Qatar and Its soft Power


por Andrés Gómez Polanco





Qatar is one of the most extraordinary examples of how a small country can build an image of itself to attract, persuade and influence its region in this case Middle East and the international community in order to obtain gains, prestige and support through its implementation of strategic soft power. Joseph Nye (2004, p. 10) points out that “soft power is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals and foreign policies”, in other words in the global era of communications, technology and political and economic interdependence soft power is an instrument which any country must ignore to position and get its national interest in the international stage.  So, in this critique essay I am going to analyze Qatar’s soft power strategies, which are attractions and carrots, identifying its areas of success and failure, analyzing them with different theoretical and methodological elements, proposing alternative options to soft power’s strategies that have failed and analyzing Qatar’s main capacities and capabilities.

Qatar has as one of its main attractions before the world in terms of soft power its military alliance with USA which according to Osman Antwi-Boateng (2013. p, 351) “is important because military power can be an attraction to those who wish to be on the winning side, in the case of Qatar this alliance has bolstered its image in the region to the point of mute attraction and awe which constitute soft power”. This is a tremendous area of success in Qatar’s soft power strategy for two fundamental reasons: first Qatar uses its military alliances with USA in order to provide humanitarian aid to its neighbors when they suffer natural or social disasters, this action generate a rule of reciprocation which Robert Cialdini (2009, p. 20) understands as: “we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us, accompanying sense of obligation”, as a result when Qatar has the capacity to help Middle Eastern countries through its military alliance with USA in any form, this country obtains support to its foreign policy or its international interests thanks to the sense of obligation and reciprocation of its neighbors.

The second reason is that this military alliance allows Qatar to generate an image of strong and stable country before its enemies and in a troubled region which produce an attractive image to the world to rely on Qatar, invest in this country or establish cooperation relations. In this way Qatar is creating a brand image which according to Pater Van Ham (2008, p. 127) “is the totally of the thoughts, feelings, associations and expectations that come to mind when a prospect or consumer is exposed to an entity’s name, logo or symbol”, so Qatar brand image is built as an strong and stable country in the Middle East that could be a interlocutor in conflicts thanks to its alliance with USA.

Another Qatar’s attraction that has generated so much success is definitely its effective distribution of national wealth according to Osman Antwi-Boateng (2013. p, 352) “Qatar has a GDP per capita per person of a whopping $448, 246, this level of wealth has insulated Qatar from the socioeconomic discontent that has led to the political turmoil of the Arab Spring”. This action is a giant political tactic not only inside the country to maintain calm to its population, but above all outside the country because in terms of soft power Qatar’s distribution of national wealth is an example around the globe of how a small country with immense natural resources generate equality and social justice exposing its social measures as political value especially in a region where poverty and inequalities are common realities. This political value which Nye defines as “a source that the promoter adheres to them at home and abroad” (2004, p. 31) allows Qatar to create an image or brand around the world of an state that has social responsibility of its citizens and helps them through public sector employment, grants of land and the provision of subsidized goods and services.

In the same logic another key and successful element of Qatar’s attraction in terms of soft power is undoubtedly its progressive higher education system which has an educational complex with subsidiaries of American universities and offer scholarships to Middle Eastern students; this educational strategy is transcendental due to Osman Antwi-Boateng points out that: “higher educational institutions offer a non-controversial avenue to shape the hearts and minds of future elites from other countries who will assume leadership positions in their respective countries” (2013, p. 353). Therefore, Qatar is shaping the Middle Eastern elite’s minds and hearts in relation with its internationals interests through education, but also Qatar is creating a cultural-brand image in the world as a country with higher educational system to study, especially in Muslims citizens, with the objective that the international community recognizes Qatar as a global center of think, innovation, technology and science. This strategy of soft power is related directly with the use of public diplomacy that according to Nicholas Cull (2009, p. 12) “is an international actor’s attempt to manage the international environment through engagement with a foreign public”, so when Qatar builds a higher educational system for its citizens and Muslims people is creating a direct and effective mechanism to export its ideas, values, foreign policies, visions and policies to regional audiences in order to persuade them without interact with Middle Eastern governments.

Aljazeera media influence is unquestionably one of the most successful Qatar soft power’s strategies because this global media has given the country unprecedented exposure in the world which is fundamental to create a national brand image, but above all to have the capacity to be a country to build its image and through its mass media’s empire sell directly without intermediaries this brand to the world. Osman Antwi-Boateng (2013, p. 355) sustains that “the ability of any country to exert soft power influence by promoting its ideals or values depends largely on its ability to tout the utility of the proposed ideals via medium that the targeted audience trusts or derives its information from”, so Qatar understood the precedent statement and configured an independent media, which shows the two points of views of a situation in order to obtain credibility and legitimacy especially in Middle East. This is a soft power’s tactic developed according to the logic of public diplomacy because non-traditional actors (Aljazeera) through global technologies are marketing policies and nation branding in a covert way in order to persuade and influence a foreign public opinion.

Similarly, Aljazeera as a tool of Qatar’s soft power has demonstrated its power in the recent events of Arab Spring where the majority of Muslims citizens watched and believed Aljazeera’s report because its independency, credibility and reputation, but above all due to this media used what Rex Briggs and Greg Stuart called the six principles of sticky ideas which “make your ideas are understood and remembered and have a lasting impact through simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories, which can change your audiences’ opinions and behaviors” (2006, p. 10). In this form Aljazeera built an image in favor of liberty, equality, human rights and democracy around Arab Spring which international community and Arab world related with Qatar’s political position.

Qatar also has as resource of soft power what is called carrot diplomacy, this kind of diplomacy according to Osman Antwi-Boateng (2013, p. 358) “is defined as the targeting of economic resources in specific areas able to generate returns worth having”, which is well known also as foreign aid that the same author points out (2013, p. 361) “foreign aid in their foreign policy generally generate positive goodwill as it enhances their reputation among the beneficiaries, which could be a potential ally”. Thus, Qatar that spends around 1 billion of dollars annually in foreign aid is building through this economic tactic a net of support in the international context to pursue its goals and increase its influence.

However on my point of view this economic instrument is a failure in the long period of time due to soft power strategy cannot be built exclusively on financial power since possible allies do not follow and admire Qatar for its values, principles, foreign policies or national brand, but only for its money, so when Qatar will not have enough money to finance to its allies, they will not be more allies. In other words, Qatar’s carrot diplomacy is not a form of soft power because this last concept does not mean buy with money influence, prestige and attraction in the international community. In the same logic this economic strategy is counterproductive to Qatar since this country is building a national-brand which is monopolized by the idea of money as a consequence others areas such as education, Aljazeera, higher education and military alliances are excluded of soft power’s image.

Another counterproductive reason of Qatar’s carrot diplomacy is that its financial muscle is monopolizing the foreign public opinion’s ideas around Qatar, for example people from Tunisia, Egypt or Syria see Qatar’s donations as a form of buying their country which generates prejudices, hatreds and impede cooperation. This counterproductive phenomenon is damaging Qatar’s wonderful work in public diplomacy (Aljazeera and educational system) because as Nicholas Cull points out (2009, p. 33) “public diplomacy as the creator and disseminator of ‘memes’ (ideas capable of being spread from one person to another across a social network) creates networks and relationships based on foreign public opinion”. So, if Middle Eastern people think that Qatar is buying their countries through financial aid, Qatar’s public diplomacy must ignore economic instrument and emphasis its influence with alternative methods.

One alternative method, in the short term, that Qatar could implement in order to reduce the idea of buying Arab countries through financial aid is definitely by the creation of the Arab-Qatar Bank of Development which would be a bank that would have as exclusive responsibility the granting low- interest loans to Arab countries in comparison with financial international institutions (IMF or WB) in order to finance exclusively social programs, infrastructure, entrepreneurs and small business. Through this action Qatar could covert its economic influence before foreign public opinion due to instead giant economic aid to Arab’s states the new bank could lend money to states to specific programs and above all directly to Arab citizens.

The initiative of Arab-Qatar Bank of Development could not only produce impact in terms of recovery Qatar’s image in public diplomacy, but also it would facilitate the creation of a set of values or ideals that this country has not developed to promote its foreign policy, its political values and its national brand. According to Osman Antwi-Boateng (2013, p. 364) “with a particular set of values or ideals that others will voluntarily embrace without inducements Qatar could consolidate its soft power influence, because when you can get others to admire your ideals and to do want what you want, you do not have to spend as much on sticks and carrots to move them in your direction”. So, the idea of the Arab-Qatar Bank, in the long term, could be the first stone in the construction of Qatar’s set of values especially in the Middle East, this principles and ideas could base on the idea of prosperity, social justice, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Another aspect of Qatar soft power’s strategy that has failed is unquestionably its  incoherence between promote certain values in the Arab World such as tolerance, acceptance of diversity, practicing democracy, women’s rights and freedom of speech (Aljazeera) and its undemocratic actions in the domestic context. This incoherence reduces systemically the credibility, legitimacy and influence of Qatar’s soft power before regional actors and international community, according to Osman Antwi-Boateng (2013, p. 363) “Qatar’s low democratic ranking (137 out of 167) is its 0 rating in electoral process and pluralism. This ranking shows that indeed Qatar is an authoritarian regime and lacks the moral authority to be the torch bearer of democracy in the Middle East”. As a result, Qatar does not have a clear foreign policy in terms of democracy, human rights and civilian and political rights, which are counterproductive in its objective to create a strong foreign policy to serve as a model for the countries in the region.

As an alternative for this problem of incoherence Qatar must develop gradually an internal policy of democratic opening which include electoral process for its citizens recognizing in this way their political and civil rights, the respect of the rule of law and human rights and above all the legal recognition of pluralism in all of its form. This could be the biggest political reform of any Arab country in human’s history as a consequence Qatar not only would reduce its image of political incoherence, but above all it could be the Arab leader without doubt in the process of democratization in the Middle East. However, it is hard to achieve this alternative reform and strategy of soft power due to Qatar elite’s monarchy does not want to abandon its absolute power and its conservative beliefs, but this process of political reform could be a process of democratization where monarchy conserves power in strategic areas and citizens choose a parliament to discuss specific issues, which could also have great impact in the international context.

Qatar has different capacities such as: financial muscle, mass media empire (Aljazeera), military alliances with USA, etc. but this country does not transform its capacities in systematic, specific and efficient capabilities which generated measured gains. If Qatar cannot build capabilities in its foreign policies, its capacities in the long term will not be effective in order to create a global national-brand in a specific sort of values, and Qatar will keep on receiving disaggregated international attention in certain areas which cannot be related among them to create a strong and integral foreign policy.

As an alternative Qatar should transform its capacities in even one capability in its foreign policy, according to Christian Wagner (2011, p. 3) “capacities point to economic, political and cultural resources that states have at their disposal. Capabilities denote the transformation of such capacities or resources into instruments or initiatives of foreign policy”. Therefore, Qatar must give an integral logic to all its capacities: Aljazeera, financial muscle (with the idea of Arab-Qatar Bank of development), higher educational system, military alliances with USA and the creation of a set of values (with the process of democratization and pluralism) in order to create a capability in foreign policy that could have as clear objective be the leader country in the process of democratization and social justice in the Middle East.

In conclusion, Qatar has many effective capacities in its soft power’s strategy such as military alliance with USA, an effective distribution of national wealth, a progressive higher educational system and an empire mass media to create a national brand and gain influence in the region and in the international stage. But at the same time this country faces difficult challenges to reduce the negative impact of its financial aid as a counterproductive element, besides Qatar must eliminate its image of incoherence for its differences between its international and national behavior in terms of democracy and human rights.

Finally, it is crucial for Qatar’s future transforms its multiple capacities into a specific capability in foreign policy in order to increase its influence around the world but especially in the Middle East throughout a process of democratization.





-Antwi-Boateng, O. (2013). THE RISE OF QATAR AS A SOFT POWER AND THE CHALLENGES. European Scientific Journal, vol.9, 350-368.

-Cialdini, R. (2009). Reciprocation. Influence: Science and Practice. New York, United States. Pearson Education Company.

– Briggs, R., Stuart, G. (2006). WHAT STICKS? New York, United States. Addison Wesley Publishing Company.

-Van Ham. (2008). Place Branding: The State of the Art. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Vol.10, 126-149.



-Wagner, C. (2010). India’s Soft Power: Prospects and Limitations. A Journal of International Affairs, vol. 10, 333-343

-Cull, N. (2009). Public Diplomacy: lessons from the past. California, United States. University of Southern California.

-Nye, Joseph. (2004). Soft Power. New York. United States. University of Harvard.




Autor: Andrés Gómez Polanco

(Quito, Ecuador). Egresado en Ciencias Políticas y Relaciones Internacionales de la Universidad de las Américas Ecuador (UDLA). Realizó pasantías en la Oficina de Información Pública del Alto comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados (ACNUR) y en el Departamento de Investigación Política en FLACSO-Ecuador. Trabaja como consultor político con la Dra. Gretel Ledo sobre temas de análisis político de la realidad argentina y procesos de integración (MERCOSUR-UNASUR). Posee más de 90 artículos de opinión de temas de política nacional e internacional en los principales periódicos del Ecuador y en Diario el País de España. Igualmente, ha publicado ensayos académicos en la Revista de Ciencias Políticas y Relaciones Internacionales de la UDLA, en la Revista digital de temas geopolíticos Acontecer Mundial (RAM) y en la Revista de la Cancillería del Ecuador, Line Sur. Es columnista del sitio web de análisis político Equilibrio Internacional (EI) y del periódico digital argentino Conexión 13. Ha obtenido varios premios en diversos Modelos de Naciones Unidas Interuniversitarios. Es Presidente de la Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Relaciones Internacionales en la UDLA.














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