In February 2015, the Egyptian military joined with the Libyan air force to launch a series of air raids targeting entrenched ISIL positions near the Libyan city of Derna. The sorties followed the release, purportedly by ISIL, of a video showing the grisly beheading of twenty-one Christians. The majority of Arab League nations supported Egypt’s leadership role in attacking ISIL in Libya—that is, with the exception of Qatar, an increasingly important national player in Gulf regional politics. Qatar registered opposition to the raids, first citing a danger to civilians. It also went so far as to withdraw its ambassador to Egypt after publication of charges that Qatar supported Libyan terrorist factions. According to news reports, the Qatari Foreign Ministry had reservations about approving the raids, stressing the need for "consultations before any unilateral military action against another member state."
In recent years, relations between Qatar and Egypt have taken a contentious turn. The origin is Qatar’s overt support of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Theories explaining that support - which flies in the face of Qatar’s relationships with fellow Gulf and other Mideast nations - cluster around MB’s role as a popular movement capable of destabilizing Qatar adversaries such as Egypt. The support also fixes Qatar’s diplomatic position in the middle of Muslim ideological extremes, giving the appearance that Qatar seeks a balance that other regional countries do not.
Fajr Libya fighters at the entrance of Tripoli international airport | AFP
In Libya, Qatar is reliably reported to be supporting the Libya Independent Fighters Group (LIFG), which started over a half century ago with a MB philosophical orientation. Qatar’s support of LIFG should be seen as a dangerous force destabilizing post-Qaddafi efforts at nation building. Should LIFG emerge as a dominant faction in the current Libyan civil strife, its non-alignment with US regional counter terrorism objectives could finally threaten Qatar’s position as a favored US ally—that is, where every diplomatic problem Qatar creates is viewed as secondary to its hosting of US CENTCOM. In other words, Qatar’s continued support of MB, LIFG, and other terrorist-leaning movements could precipitate a shift in US policy, with tactical counter terrorism objectives finally deemed more critical and long term strategic goals.