French Documentary Raises Eyebrows About Qatar’s Influence in Europe—and Beyond
The 91-minute French documentary Qatar, guerre d’influence sur l’Islam d’Europe (Qatar’s War of Influence over Islam in Europe) is based on a groundbreaking 295-page book published earlier in this year called Qatar Papers: How the State Finances Islam in France and Europe, authored by French investigative journalists George Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot.
Both Malbrunot and Chesnot are prominent experts on political Islam and the Arab World. They skyrocketed to international fame shortly after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, when they were both kidnapped and held captive in Iraq for five months. This is their third book on Qatar after Les secrets du coffre-fort (Secrets of the Safe) published in 2013 and Nos tres chers emirs (Our Very Dear Emirs) published in 2016. Gathering information and testimonies for their new book, they traveled to France, Germany, Switzerland, Kosovo, the United Kingdom, and, of course, Qatar itself.
Both the book and its complimenting documentary are mostly based on a flash drive that the two authors received from a whistleblower three years ago, packed with 140 secret documents from the database of the Qatar Charity, a Doha-based NGO that was set up—ostensibly for humanitarian purposes—back in 1992. According to its founding charter, its original objective was to help Muslim orphans from the Soviet-Afghan War, but it seemingly has since outgrown that task, significantly, setting up an extensive network of Islamic centers, mosques, libraries, and think-tanks across the world. This is not surprising. One year after its formation, long before the two French authors started work on their Qatari trilogy, Osama Bin Laden referred to the Qatar Charity as “one of the several organizations that were used to fund Al-Qaeda’s overseas operations”.
Across the Cities of Europe
According to the newly revealed secret documents, which range from cheques and money transfers to official letters and correspondences, the Qatar Charity used its influence to finance 140 projects across Europe, 90% of which were linked, in one way or another, to the Muslim Brotherhood. Their projects spread from Norway to the coast of France, at a staggering cost of 120 million Euros. They included 47 Islamic projects in Italy, eleven in Spain, 22 in France, and ten in Germany. In the city of Lille, for example, located on the northern tip of France, they donated money to the Ibn Rushd School, and then to another private Islamic school in the southern city of Bordeaux. In the UK, they set up a regional headquarters for their activities in 2012, based in the posh Mayfair neighborhood in central London, since renamed Nectar Trust.
The documentary takes us to the gates of Al-Nour Center in Mulhouse, France, the second largest city in the Alsace region. This is where Qatar Charity has set up the Al-Nour Islamic Center, with its own swimming pool, supermarket, medical center, and mosque, fit to accommodate 2,300 worshipers in two prayer rooms, one for men and one for women. Much of the fund-raising for the project was made by Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Doha-based 94-year old Egyptian ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood. The project was carried out via the Association des Musulmans d’Alsace (AMAL), whose president, Nasser al-Kady, appears in the documentary, speaking frankly about its facilities and services.
On the island of Jersey in the English Channel, the Qatar Charity set up a mosque—although fewer than 400 people live there—and during the years 2011-2014, channeled up to 3.6 million Euros to Switzerland, used to fund the Muslim Cultural Complex in Lausanne, the Museum of Islamic Civilisation in La Chaux-de-Fonds in the canton of Neuchâtel, and the Saladine Mosque in Bienne (canton of Bern). All these projects aim at creating an Islamist incubator for the Muslims of Europe, which surrounds them all their life, from birth to death, through elementary, middle, and high school, running through university, work, and retirement, all against the backdrop of a sound Islamic education.
Rare Footage from Brotherhood History
In all of their libraries scattered across European cities, copies of Shaykh Qaradawi’s works were perched neatly on shelves, along with those of Sayyed Qutb, the famed Egyptian Islamic philosopher who was hanged by President Gamal Abdel Nasser back in 1966. The documentary takes us back to the founding of the Brotherhood in Egypt back in 1928, at the hands of Imam Hasan al-Banna, who strove to achieve two things: liberate his country from British rule and create a state based on the laws of Islamic shari’a. Rare black-and-white footage is shown of Qutb standing trial, along with an amusing speech by President Nasser, addressing a crowd sometime in the 1960s.
Nasser is seen saying: “I met the Secretary-General of the Muslim Brotherhood. He said to me: ‘You have to impose the hijab on Egypt and make it compulsory for every woman walking on the streets to wear one’. I said to him: ‘Sir, you have a daughter at medical school. She is not covered. If you cannot make your own daughter wear the hijab, how do you expect me to impose it on 10 million Egyptians?’ ”
Attempts at Aborting the Documentary
As George Malbrunot explained to EER, none of the funds that were sent to Europe were channeled in an illegal manner. “The funds were wired in a very sophisticated and legal manner, without breaking the law”, said Malbrunot. Asked about Doha’s reactions to the documentary, he added: “Qatar was apparently nervous, fearing consequences for its image.” The country has spent billions, after all, on carefully crafting its image as a modernized nation, thanks to gushing revenue from its massive gas reserves. In 1996, it set up the world-famous Al-Jazeera satellite television station, and three years later gave women the right to vote, a pioneering move among its neighbors on the Gulf. In 2005, it penned its first constitution and in 2008 set up the first Roman Catholic Church, two years before being selected to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Malbrunot added: “According to the French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné, Qatar sent a letter to ARTE saying: ‘By broadcasting the documentary, you will participate in the war imposed on us by neighbors (in reference to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates)’.” They tried and failed, he says, to purchase international broadcast rights for the work, in order to pull it off the air.
The emir of Qatar, Shaykh Tamim al-Thani, has come under increased pressure from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to sever his links to the Brotherhood and its affiliate groups like Hamas in Gaza and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey. He has refused to expel Al-Qardawi from Doha or to deny Brotherhood affiliates access to the studios of Al-Jazeera, resulting in a boycott, led by Saudi Arabia, since June 2017. At a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, when asked about Qatar’s dodgy funding for Islamic groups, Tamim said: “Some of what is being said about Qatar is incorrect. What is true is that measures are being taken by Qatar to prevent the financing of terrorism.”
Several important figures are interviewed in the documentary, like UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash, who appears affirmatively says: “The link (between Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood) is very clear.” This is denied by his Qatari counterpart, Mohammad Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, who appears next. Yet according to the classified information obtained by Malbrunot and Chesnot, much of the funding came from the Diwan al-Amiri, the office of Emir Tamim’s father and predecessor Hamad al-Thani, and the Qatar Foundation, which is run by Hamad’s wife and mother of the current emir, Shaykha Moza Bint Nasser al-Misned. One document shows that her foundation payed Tariq Ramadan, one of the most important Islamist ideologues in Europe (and the grandson of Al-Banna), a monthly salary of 35,000 Euros, ostensibly to hire a legal team to defend him against accusations of rape back in 2017. He was forced to leave his job at the University of Oxford, relocating to Doha where he now teaches at the Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani University and chairs the Research Center of Islamic Legislation.
“The documents revealed in the program are just the tip of the iceberg”, said prominent Kuwaiti journalist Fouad Hashem, who spoke to EER after watching the French production. “Ultimately, Qatar and its Turkish allies want to create what they see as ‘constructive chaos’ in the region, through the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey supports them militarily while Qatar provides logistic and financial help.” When asked how Doha can carry on with such a policy, given that it has badly damaged the reputation of the country and its emir, Hashem replied: “This doesn’t really matter to them. If cornered, they are always ready to say: ‘It wasn’t us! It was some former official or citizen, but not the emir nor any person from his family or surrounding. It was anybody but us!’”
Sami Moubayed, a Syrian historian and former Carnegie scholar, author of “Under the Black Flag: At the frontier of the New Jihad”