support Islamist forces. "

And, according to Oliver Borszik, Qatar is quite capable and can not find anything to cross the line to extremism:

"Qatar was repeatedly said to have close ties to Al Qaeda until recently. Qatar is also the second Wahabi-influenced state in the region after Saudi Arabia, and it can by no means be ruled out that it will also be used to spread Wahabi ideas and thoughts because money flows into Afghanistan. "

So far, this does not seem to be a major problem for German foreign policy. After all, Qatar is one of the largest buyers of German weapons. As early as 2012, but also this year, the Federal Security Council approved the sale of dozens of light and heavy battle tanks in the emirate. Among them the figurehead of the German armory manufacturer Krauss Maffei Wegmann: the heavy battle tank Leopard A 7 Plus.

Controversial German arms exports

A Leopard 2 battle tank at full speed (picture alliance / dpa - Krauss-Maffei Wegmann) This armaments deal causes bitter controversy. Not only between the political parties in the Bundestag, but even among the owners of the tank smithy.

Burkhart von Braunbehrens, for example, who owns part of the capital of the Krauss Maffei Wegmann company, is vehemently opposed to exports:

"That is a tremendous contradiction. That is absurd. We cannot fight in Afghanistan and fight against people who we are equipping with weapons at the same time, it is actually obvious that something like this is forbidden. And there I see with extraordinary." great concern that these countries behave in an extremely ambiguous manner, on the one hand supporting Islamism and aggressive potential, and on the other hand being seen as allies. "

The size of the business makes you sit up and take notice: What can little Qatar do with the huge number of tanks and armored vehicles? The emirate also wants to buy 200 Leopard tanks. The Federal Security Council approved between sixty and seventy.

The supporters of this tank deal, it seems, are to be found in the ranks of the CDU / CSU and apparently have the ear of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Qatar, they argue, is being dramatically threatened by outside powers. CDU foreign politician Andreas Schockenhoff:

"Just take a look at the geographic location of Qatar on the map. It is a very small country where the external borders are initially secured in an overall very confusing constellation. In other words, Qatar is about securing external borders and that one is immediately very close to the sensitive industrial and urban centers, that is obvious. "

Only one country is currently considered a possible attacker: Iran. But one look at the map is enough to see that the tanks that have just been ordered would be pretty much useless in such an armed conflict. Qatar is a peninsula, and the regional base of the US armed forces on the Persian Gulf is also located here. In the event of an attack, the potential enemy Iran would have to send its troops across the sea by ship. The Qatari Air Force and the high-tech protecting power, the USA, should by no means watch until Iranian troops dock during a planned attack on the Qatari coast:

"In this respect, the external threat situation is not immediately great, nor can it necessarily be seen as the main motive for this interest in arms deliveries. Another motive could be internal security."

Despite the demonstrative prosperity: Even in Qatar, not all that glitters is gold. This quickly becomes clear as soon as you leave the boulevards of the center behind and enter the residential areas of Doha. Poor dwellings soon appear, faceless huts with corrugated iron roofs. In between on bicycles and mopeds: many people from India and Pakistan. But then again shortly afterwards: wide, asphalted streets - green median strips, manicured hedges and villas with marble columns in front of the front.

"In this quarter, Qataris make up ninety percent of the population. You see: everything is beautifully decorated, the houses themselves full of beautiful furniture. Quite different from the other quarters where the foreigners live others have in common? Maintaining such a small palace every day costs money. But electricity and water are free. Free for Qataris. You don't have to pay anything. But we have to pay. We, the foreigners. That's crazy. The Qataris can Use as much water as you want and pay nothing. We get the bills, we pay. "

In the past few years there have been repeated spontaneous stoppages and riots among migrant workers. A potential for unrest that is very explosive should the foreign majority population of the emirate begin to politicize at some point.

"This tank deal that Qatar has now made, these Leopard II battle tanks, this deal could definitely be helpful for Qatar in the future too, so that these tanks can be used in a coordinated operation in the Gulf States. And the version of the leopard that Qatar ordered is suitable for counterinsurgency. "

The new emir: conservative keeper of traditional values

Qatar's feverish armament and the change of power within the ruling family could be related. The threat of an Arabellion in one's own region, possibly even in one's own country - this could be the motive behind the surprising resignation of the old Emir Hamad. His family must have recognized that in recent years Qatar may have let ghosts out of the bottle in other countries that sooner or later could sweep away its own autocracy. At first glance, the peaceful transfer of office seems to signal that Qatar is a progressive country. In contrast to other Arab monarchies, changes of office proceed harmoniously and in an almost Scandinavian manner: the old ruler retires and makes room for a younger one. But behind this, the old strategy could be hidden again: elements of democracy are used as set pieces so that autocracy can be stabilized all the better.

"Unlike his father, who strongly promoted the internationalization of Qatar, Tamim is more of a conservative guardian of traditional values. His political style could thus be differentiated from that of his father. He could thus address the challenges that Qatar is now facing both domestically and regionally the Arabian Peninsula - could tackle these challenges now, so that the monarchies can continue to exist, that they can continue to develop out of the logic of a monarchy. "

If Qatar really wanted to get serious about democracy, the change in power would have been the opportunity. But whoever inquires under the new emir about the old promises of the predecessor, about a parliament that deserves its name, and about free elections - will, as always, be referred to the so-called Majlis-a-: There, in one elegant snow-white building, the parliamentary seat of the same name in the center of Doha, a group of elderly gentlemen meets. They talk about lending, banking supervision and which companies still settled in Doha. They are not allowed to talk about anything else. And what about the long-promised elections?

"This is not to be expected for the time being. Most recently, in June 2013, the emir also stipulated by decree that the parliament, the so-called Majlis-a-Shura, can continue to exist until 2016 and that the 45 deputies will not be elected have to."