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Qatar’s Wealth and Resources May Be Unwelcome in Germany

Qatar is an important partner for Germany, providing significant financial investments and much-needed natural gas to the German economy. This small Middle Eastern nation's influence has thus grown immensely. However, it is well known that Qatar has ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. The German government may be looking to come down hard on Qatar in their forthcoming negotiations.

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March 09, 2024 02:34 EDT

On October 12, 2023, Gitta Connemann, a member of the German Bundestag for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, told Die Welt, “We cannot condemn the terror of Hamas in the morning and then have lunch with the main sponsor of the terror.” By that, she meant the Arab emirate of Qatar. Germany points at the fine line Qatar has been walking for years between thinly veiled support for Muslim Brotherhood on one hand and various Western partners serving its strategic, multilateral and economic ambitions on the other. This only works with the silent consent of partners like Germany, a consent which is now being called into question.

A large business partner for Germany

Over the years, Qatar and Germany have developed considerable bilateral ties. Germany ships billions of euros’ worth of civilian and military equipment to Qatar, and Qatar sends Germany a huge amount of gas in return. In addition, Qatari funds flood the German economy.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the EU adopted a huge list of sanctions against Russia. About 27% of Germany’s energy comes from natural gas, of which 55% came from Russia before the invasion. It is clear why Germany began to scramble to find a new supply of gas.

New energy supply deals mean Qatar will send up to 2 million metric tons of liquefied natural gas per year to Germany for 15 years starting in 2026. Because of this, the Qatari–German relationship has jumped from considerable to strategic. It has also enabled Germany to break free of Russian gas supplies. The completion of the Qatari deal led German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to comment: “These are long-term contracts. This is also a good statement for the security of Germany’s energy supply.” They slash German dependency on Russian energy by a factor of four.

Speaking to Qatar News Agency, Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman Khalifa bin Jassim Al Thani noted that Germany is one of Qatar’s largest trading partners, as the volume of trade exchange between the two countries increased last year to 6.8 billion Qatari riyals ($1.87 billion), compared to 6.4 billion riyals ($1.76 billion) in 2020. Khalifa bin Jassim also mentioned the increasing mutual investments between the two countries. The immense income generated by the trade enables this small, autocratic Middle Eastern country to finance itself comfortably. The new energy supply agreement is bound to increase this trade exchange considerably.

With the Qatar energy deals and financial investments, Germany has taken another step towards securing its economy, but at the cost of placing itself under Qatari influence. This risks Germany being associated with ongoing investigations and tarnishing its image.

Not as peace-oriented and compliant as it may claim

Since the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, came to power in 2013, he has put major efforts into brushing up the image of Qatar. He aims to present the picture of a modern, moderate and reputable international partner. Ranging from infrastructure to sports, Qatar has spared no effort in connecting with Western powers. Al Jazeera Media Network, which receives funding from the Qatari government, is also a massive influence asset, with its global presence.

This quest for respectability, of course, included changing domestic policies. Following the UN Human Rights committee recommendations in 2014, Qatar joined two major international treaties guaranteeing basic rights for workers, namely foreign ones, after years of reported blatant abuse. Western partners and the UN unanimously applauded these progressive developments, but they are showing their limits today.

These reforms also afforded Qatar a level of influence that is disconnected from its actual demographic, economic and military power. (An exception is in the case of gas exports to Germany, where Qatar actually does yield considerable power.) Qatar’s public relations efforts were overall successful. Politico editor Jamie Dettmer writes: “For a small Gulf emirate located on a spit of desert jutting into the Persian Gulf, Qatar has long punched way above its weight in the corridors of Western power.”

These efforts have successfully gone beyond classic public relations campaigns. In 2022, the EU underwent a corruption scandal. It became apparent that Qatari corruption efforts had penetrated all the way to the heart of democratic institutions. Timo Lange, an expert with LobbyControl, writes: “Several MPs and a former EU commissioner were supposed to exert influence on behalf of the governments of Qatar and Morocco and receive large sums of money in return.” As more and more news outlets began to investigate the matter, Qatar’s practices came to light.

Der Spiegel published an investigation in June 2023 about suspicions of corruption surrounding German electronics and defense subcontractor Hensoldt. It described how several German companies, with Hensoldt as the subcontractor to Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), discreetly worked with several intermediaries for Qatar. The main one that KMW and Hensoldt worked with was Multi Services Company (MSC) — a Qatari company providing various services to aid businesses in expanding their operations.

MSC is 70% owned by a relative of a military general who is part of the Al Thani family and 30% owned by an investment fund for Qatar’s armed forces. This goes against Hensoldt’s own policy of not working with companies who are “directly or indirectly owned or otherwise controlled or managed by Public Officials or politically exposed persons.” There were also questions of whether bribes were made to military personnel involved in the transactions between the businesses, but Hensoldt vehemently denies this.

Finally, Qatar’s support to Islamic fundamentalist movements is known to all. They have provided financial support to extremist and terrorist groups, harbored their exiled leaders and supported them diplomatically. They have done this with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Bahraini Shia opposition groups. Qatar also still funds a large number of media outlets that support the Brotherhood’s ideologies.

On October 7, 2023, the military arm of Hamas launched an attack on Israel, killing almost 1,200 people and taking roughly 250 people as hostages. Israel responded with an invasion, intent on rescuing the hostages and destroying the Hamas military. Qatar seized the diplomatic opportunity to act as a “peace broker” in the region, given its numerous pre-existing ties with Hamas.

Scholz accepted this position of respectability, but it does not well with many other German officials. Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, a representative of the Free Democratic Party, which is often in coalition with the CDU, finds the relationship with Qatar acceptable only to increase the chance of hostage release, and demands it be readjusted in the long run: “Nevertheless, this conversation with the Chancellor is unfortunately necessary in order to hopefully free as many hostages as possible from the clutches of the terrorist group.”

These oppositions could snowball and reignite critical voices, which were heard during the World Cup and following the gas supply agreement. “Following the preventable human rights catastrophes of the Sochi Olympics, Russia’s World Cup, the Beijing Winter Olympics and the Qatar World Cup, Germany should step up and tie funding to transparency and adopting and implementing human rights policies,” said Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at Human Rights Watch. Large international events, such as the Olympics, have systematically highlighted that human rights were not universally upheld and stressed how democratic nations such as Germany should use their economic and diplomatic power to protect minorities and the rule of law.

Will Qatar go down the same road as Saudi Arabia and Turkey?

Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s neighbor, has already been down this road. For decades, the West created and maintained close ties with that Arabian kingdom, which it saw as a key partner in the region. There were many collaborations ranging from strategic to infrastructural and military. In 2019, Germany, along with many other nations, imposed an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

As time went by, Germany revealed itself as even more strict and demanding with Saudi Arabia than other European nations. Others, such as the United Kingdom, did not impose full embargos. Germany based its position, among other reasons, on alleged human rights violations in the Yemen war. The German Bundestag made the decision to suspend military supplies to Saudi Arabia. Although this has changed in recent times, no doubt it could do the same with Qatar.

At a more moderate but comparable level, Germany has been pressuring Turkey to act more in accordance with international standards and has supported embargos to enforce its policy in the past.

In 2013, Qatar purchased 62 Leopard 2 tanks, one of the world’s most advanced models produced by German firm KMW. As the operator, Qatar is highly dependent upon maintenance and supplies from Germany, in order to keep its military potential intact. Any further violations of international law, corruption practices and complacent attitudes towards minority discriminations from Qatar could lead Germany to limit interactions.

This could go as far as severing contractual ties, thus reducing Qatar’s military power for the duration of a military program. A military program, which spans from the political initiation to acquire or develop a new weapons system to the retirement of said equipment, can last over 40 years, making military potential highly vulnerable to momentum breakdown.

As a major defense equipment exporter, Germany has the ability to influence partners towards respecting human rights. In cases of violence and injustice, silence amounts to complicity, something the German foreign policy has pledged not to do. This is in no small part due to Germany’s painful past and responsibility for the Holocaust, a mass psychological feature named Kollektivschuld (collective guilt).

Qatar is putting less effort into its disguise as it gains power and self-confidence. That said, its true nature never changed. The small Gulf state is still a monarchical dictatorship, with no intention to align itself with international standards and respect basic human rights, save a few cosmetic reforms, designed to play along with Western diplomacy. Europe became aware of this — Germany most of all — when confronted with the dubious respect for minority rights Qatar displayed during the FIFA World Cup. The above-mentioned EU corruption scandal, dubbed Qatargate or the Qatarstrophe, also considerably damaged the Gulf nation’s image and put the German government under pressure.

In 2023, Der Spiegel questioned economy minister Robert Habeck in a way that reflected the German public’s incomprehension of the gap between their nation’s stance and practices: “Mr. Habeck, in 2022, you had to beg the emir of Qatar to sell Germany natural gas, coal-fired power plants had to be brought back online and you were forced to extend the lifespans of nuclear power plants in the country. As a member of the Green Party and as German economics and climate minister, it must have been an awful year for you.”

Germany is attached to its influential image and will need to protect it, even as it seeks to replace formerly necessary Russian relations. The new strategy places Germany at the center of international attention, making it crucial for Berlin to align its values and its factual choices.

[Will Sherriff edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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