French magazine examines possible Qatari agenda in northern Mali
BBC Monitoring Middle East
December 06, 2012
Staff from the Qatar Red Crescent Society went on an initial mission to Mali to assess the needs of those affected by the food security crisis in the region
Commentary by Mehdi Lazar: “`Is Qatar Involved in Northern Mali?”
Is the emirate intervening to support the Islamist movements in northern Mali? “If this is confirmed, that would be a rather dangerous game to play,” our contributor, geographer Mehdi Lazar comments.
“Though Qatar`s presence in Mali is confirmed, it is frankly difficult to argue that the emirate is trying to alter the situation politically and strategically in one direction or another,” geographer Mehdi Lazar believes.
As ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] is preparing for an armed intervention soon to win back northern Mali, in response to the 22 March 2012 coup d`etat that overthrew Amadou Toumani Toure`s regime, there is increasing talk of Qatar`s involvement in this part of the Sahel. Exploiting the twofold crisis affecting the country - Islamist movements took advantage of the Tuareg rebellion to take control of the North of the country, and a military coup overthrew the outgoing president in Bamako - the emirate is apparently pursuing its own agenda in this territory, which is in the process of Afghanization. If confirmed, that would be a rather dangerous game to play.
Qatar`s presence in Mali confirmed, but forms remain vague
Though Qatar`s presence in Mali is confirmed, it is difficult frankly to argue that the emirate is trying to alter the situation politically and strategically in one direction or another. However, despite the little proof of the country`s involvement in supporting the armed combatants, there are a number of indications that suggest that this could be so.
First, Qatar already has a network for financing several madrasahs, religious schools, and charitable activities, dating back to the 1980s and 1990s in Mali, as it does in other countries with a Muslim majority in Africa. Second, following an agreement between the Qatari Red Crescent and the Malian Red Cross, concluded in Doha in August, Qatari humanitarian workers are present on Malian soil in order to intervene out of solidarity with the populations in the North of the country, particularly around the Gao-Timbuktu-Kidal triangle.
A report published by Le Canard Enchaine, cited by the French and international press, is more worrying, though it must be taken cautiously: it cites Qatari support, both financial and in the form of special forces, for some rebel factions in northern Mali to train their recruits (particularly in the case of Ansar Eddine.) This information apparently comes from a recent report from France`s DRM (Military Intelligence Directorate,) which is answerable to the Defence Ministry.) However, the lack of first-hand information - partly due to the conflict ridden situation on the ground - Makes it difficult to form a proper assessment of the nature of Qatar`s involvement in northern Mali and to set the report in context.
However, whatever its level and intensity, Qatar`s presence in Mali is confirmed and corresponds increasingly to a growing African strategy, particularly following the Arab springs. For instance, the emirate has been involved in financing political parties - those close to the Muslim Brotherhood - in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 and 2012, was involved in the mediation in Darfur that took place in Sudan in 2011, and joined the NATO coalition that combated Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi`s regime in 2011 (at the same time, Qatar also financed rebel fighters in Libya.) Apart from the presence of Red Crescent humanitarian workers in Mali, we may wonder about the possible other reasons for a Qatari presence in this part of the Sahel.
What reasons for Qatari presence in Mali?
If the hypothesis that Qatar is financing or training and arming armed Islamist groups in northern Mali is confirmed, then we can form several interpretations.
First, this intervention would be a simple but risky way for the emirate greatly to increase its influence in West Africa and the Sahel belt. Indeed, Qatar could thus influence the course of the mediation between the Malian Government, ECOWAS, the rebels of the North, and France. That would increase its political influence of over the continent, exploiting a favourable context in this respect, as it often does. In the case of Mali, this is a failed state - with a sudden power vacuum in the North - due both to the destabilization by Tuareg rebels and the coup d`etat. On top of this, there is the particular context of the presence of many combatants and weapons following the recent war in Libya, and the presence in the North of young unemployed Tuareg opposed to the Malian State, that it is possible to finance.
Exploiting this combination of favourable factors, the emirate could identify here a way of continuing to exert strong influence in Africa, thus continuing the action undertaken in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. In this regard, as in the case of Qatar`s engagement in Syria, there would be to common factors. First, the Libyan precedent was important, and the emirate, on the strength of that victory, feels capable of intervening directly abroad with a view to enhancing its power. Furthermore, as in Syria, the emirate`s presence in Mali - if it is proven - must be set within the context of twofold competition - first, with Saudi Arabia for control of worldwide Sunny Islam, but also in order to strengthen Sui Islam`s influence vis-a-vis Shiism (because the Iran-Syria-Hizballah axis remains strong, while Shiism is growing stronger in Iraq.)
Another point in common, but with Libya this time, is the fact that Mali has gas resources and needs infrastructures to exploit them. And Qatar masters the necessary technology. It could thus, in the event of good relations with the leaders of an Islamic state in northern Mali, exploit the subsoil, which is rich in gold and uranium and also gas and oil resources.
Last, geographically, Mali is also an axis for penetrating Black Africa and West Africa, towards which Mali is pursuing its influence by purchasing resources and agricultural land and by funding places of worship.
If confirmed, intervention could turn against Qatar
The situation in Mali well illustrates the political situation in the Saharan belt, which is becoming extremely worrying because of the weakness of the region`s states and the presence of AQIM [Al-Qa`idah in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb] and other jihadist combatants. Furthermore, the war in Libya in 2011 exacerbated the situation, as shown by the recent assassination of US Ambassador Christopher Stephens in Benghazi. In Mali, this fragmentation of the state is due not only to intrinsic factors (the Tuareg rebellion, the structural weakness of the state, a sham democracy, and underdevelopment,) but also to the uncontrolled consequences of the Libyan crisis.
Within this context, Qatar`s intervention, if confirmed, would be a very unwelcome cause of conflict and could cause four other actors to take umbrage - the United States, France, Algeria, and the African Union [AU]. A French and American redeployment in the region is indeed currently taking place in order to try to stop the downward spiral in northern Mali. The United States is refocusing its security approach on Northern Africa and the Sahel belt, particularly following its ambassador`s assassination with a view to its imminent disengagement from Iraq and Afghanistan. France - a traditional power in the region, but the presence of whose hostages limits its initiatives - is motivated by its many economic and political interests.
However, the United States and France maintain very strong relations with Qatar, which could go against Western interests in the case of Mali, contrary to its intervention in Syria. The latter could therefore make this clear to it, but we may wonder about the impact of potential “reprisals” in the case of an emirate that is economically, politically, and militarily so important to the United States and France.
At the same time, the AU is trying to assert itself as a political actor and wants to resolve the conflicts on its territory, in this instance via its regional organization, ECOWAS, which is establishing a force of over 3,000 men. If Qatar`s strategy is to finance and arm combatants in northern Mali, this will therefore complicate its task. However, its capacity to act and to influence Qatar`s decisions is very slight (short of doing so via the EU or France.) Last, Algeria is very particularly affected by the situation in northern Mali.
Though relations between the two “fraternal” countries are apparently good, Algeria is nevertheless monitoring the situation very closely, because it fears a destabilization attempt along its borders, or on its own soil. More generally, if it proves that Qatar is intervening in northern Mali, it would add to Algeria`s grievances against the emirate. The countries are opposed both economically - despite recent agreements, they are in competition for gas exports - and politically (Qatar`s financing of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Maghreb and the fact that it harbours former FIS [Islamic Salvation Front] leader Abassi Madani on its own soil are strongly disapproved of by Algeria, as is the fact that Qatar joined the NATO coalition in Libya, whereas Algeria advocates non-interference.
Furthermore MUJAO (Movement for Jihad in West Africa,) which could be financed by the Qatari emirate, is holding hostage seven Algerian diplomats kidnapped in northern Mali in April 2012. So Algeria is still a key state in the Malian crisis - as a regional power - but it is hesitant to intervene because of its 1,300 km long borer with northern Mali, in an area that is extremely difficult to control. Indeed, it would entail the risk of terrorism striking its territory again, as it did during the 1990s.
Algeria, like the United States and France, has no interest in the status quo in the Sahel, and if Qatar is intervening there, these states could respond. So in view of the regional situation, Qatar has more to gain from an intervention in northern Mali than it has to lose. This is of course true only if, for the United Sates and France, the negative repercussions of the Malian crisis transcend their common interests with Qatar, which are numerous.
Source: L`Express website, Paris, in French 4 Dec 12
© 2012 The British Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
Ilaf Report Says Qatar Finance Islamic Extremist Groups in Northern Mali
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
France`s President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) greets Qatar`s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani upon his arrival at the EU-Mediterranean summit in Paris July 13, 2008. REUTERS
Report by Boualam Ghabshi: Algeria and Mauritania View the Issue With Deep Concern. The Qatari Money Is Distributed in Northern Mali To Expand the regional Influence of the Emirate
The information published by the newspaper, Le Canard Enchaine, which said that Qatar is supporting the Islamic groups that are active in northern Mali has caused concern in the neighboring countries. Swiss journalist Claude-Olivier Volluz said that the regional ambitions of Qatar have mounted thanks to its interference in toppling the regime of Al-Qadhafi.
A number of observers are raising the issue of the possibility of the Qatari money`s presence in northern Mali, particularly after the French newspaper Le Canard Enchaine, which is known for revealing a number of files, raised the issue that the Emirate (Qatar) is financing various Islamic factions which are active in the area, something that causes concern of many observers, including the neighboring countries.
The French newspaper has earlier published information, based on the French Military Intelligence, saying that the rulers of Qatar are handing out money to the Islamic groups in northern Mali. The information also said that the Emirate is carrying out international moves, without this information causing any reaction by the Elysee, which was inhabited by Nicolai Sarkozy.
The observers speak about Doha`s ambitions in the Sahel`s oil, something which further disturbs the Qatari-Algerian relations, since it has been noted that the relations between the two countries have been tense for a while, and these moves in the region by the Emirate may be developed in the next days, and the same thing can be applied to the Mauritanian-Qatari relations, since Nouakchott is watching the Qatari presence in the area with much resentment. Le Canard Enchaine, which gave its article the title of “Our Qatari Friend Finances the Malian Islamic Groups,” revealed that “the Emirate has given funds in US dollars to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azwad, Ansar al-Din (supporters of religion), Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in Western Africa,” without specifying the amounts of these funds.
The Regional Ambitions of Qatar in the Area
If Qatar has a hand in financing the Islamists in northern Mali, as many Europeans newspaper said, the Swiss prominent correspondent Claude-Olivier Volluz, who works in the area, said: “In fact there is no substantial evidence on this, and in all cases, it is difficult to verify this issue, but what is certain is that the regional ambitions of Qatar have doubled, thanks to its active interference in toppling Al-Qadhafi`s regime.”
In an interview with Ilaf, he added that “the Emirate has participated in supporting the Islamists to topple Al-Qadhafi, and by this, it contributed in disseminating weapons in the Sahel area after the revolution, in addition to Qatar`s reception of a number of Algerian opposition figures such as Abbasi Madani, founder of the Islamic Salvation Front, who was received several times by the amir, which shows that Qatar is financing the activities of Islamic extremists in the area with the aim of confusing its foe, Algeria, on its southern border. This is something possible and not surprising, but it has not been confirmed, and it is not possible to do so for sure.”
This journalist disclosed to Ilaf that “according to eyewitnesses in the area, Iranian cargo planes were seen landing in Timbuktu and Gao in northern Mali. What have these planes brought?” He asked, before adding: “We doubt that the cargos were mere medicine and food.” Within the same context, he added that “some sources spoke about weapons, but this information is very difficult to be verified. The region has turned into an enclave that does not know stability and is full of ambiguity. Furthermore, it has become an arena for all forms of smuggling, and it is an area for the regional geostrategic confrontation between many countries, headed by the Western countries that have many in terests in the area.”
Mali Is Satisfied With Watching Its North and Qatar and Mauritania Are in a Race
On the official reactions of Mali or the countries of the region, Volluz said that “it is difficult to read between the lines since the Malian authority has shrunk and found itself isolated. The president who was appointed for a transitional period is still in bed in one of Paris hospitals after the attack to which he was subjected in his office. Sources rule out the possibility that he would return to Mali.” He also said that “Mauritania is semi-officially supporting the National Movement for the Liberation of Azwad and is hosting some of its leaders. The Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz is one of those who are strongly opposed to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, something that wins him the support of all the Western leaders, who on their part, turn a blind eye to the bribery surrounding his rule and the repression against his opponents.”
At the same time, he revealed to Ilaf that “according to our information, the Mauritanian president is preparing to receive a delegation from Ansar al-Din, which is active in northern Mali, in a bid to convince them to sever ties with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Was it a coincidence or a hint that this initiative was launched during the recent visit to Mauritania by the Amir of Qatar? What is certain is that the two countries have two very different visions on this issue.”
Volluz said that it is likely that the Bamako`s authorities are going to attribute the situation in the north to what he considered as “a sort of an agreement that had taken place between the Malian Army and the Islamists in 2009 after the killing of an officer from that army at the hands of terrorists for the first time. The Malian military then intervened, accompanied by the armed family members of the victim, to avenge the victim. However, the regular army suffered huge losses and lost a number of its soldiers.”
The Swiss journalist added that this incident “constituted a real turning point in the relationship between the two sides since they reached a semi-pact that no party would attack the other party, and in some cases, financial transactions took place between the two sides, and today we are viewing the result.”
Volluz emphasized that this area is “an arena of all sorts of smuggling, from narcotics to cigarettes, to human beings, and other things that developed a mafia-like economy for years. The communications are taking place across the borders and there is a lot of ransom money received from hostage-taking operations, which used to be paid by third world countries, including Al-Qadhafi`s Libya, even though the mediators do not necessarily share the kidnappers their ideas, and this money is used in financing the terrorists.”
Northern Mali is considered an area “outside the law and is not subject to monitoring, and all transactions take place in cash; therefore, they do no leave any traces that can be followed or monitored. As a result, the parties that take part in any financial transaction remain unknown. Only these parties are able to provide testimony on this subject, but they prefer to remain silent.”
(Description of Source: London Ilaf.com in Arabic -- Saudi-owned, independent Internet daily with pan-Arab, liberal line. URL: http://www.elaph.com/)
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Qatar aid workers in northern Mali
Monday, June 25, 2012
France`s president Nicolas Sarkozy (L) shakes hand with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (R) in front of British Prime Minister (C) during a summit on the post-Kadhafi era on September 1, 2011 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. France hosts a `Friends of Libya` conference to allow states that stood by during the uprising that ousted Moamer Kadhafi to belatedly back Tripoli`s fledgling revolutionary regime. GETTY IMAGE
BAMAKO, June 25, 2012 (AFP) - Four members of Qatar`s Red Crescent Society are in northern Mali to evaluate the humanitarian needs of a region cut off from foreign aid groups since being seized by armed rebels, the organisation said Monday.
“We came to Gao (north-east) to evaluate the needs of the population in terms of health, and the supply of water and electricity,” said a member of the team who identified himself only as Rachid.
“We will leave very soon to return with the necessary items.”
He did not comment on criticism by Tuareg rebels that the visit showed Qatar was backing Islamist fighters who have the upper hand in Mali`s north. Both groups seized the north from the Malian state after a March 12 coup d`etat.
“We are the Qatari Red Crescent, and we are here only to help the population, there is nothing else, nothing else,” said Rachid.
Corroborating sources reported that the aid workers had come to Gao from nearby Niger, and said their security had been provided by the Al-Qaeda offshoot Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).
MUJAO is a splinter group of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), both of which are backing armed Islamists Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), who are implementing strict Islamic law in the previously secular towns of northern Mali.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg rebel group that wants independence for the north of Mali with their own separate objectives, said Qatar was supporting MUJAO.
“They are mostly distributing basic goods, oil, sugar, rice and tea. Qatar is thus helping MUJAO get closer to the population,” a member of the MNLA said on condition of anonymity.
The occupation of northern Mali has led to a serious humanitarian crisis at a time when food is already low due to a severe drought across the Sahel.
(Description of Source: Paris AFP (World Service) in English -- world news service of the independent French news agency Agence France Presse)
© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.