Home inContext Qatari Aid to Darfur Underscores Emirate’s Regional Role

Qatari Aid to Darfur Underscores Emirate’s Regional Role

Michael Johnson

Qatar pledged $500 million on Monday to help rebuild Sudan’s western Darfur region. Government officials made the announcement at a donor conference in the capital, Doha, with smaller commitments of $35 million made from the European Union and $100 million from the UK.

The aid summit sought to raise $7.2 billion for the war torn territory, which saw 300,000 people die over the past decade after non-Arab rebel groups began fighting against the government in Khartoum. Roughly half of the $177 million in urgent aid pledged at the conference, will be given immediately by Qatar. The energy-rich emirate also reaffirmed its commitment to the Darfur Development Bank, with $200 million in initial funding.

Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (L) welcomes Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir upon his arrival in Doha to sign a peace deal between Khartoum and the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement, 22 Feb 2010. (Photo: AP)

Tiny Qatar continues to send financial assistance to many actors in the Middle East and Africa, not just Sudan. Most notably the Emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, pledged $400 million last October when he became the first head of state to visit Hamas in Gaza since the Islamists took control in 2007. The aid would primarily be used to construct two housing complexes and repair roads but the visit also undermined the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, talks of a Hamas-Fatah unity government and, according to Israelis, endangered the peace process. In Syria, the gas-rich emirate provides Islamists militia groups with weapons and cash to fight the embroiled President Bashar al-Asad.

Doha’s foreign policy arguably shows two distinct goals. Sometimes the Emir wishes to promote his country’s geopolitical significance but other signs point to a more worrying policy of promoting devout Sunni Islamism. Either way, such a stance sometimes gives the West an opportunity to use Doha as an intermediary. NATO forces hope Qatari influence will enable the Afghan government to negotiate a peace agreement with the Taliban. Qatari prestige could also be used to persuade other actors in the region, such as Hamas, away from using violence to achieve their goals. Weather with the Sunni rebels or jihadist militants, money and sanctuary may only provide so much influence in a region of ever conflicting interests.