After establishing itself as the epicenter of Syria's opposition factions, punctuated by the establishment of a rebel embassy in Doha, Qatar is now adopting a distinctly quieter tone on military action against Assad. Observers here say that the Qataris have not renounced their support for an American intervention. They've simply chosen not to be the most adamant Middle East voice calling for war.
This apparent change in policy is due, in part, to the rise of Qatar's new emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Tamim assumed his new role in late June after his father, Sheikh Hamad, abdicated after 18 years in power. The young ruler is approaching his new role more gingerly than his father, who had a track record of hyper-active foreign policies. Such policies included supporting the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, backing Arab Spring revolutionary movements, championing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and inserting itself in such war zones as Somalia and Darfur. Tamim has not necessarily distanced himself from these endeavors, but he has apparently chosen to be quieter about them. This extends to Qatar's Syria policy, as well.
Part of this change in tone stems from the departure of Qatar's iconic prime minister and foreign minister Hamid Bin Jassim - popularly known as HBJ - whose colorful and outspoken personality was central to the foreign policies of Tamim's father. HBJ's influence could be seen in Hamad's highly controversial foreign policies and Qatar's massive foreign investments. Tamim has since replaced HBJ with the lower-key Abdullah bin Nasser, who also holds the position of interior minister. Bin Nasser's second portfolio, observers say, may indicate a more inward looking Qatar for the foreseeable future.
This shift may also coincide with a new willingness to take a backseat to Qatar's longtime Gulf rival, Saudi Arabia. The rivalry has been punctuated by tensions over Qatar's sponsorship of the traditionally anti-Saudi Al-Jazeera television network, as well as its backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Arabia seeks to minimize. Despite these longstanding tensions, Tamim visited Saudi Arabia in hisfirst official trip abroad in early August, signaling a possible rapprochement between the two countries. Riyadh has since come out in favor of U.S. intervention in Syria, notably through its dominance of the Arab League, which issued a strong statement Sunday. Relative to Saudi Arabia, Qatar has been rather quiet.