Efforts to brand Qatar as an innovative destination location have been uneven. Its hosting of the 2022 World Cup has become a PR headache, focusing world attention on horrific labor practices. Al Jazeera, which U.S. officials have described as “one of Qatar’s most valuable political and diplomatic tools,” generated a storm of controversy by seemingly backing Qatar’s Islamist allies. A wave of resignations was widely commented upon in the United States. The Nation, an outlet not noted for its skepticism toward political Islam, conceded that the station had a “Muslim Brotherhood problem.”
Time for a change, says Yoel Guzansky, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Israel:
As a small country, Qatar must identify processes and trends and keep ahead of its larger neighbors in order to promote its particular agenda, which is driven by pure survival interests. It cannot be ruled out, however, that the small emirate has reached the limits of its power and is now facing opposition to its regional policies. It will have to adjust its regional policy, especially toward Egypt, if it wants to retain its influence in the Arab world…
The emirate, home to some 300,000 citizens (in addition to over one million foreign workers), has exceeded its natural boundaries in acting as a major league player in recent years. Given its financial power, it will be hard to ignore it in the long term. Nonetheless, the (temporary?) weakness of political Islam in the region may prompt Qatar to focus more on domestic affairs, exercise a more cautious policy, and wait patiently for auspicious political opportunities.
Qatar has sought to expand the Al Jazeera brand – which has been critical in laying the groundwork for Doha’s soft and sometimes not-so-soft diplomacy – by launching Al Jazeera America (AJA). Washington Institute fellow Simon Henderson told The Tower at the time that AJA might have trouble retaining U.S. investors who “don’t like throwing good money after bad,” and that Qatari projects of this sort “might even be better worded as ‘over-ambitious.’”
The station stumbled early. The Wall Street Journal reported that potential employees and executives were being driven off by control from Al Jazeera central. Reuters described “difficulty getting distributors,” leaving the new channel with coverage on just four of the leading ten U.S. television providers. Lawsuits followed.
Efforts to recover have fallen short of full success. An early promo showed clips from the 2012 Al Jazeera English program “Who killed Arafat?” — a self-styled expose implying that Israel had killed the Palestinian leader. The station’s programming has failed to broadly attract American audiences, which according to media analysts, remain “negligible, consisting most likely of those who already turn to Aljazeera and other Arab world media for information.”