Saudi-Arabia og Qatar konkurrerer om å gi penger og våpen til jihadistene i Syria. Det gjør jihadistene i stand til å bli ledende i borgerkrigen. Internasjonale observatører er skremt over utviklingen.
But signs that arms and cash may be filtering through to groups such as the al-Nusra Brigade, which has openly declared allegiance to al-Qaeda, are alarming Western observers.
As the West has hesitated over sending its own military assistance, non-sectarian elements of the rebel Free Syrian Army are being outflanked and out-gunned by better-funded and armed Islamist fighters, including foreign jihadists.
Gitt utviklingen er det vanskelig å forstå at USA og Storbritannia og Frankrike skal kunne intervenere militært. Etter Libya kan man ikke skylde på at man ikke kjenner risikoen, og Syria er den manifest.
But by focusing support on Islamist groups, both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are seen by many to be playing with fire.
«The fear is that both the Saudis and the Qataris are competing for influence in Syria by pouring in support to rival groups of jihadist fighters, and that Syria is descending into the depths of hell as a result,» said Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a US research group dedicated to improving American strategy in the Middle East.
Engagement with Syrian rebels is seen as part of a wider effort by the Emir of Qatar to acquire greater influence for his kingdom, assisted by the riches from the world’s largest natural gas fields just off its coast.
Qatar bokser mange klasser over sin egen vekt: I Doha bor 250.000 innfødte og 1,5 million utlendinger. Gjennomsnittslønnen er den høyeste i verden per capita: nær 600.000 kroner. Emiren fører en aktiv utenrikspolitikk. Han ønsker innflytelse, enten det er i Midtøsten eller Europa. Emiren, al-Thani, ga 250 millioner pund til Hamas, og lovte nylig 2 milliarder pund til Egypt. Han grunnla Al Jazeera i 1995. Kanalen ble et symbol på modernitet og en ny åpenhet, men siden Brorskapet grep makten i Egypt har kanalen blitt kjørt i stramme tøyler. Emiren er tydelig pro-islamistisk.
Samtidig er han en stor investor i Storbritannia. Britene ønsker ham velkommen med åpne armer. Når man hører hvor positiv utenriksminister Hague er til intervensjon i Syria kan man undres på om han er påvirket av Qatar.
Meanwhile a Qatari poet, Muhammad al-Ajami, who wrote verses praising the Arab Spring uprising in Tunisia and calling for the overthrow of the country’s own «repressive elite», is serving a 15-year prison sentence for the offence.
«The Qataris present themselves as a progressive force in the Middle East, but their attitudes towards internal dissent are very different,» said Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, an independent campaign group that monitors political freedoms worldwide. «In a country setting itself up as a bastion of media freedom, that is hypocritical as well as wrong.»
It all makes Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, to give the Emir his full name, something of an enigma. Born into a tribe that has ruled the former British protectorate since the 19th century, he took power in a bloodless palace coup against his own father in 1995, having become dissatisfied with the pace of modernisation.
A noted Anglophile, who trained at Sandhurst and sent his heir apparent to Sherborne public school in Dorset, he has made Qatar a liberal state by comparison to its neighbour, Saudi Arabia. Women can drive, alcohol is discreetly on sale in some hotels, and in June the country will hold its first legislative elections, with both sexes voting.
Qatar’s wealth has helped spare it from turmoil, with average annual income per head nearly £60,000, the highest in the world – enabling it to construct an ultra-modern capital, Doha, where 250,000 Qataris live alongside 1.5 million expatriates.
The Qatari Embassy in London did not respond to questions from The Sunday Telegraph about the Emir’s domestic or foreign policies.
But diplomatic relations with Britain are warm. In 2011 the Emir and one of his wives was a guest of the Queen at Windsor Castle and in January he met the Prime Minister, David Cameron.
Qatar has shares in Sainsburys, Barclays Bank, Heathrow Airport and the London Stock Exchange, among British companies, and has discussed with Downing Street investing up to £10bn into infrastructure projects.
Yet all that leads some to question its growing influence in Britain. «These are not benign investors,» said Mr McGeehan. «They come with a chequered human rights past that should be of concern to anyone.»
Med sin lange erfaring i Midtøsten burde Storbritannia kunne lese emirens planer. Innblandingen i Syria er foreløpig den tydeligste innblandingen. Etter Libya er hensikten umiskjennelig. Støtte til jihadistene betyr sekterisk krig i Midtøsten.