Five years ago I wrote a post outlining how Qatar was using its wealth to act as a regional mediator, raising its profile and as a consequence ruffling the feathers of some of its neighbours.
During my current trip to the region, a recurring theme has been the widespread view that Qatar is no longer content with being a mediator. It wants to be a player, and is trying to use its enormous financial resources and the influence of its al Jazeera television station to influence outcomes in the Arab world.
Much of this largesse has been directed at the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates, organisations seen as an existential threat by states such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan. Egypt has received at least $9 billion in Qatari loans. Such actions have been noticed: the Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef recently took a swipe at President Morsi's love affair with the Gulf state.
On Syria, Qatar is (partly unfairly) blamed for all of the diplomatic errors made by the Arab world to date.
The most egregious of these was the decision by the Arab League to award its Syrian seat to the opposition, despite this being against the League's charter and despite the fact that the opposition still lacks unity and represents only a part of Syrian population opposed to the regime. By taking sides in the conflict, this move ended any future role for the Arab League as a mediator and helped delegitimise the role of Lakhdar Brahimi, who represents the League as well as the UN in Syria.
One of the many tragedies of the Syrian conflict is that, like Lebanon a generation before, external actors are playing out their regional ambitions on the Syrian stage with no real consideration of the nature of the society in which they interfere. Five months ago the Qatari Emir announced that Syrian rebels were on the verge of victory and should be supported. Yet the Assad regime remains capable of conducting offensive ground operations.
When Qatar was the grand mediator, it could blame poor results on the intransigence of the parties concerned. Now it is a player, any poor policy outcomes will be sheeted home to the Qatari leadership. And if this trip has taught me anything, it is that there are plenty of people in the Arab world who think Doha needs to be taken down a peg or two.
Photo by Flickr user UNCTAD.