Sir John Jenkins lifts the lid on the mysterious Gulf state
Qatar, a previously small and little-known country in the Middle East, has come to much wider public attention as the host of this year’s World Cup. Its critics have focused on human rights abuses and the treatment of migrant workers in the construction of tournament stadiums. Less talked about, but something much closer to home, is Qatar’s hand in promoting Islamist ideas in Western countries. A new report by think tank Policy Exchange investigates this very issue, and has come to some quite extraordinary conclusions. The lead author of the study, Sir John Jenkins, a former ambassador with a 35-year diplomatic career in the Middle East, joined Freddie Sayers in the studio to explain.
It is rare for senior diplomats to speak out about the countries in which they worked. But Jenkins does not mince his words. He claims that the tiny, oil-rich state of Qatar represents many contradictory impulses. It is at once highly backward and undemocratic and yet outwardly engaged with liberal Western cultures. It has fewer than 3 million inhabitants, only around 350,000 of them nationals, but commands an international influence disproportionate to its size. Western understanding of its motivations is limited, despite a long history of diplomatic relations in the region.
But dedicated Islamist factions of the Qatari top brass are not content to sit in this state of contradiction. Their aim, this report argues, is to spread a fundamentalist form of Islam beyond the Middle East. Their impact is well-hidden but, according to Jenkins, it is insidious.
In Sheffield, the influence of Qatari money became unusually visible in 2020 with the opening of the Emaan Islamic Centre. According to its website, this multi-purpose mosque and community building ‘provides a comprehensive set of facilities and activities for the whole of the Muslim community in the area’. So many facilities, it turned out, that Muslims in Sheffield had less and less reason to integrate with their non-Muslim neighbours.
Leading the project was Ahmed Al-Rawi, a former president of the Muslim Association of Britain and trustee of the European Institute for Human Sciences (a charity with links to the Muslim Brotherhood). In 2004, Al-Rawi signed a bayyan, or declaration, supporting uprisings against the “filth of occupation” by both Iraqis and Palestinians.
The project also received millions of pounds of funding from Qatar Charity UK. Jenkins’s report investigates the CEO of QCUK, a Qatari official, Yousuf Al-Kuwari. Al-Kuwari founded the website Islamweb, which publishes fatwas and has advised its Muslim readers: ‘It is incumbent to hate [Jews and Christians] for the sake of Allah’.
The report compiles a list of UK, US and European institutions that are partly or fully funded by Qatari money. If, as Jenkins asserts, financial intervention is part of a wider plan for ideological influence, then it is a stark reminder of their reach.
Amongst UK beneficiaries of the Qatari Investment Authority or private Qatari individuals are:
- Heathrow Airport
- British Airways
- The Shard
- The Savoy
- Canary Wharf Group
- The London Stock Exchange
- The Ritz
- Former US Embassy building, Grosvenor Square
Qatar also has a claim to:
- 10% of the Empire State Building
- 10% of Tiffany’s
- 25% of St. Petersburg Airport
- 19% of Russia’s biggest oil company, Rosneft
- 5% of Credit Suisse bank
- Paris Saint-Germain Football Club
- Valentino and Balmain fashion houses
- Media outlet Al Jazeera
- Film production company Miramax
In March 2021, Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire was the site of hardline blasphemy protests that resulted in the suspension of one of its teachers. The suspension came after the teacher showed students a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad during a religious studies lesson. The backlash was fierce and the school gates saw dozens of parents calling for the teacher to be sacked. Eventually the staff member had to be moved into police protection after receiving death threats. The school in question, it turned out, was listed on the Qatar Foundation International website as being one of at least a dozen schools across the UK that receives funding from Qatar.
With tactics like this, Jenkins’s report concludes, Qatar is not only funding Islamist ideas in the West, but it is laying the groundwork for a ‘normative hegemony’ that is the end goal of extremists.