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How did Qatar get such an outsized role in conflicts throughout the Middle East?

December 16, 2023, 11:30 am

The Vail Symposium recently issued the following press release on its program Tuesday, Dec. 19, at Eagle River Presbyterian Church in Avon, examining the outsized role of the Gulf nation of Qatar in major conflicts throughout the Middle East:

How did the enigmatic, natural gas-rich Gulf nation Qatar get such an outsized role in major conflicts throughout the Middle East? Recent involvement includes everything from negotiating the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan to seeking a release of hostages in Gaza and to expediting humanitarian aid to the Palestinians stuck in the war. This new role for Qatar has international ramifications—some of which the wider political sphere is just now realizing. On Tuesday, Dec. 19 at Eagle River Presbyterian Church in Avon, join a panel of experts as they discuss this inscrutable nation and its influence on the world stage. 

“We try to be responsive to what’s happening in real time around the world,” says Vail Symposium Executive Director James Kenly. “Qatar stands to play a critical role in the aftermath of the war between Israel and Hamas and we have the opportunity to learn from the experts in this program.” 

Qatar has made global headlines since former Amir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani came to power in 1995 and ushered in changes that saw Qatar make large economic gains, create the media network Al-Jazeera and become an active player in regional mediations. In 2022, now under the leadership of Amir Tamim bin Hamad, Qatar became the first Arab country to host the FIFA Men’s World Cup. That same year, the United States designated Qatar as a major non-NATO ally. However, the World Cup was also followed closely with reports on human rights and migrant worker abuses by organizations such as Amnesty International, which Qatar struggles to continue to address.  

Meanwhile, Qatari aid has been a key funding mechanism in Gaza, including for direct aid to poor families and civil servants coordinated through Israel and the UN. They have also hosted Hamas leadership in Qatar, contributing in part to their ability to now act as mediator for the release of hostages. Former Vail Symposium presenter and host of the “Disorder” podcast, Jason Pack, wrote of Qatar in a November 7 article for Foreign Policy: “It occupies the position of pivotal swing state for the entire Middle Eastern system.” 

What motivates them to take such an active role, and how should we interpret such diverse interests? As a leading media voice via Al-Jazeera, how should we approach their framing of the stories? These are just a few questions that will be answered at this Val Symposium program. The evening will also cover how, as a friend of Iran and a rival of American allies like the UAE and Saudi Arabia and a major funder of Hamas, Qatar become a trustworthy intermediary in disputes where hostile nations will not negotiate directly with each other; how it became so important and where its interest lie.  

Panelists include Simon Henderson, director for the Bernstein Program on Gulf and Energy Policy for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former Financial Times and BBC Journalist, and Vail’s own Honorable Douglas Smith, former Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and former interim Chair of the Qatar America Institute for Culture, as they answer these questions and more in conversation with Greg Dobbs.  

This program is part of the Vail Symposium’s Geopolitical series for Winter 2024, which will also include former Ambassador Dennis Ross, who was instrumental in the George H.W. Bush, Clinton and the Obama administrations in the Middle Eastern Peace process, on Tuesday, March 5 talking about “The Latest News – and Looking Forward – on Israel and Palestine.” For more information or to get tickets to this or any upcoming events, please go to vailsymposium.org

If you go: 

What: Enigmatic Qatar and its Impact on the Global Stage 

When: Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023. 6-7:30 p.m. 

Where: Eagle River Presbyterian Church | Avon 

More information: Tickets are $25 in advance, $35 at the door. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit vailsymposium.org 

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