By Elizabeth Dickinson in Foreign Policy
ABU DHABI and DOHA — Behind a glittering mall near Doha’s city center sits the quiet restaurant where Hossam used to run his Syrian rebel brigade. At the battalion’s peak in 2012 and 2013, he had 13,000 men under his control near the eastern city of Deir Ezzor. “Part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), they are loyal to me,” he said over sweet tea and sugary pastries this spring. “I had a good team to fight.”
Hossam, a middle-aged Syrian expat, owns several restaurants throughout Doha, Qatar, catering mostly to the country’s upper crust. The food is excellent, and at night the tables are packed with well-dressed Qataris, Westerners, and Arabs. Some of his revenue still goes toward supporting brigades and civilians with humanitarian goods — blankets, food, even cigarettes.
He insists that he has stopped sending money to the battle, for now. His brigade’s funds came, at least in part, from Qatar, he says, under the discretion of then Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah. But the injection of cash was ad hoc: Dozens of other brigades like his received initial start-up funding, and only some continued to receive Qatari support as the months wore on. When the funds ran out in mid-2013, his fighters sought support elsewhere. “Money plays a big role in the FSA, and on that front, we didn’t have,” he explained.
Hossam is a peripheral figure in a vast Qatari network of Islamist-leaning proxies that spans former Syrian generals, Taliban insurgents, Somali Islamists, and Sudanese rebels. He left home in 1996 after more than a decade under pressure from the Syrian regime for his sympathy with the Muslim Brotherhood. Many of his friends were killed in a massacre of the group in Hama province in 1982 by then President Hafez al-Assad. He finally found refuge here in Qatar and built his business and contacts slowly. Mostly, he laid low; Doha used to be quite welcoming to the young President Bashar al-Assad and his elegant wife, who were often spotted in the high-end fashion boutiques before the revolt broke out in 2011.
When the Syrian war came and Qatar dropped Assad, Hossam joined an expanding pool of middlemen whom Doha called upon to carry out its foreign policy of supporting the Syrian opposition. Because there were no established rebels when the uprising started, Qatar backed the upstart plans of expats and businessmen who promised they could rally fighters and guns. Hossam, like many initial rebel backers, had planned to devote his own savings to supporting the opposition. Qatar’s donations made it possible to think bigger.
In recent months, Qatar’s Rolodex of middlemen like Hossam has proved both a blessing and a curse for the United States. On one hand, Washington hasn’t shied away from calling on Doha’s connections when it needs them: Qatar orchestrated the prisoner swap that saw U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl freed in exchange for five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. And it ran the negotiations with al-Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, that freed American writer Peter Theo Curtis in August. “Done,” Qatari intelligence chief Ghanim Khalifa al-Kubaisi reportedly texted a contact — adding a thumbs-up emoticon — after the release was completed.
But that same Qatari network has also played a major role in destabilizing nearly every trouble spot in the region and in accelerating the growth of radical and jihadi factions. The results have ranged from bad to catastrophic in the countries that are the beneficiaries of Qatari aid: Libya is mired in a war between proxy-funded militias, Syria’s opposition has been overwhelmed by infighting and overtaken by extremists, and Hamas’s intransigence has arguably helped prolong the Gaza Strip’s humanitarian plight.
Read more at Foreign Policy
Categories: Egypt, Foreign affairs, Foreign Policy, History, Libya, Middle East, Politics, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Terrorism, United Arab Emirates, World news
Hi Paul, I am off political arguements untill the new threatening bubble ‘ISIS’ be forgotten by the dissipilined world news like they forgot al-Qaida but I admit that it’s good to see something true written in English about a part of the truth though small. The big parts are still missing in corporate media
I have no particular comment but a long question:
Why the very small speck ‘Qatar’ with its population ‘300.000’ and its no army and the biggest US military bases in the world on its land chose to take such dangerous foreign policies? seeking power? wants to get rid of its wealths by dispersing money on neighbours’ riots and terrorists? insanity?
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Don’t be shy. Tell me your theory. You may be right. Assad wasn’t lying when he said that he was being attacked by foreign-funded terrorists. He lied when he said that everyone attacking him was a foreign terrorist. Not the same thing. People have a right to overthrown their government if it attacks them when they ask for simple justice and fairness and it does not serve their needs. That was the argument of America’s founders. Do you not agree? 🙂
I lost interests in theories, the world is really an ugly place , half of it is fighting in the shadows for energy and for the safety of the small state they implanted in the other half whatever it takes of lives and stabilitiy of the weak nations in the unlucky half.
If you are not living in the powerful half you wouldn’t have space to analyse theories, you would live it
A destroyed Libyea and stolen oil, carnage in Iraq and a stolen oil that is transported through Turkish ports. Riots in Yemen to dissipline Saudia. A fake war on terror in Syria while ISIS is still financed and moving freely in Iraq
This’s all was not about Syria alone, it is a failure destructive long chain of connected policies and events started after 11 September.
The consequences are supposed to end up in solving fueds with Iran over sharing power in the middle east and by the way securing Israel’s borders
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Thank you for the reminder that living in dangerous times takes concentration, courage, and daily need for food, clothing, shelter, in a safe enviroment. Then comes education, dignity of work, and last, political theories discussed at the end of the day while sipping tea or coffee with friends.
Your original question about Qatar is important. I would say from reading this article , many displaced Syrians are living under the safety of Qatar, who exists because they live under the safety of the US and other Western powers.
Which nations in the ME neigborhood can provide safety for its citiizens regardless of their sectarian beliefs?
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Thank you lakeviewpilgrim for commenting.
I’ve learnt from the lesson of Iraq not to try change opinions of other people at the time of a running event especially if they are getting their informations from their media and not through living close to the event.
I realize now that they will know the truth after some years when it’s no more a secret and when media get tired of lying
I am saying that because of what you wrote “Syrians are living under the safety of Qatar”
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Fada, My referece to the Syrain was the man in the aritcle Hassam who now lives in Qatar and supports a militia group in Syria.
I have learned so much by reading the blog Syrian Comment. There are good aritcles written by folks who are close to the happenings in both Iraq and Syria.
The best sources are eyewitnesses and people who are dierctly affected by any event to give a persective that I cannot undersatnd living hallf a world away.
I am in the middle of reading a novel aobut Turkey at the turn of the 20th century. It is “Birds Without Wings” by Louis De Bernieres.
I also have the book “The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Chainging the Middle East” by Juan Cole. It was recommeded to me by a friend who has worked in Cario and Europe and he recommended it aobut the Arab Spring. Have you ever heard of this book?
So glad you are posting my friend.
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I am glad lakeviewpilgrim to know that you are from those who are reading about the world beyond your borders. I know few Americans ‘like Paul’ care to know what’s going on over there, so I’ll break my bad new rule that ‘conversation is futile and exhausting as long political media is shaping mainstream opinions’
What’s going on in the middle east is so complicated to figure in one book. I mean ‘The New Arabs’
It might be good and telling the bright part of the story about the outstanding new generation who rose against corruption and dictatorship , but the book doesn’t tell the gloomy end of the story after ousting three dictators and yet targeting the fourth ‘Bashar’
Once upon a time! 🙂 there was an old plan preset by the 85 old years Brotherhood ‘pretending moderation’ to take over the region especially their jewel ‘Egypt’ and to replace its secular systems with worse religous dictatorships and to destroy its civil institutions and armies and give terrorists a space to apply law by force. Arab Spring awoke their old dream
Brotherhood hid behind the liberal protestors untill they ousted three dictators then they shew their true face and avoided those youths from political scene.
They even used gunshots against them in protests
My daughters were there. An ugly militia attacked my young daughter in a protest against Morsi. I was there either as a doctor helping the wounded
Morsi allowed Turkey to ftll our ports with smuggled guns. Qatar paid the bill of weapons and terrorist groups
We began to see ugly militias in streets and they besieged courts and buildings of media and police to intimidate the workers and they conjured a wierd Islamic Constitution to return Egypt to the cave age
This is a part of the story. The rest is still running in Syria and Libya and it takes a text book to reveal the truth of ISIS and the weird standing of Turkey in supporting them against Syrian and Kurdish victims.
No space here for posting everything, and I’d rather spare you of headache
But in brief, it is not what it looks in Syria and Iraq and Yemen, it’s not about the people’s liberty or about democracy.
It’s an unclassic ‘World War’ between the new pole ‘Iran’ and the money pole ‘Saudia’ and the stupid power ‘Turkey’ , and other world poles and powers in the Middle East over power, land and energy
Terror and beheading and the so called revolutions are the tools
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Thank you for breaking your new rule and giving me the context to try to understand the poles of Iran,Saudia and Turkey in the coming months. I see that land, power and energy, are the currency of the new “war” aganist both Assad and ISIS.
You are a brave woman and I did not know you have a daughter. I hope both of you are safe and doing well in Egypt.
I have two grown sons and five grandchildren, two of which are girls. They are the apple of my eye.
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lakeviewpilgrim, I wish happiness and safety to your little kingdom. I love the way you raise kids in US, my 4 years American nephew captures my heart when he comes to Egypt, he cares to apologize for his little faults and he hugs me when I am right and he asks me ‘are you ok?’ when I look tired
I think Paul will not mind posting this link here , it’s about assaulting my slim daughter by the fatty terrorist in photos.
This terrorist guard of Morsi fled to Sudan but his terror case is in front of court and my daughter is one of the eye-witnesses in his case
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Hello, Fada. I am happy to hear the words of my favorite Sphinx. I smiled through your entire comment because I could find so little to disagree with. All of what you say is true and well known in the West. I agree that it is too complicated for a single book or comment.
There is truth in what Bashar al-Assad has claimed all along–that he is the victim of foreign conspiracies and terrorists. True and true. But it is also true that he is a butcher of 100,000s of innocent people, those whose only crime is that they were struggling with poverty and starvation. Not everyone who opposes him is a terrorist. That is the big lie of Assad, Putin, Erdogan, Netanyahu and every other liar.
The Syrian opposition does not want our airstrikes so much; and Turkey and Saudi Arabia wish to lead us into an attack against Assad. We do know who we are dealing with and what their motivations are. We are not so naive nor such fools. We have our own reasons. Obama will not attack Assad, nor is he likely to arm the Syrian opposition. He will continue to provide arms to Egypt. He made a mistake in Libya. He knows that. Our European allies lead us into that error for oil. Now the French pay the price. But now the French are fighting the same enemies as Egypt.
Try to see things from our point of view. Qatar and Turkey are important military allies. They have put us in a difficult situation. We are quite angry with them for that. We are not so angry with el-Sisi, but what he challenges is worse than alliances–it is American public opinion. You say that we have to be in the Middle East to completely understand.
But the same thing holds true for you. Our politics are hieroglyphs to you. Our politics affect the world. You think Obama is Egypt’s enemy. We see that he is maybe Egypt’s only true friend in American power. Our Republicans make alliances with fascists in Ukraine and want to arm Syrian rebels, without asking their allegiances–not because they care about Syria or Ukraine or America–but because they care about their own power more than anything else. They support Israel’s murder in Gaza, opposed our attacks on Libya, support attacks on Assad, and oppose el-Sisi in Egypt. Let me ask a question. Who or what do American Republicans support in the Middle East? I doubt that even they could provide an answer. They are united in opposing Obama.
I understand your point of view. Egypt experiences daily attacks on its people and police forces by Islamist terrorists. The Muslim Brotherhood has forgotten its renunciation of terrorism. Qataris, Saudis and others offer assistance and funding to these groups. But Bashar al-Assad is not el-Sisi. They are not the same. I do not blame el-Sisi for rescuing Egypt. Assad has vowed to destroy Syria to remain in power. Putin is a tyrant. It is not a matter of media interpretations.
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Hi Paul, your post contains alot of informations and it needs to be read again. I will reply it when I finish some duties out home
But, for humour, this proverb gem invented by Morsi in an ‘official speec!’ might explain the contradiction of policies of all the parties involved in Syria and Iraq like ‘Iran,ISIS,Turkey, USA, Saudia,Russia …extra …and little Qatar of course
He said ‘ everything and everybody is what he announces and the opposite of what he announces at a time!
He meant except Islam and he was Islam
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Hi Paul ,sorry for my late response.
No doubt that Bashar is a terrorist himself but this is not what moves the nations to get rid of him.
Syrian people are the victims of both Assad and the crowd of terrorist groups the world is advocating and calling fighters and resistance.
Airstrikes is not the issue, pouring weapons from everywhere into Syria has prolonged the conflict and enforced the terrorists and let them grow and impose their brutality and ignorance at Syrian societies and kidnap people for ransom and distroy historical churchs and mosques.
Some terrorist groups enslaved women and sold them in some villages. I feel I am inside a nightmare when watching videos of women sale
They are worse than Assad and they will not leave the ruins named Syria even if Assad defeated
Here’s another country after Iraq and Libya returns to the cave age in the name of liberation
I may believe that US is angery with Turkey because Erdogan chose his interests at the wrong time but hard to believe that Qatar is a true nation that can hold any interests but the American interests
Gen. Sissi proves everyday that we made the right choice by standing behind him.
The American public opinion will change by time
What matters are the US’s makers of decisions and they know things they don’t have to tell to the people, so the different hierarchies might hold different views over the change in Egypt but they all will deal with it. America will not give up with its important ally in the middle east
US;s politics are not hieroglyphs to me. I know that Republicans will do and say anything to fail Obama but if they won the next elections they will hold the same policies
No need to apologize, Fada. It takes me longer than anyone to do things.
I agree with almost everything that you say. But Bashar is no better than ISIS. We know enough about the slaughter of women and children, the torture and murder, the slashing of throats of elderly people and children. He is the other side of the same bad coin.
As you know, the Syrian revolution began peacefully in the streets. And just as in Egypt, the black flags saw their opportunity, and they came later and from every corner of the Earth.
As for Qatar, the U.S. needs Qatar more than they need us. Our naval bases are important to us.