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The British Establishment Has a Qatar Problem
Tom Sykes, Daily Beast, Jun 6 2017

170618-sykes-qatar-uk-al-thani-embed_claxiiQatari PM Sheikh Hamad al-Thani giving a presser at Harrods, May 8 2010. Mohamed al-Fayed sold Harrods to the Thanis in a deal reported to be worth around £1.5b.

The great thing about the Qataris is that they just love spending money. They can’t stop spending money. They just want to spend, spend, spend.

(Here our author pretends – RB) a wealthy racehorse trainer told me that recently, as the sound of several million dollars’ worth of prime Qatari-owned horseflesh thundering around the gallops in the distance filtered up to us. Given that the Qataris love spending their cash in Britain more than anywhere else, don’t expect the British establishment to join Pres Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement of the Toad blockade of Qatar anytime soon. Given that the Toads have a long and well-documented history of funding extremist madrassas run along deeply conservative lines, many analysts are arguing that the dispute is actually more of a classic regional power struggle, and the latest installment of the interminable struggle between the Sunni and the Shia, with the GWOT nothing but a convenient figleaf. The Toads hate the fact that Qatar won’t do what it is told and has consistently objected to any attempts to “pool” sovereignty, currency or defense with their bloc. Trump may be keen, despite selling the Qataris $12b worth of arms this week, but the British most certainly won’t be joining the Qatar boycott. The position is not informed by any great moral imperative, other than a sprinkling of non-interventionist laissez-faire. The more crucial reality is, we just couldn’t afford it.

The British establishment has always sought infusions of foreign cash. Back in the old days, this often took the form of marrying a rich American heiress (see Cora and Robert in Downton Abbey) but in recent years, the British elite have increasingly turned to the oil fortunes of the Middle East to prop up the costly habits and customs of tradition. As in the pre-war days, the transaction is perfectly understood: the nouveau riche foreigner gets sprinkled with the antique stardust of centuries-old tradition and aristocratic life, while the British aristocrat gets to continue living the lifestyle into which he has become accustomed, unhindered by sordid concerns about his bank balance. The difference, these days, is that the love affair (and associated cash transfer) has moved from the purely personal realm to the public and political. There is perhaps no better example of a foreign power that has bought its way more comprehensively into the affections of the British establishment than the oil-rich Qataris. Through the Qatar Investment Authority, the nation’s sovereign wealth fund, various anonymous holding companies or through the private fortunes of assorted members of the mind-bogglingly wealthy Thanis, the Qataris are the biggest property owners in London by a mile. They own huge swathes of the British capital, including Harrods, Canary Wharf and big chunks of the City. The QIA owns the site of the Chelsea Barracks, the Olympic Village and the supposedly iconic Shroud, or Shard. Sheikh Hamad, former head of the QIA, said last year that Qatari investment into Britain to date amounted to £30b, and that London was the preferred destination.

The Thani’s privileged position at the heart of British society will truly be in the public eye next week, when they sit in the Royal Box at Ascot alongside the Queen, who arrives at the event each day in a horse-drawn carriage, to great fanfare and attention. The Thanis have bought their way into the heart of society by sponsoring Royal Ascot to the tune of many millions in prize money and corporate branding through the QIPCO holding company which is now one of Ascot’s most important financial backers. While locals and the immigrant laborers building the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup are suffering back home, with food prices soaring, the massive financial taps of international Qatari finance are not remotely likely to be turned off as a result of the blockade. Thomas Lippman of the MEI told the Daily Beast:

Qatar exports almost all its natural gas to Europe or Japan, and those shipments will continue, as will payments for them, so the Qataris will still have plenty of money. Some shipping routes are affected. Freight destined for Qatar will now go be transshipped through Oman rather than the UAE, but that will stabilize in a few days as carriers adjust. The most important regional impact of the embargo is the implicit collapse of the GCC. There seems to be no doubt that the strategic balance of the Gulf has been altered. Iran and Turkey have lined up behind Qatar, against the UAE and the Toads. What this means for Iranian-Turkish cooperation in Syria and Kurdistan remains to be seen. But it’s no longer possible to pretend that the GCC is a cohesive Sunni alliance against a truculent Iran. On that score, the Toads seem to have overplayed their hand because only Iran benefits.

Kuwait, Oman and Qatar have all tried to retain some relationship with Iran, but Qatar has done so perhaps with the least subtlety. David Ottaway of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Faschingstein told the Daily Beast:

Can the West afford to isolate Qatar? No. The Toads and the Emiratis are trying to drag Pindostab into their feud with the MB. They are trying to get Trump to declare the MB a terrorist group but his advisers are saying no, don’t do it. The appearance of the al-Thanis at the Queen’s side next week at Ascot certainly points out the contradictions between the British interest and the Toad interest. In the Qataris, they don’t have common enemies.

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