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Neymar And PSG, Qatar Plays Its Geopolitics On A Paris Soccer Pitch

The record-breaking transfer of the Brazilian superstar to French club PSG is part of much bigger plans by Qatar, which owns the Parisian club.

Neymar landing in Paris on Aug.4
Neymar landing in Paris on Aug.4
Georges Malbrunot

-Analysis-

PARIS — At a time when Qatar is being isolated by its Gulf neighbors, the recruitment of Brazilian soccer superstar Neymar by Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) — Doha's international sports showcase — shows the country's determination to continue to pursue its international ambitions.

Five years away from hosting the World Cup, the tiny but super-rich gas producer now more than ever is aiming to acquire global soccer legitimacy. And that's where the Parisian club it bought back in 2011 comes into play. Soccer and PSG are at the heart of Qatar"s sports diplomacy and soft power. The Gulf state has been patiently building this strategy for the past 15 years, and is now ready to use this power when facing mightier neighbors trying to force it to step back into line.

Qatar must try to appear to the world as a true sporting nation.

And yet, on these shores of the Arabian Gulf, times are hard. There is, first of all, the diplomatic war waged against Qatar by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They accuse Doha — or private individuals who could hardly act without the Qatari authorities' knowledge — of financing terrorist groups, while its television network Al-Jazeera continues to rile Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. With each side standing their ground, this could soon enough turn into a long and costly war for Qatar.

neymar_psg_qatar

"A king in Paris' — Aug. 4 front page of French sports daily L'Equipe

There is also the question of falling prices of oil and gas, Qatar's main source of revenue, which has led to a new austerity program. The budget for the 2022 FIFA World Cup has been cut by half, ambitious construction sites have been toned down while others have simply been canceled. Qatar's enemies have made no secret of their intention to have the country barred from hosting the World Cup, likely by continuing to leak embarrassing information to the press. But as things stand now, nothing indicates that this undermining will bear fruit.

Until then, it is crucial for Qatar to appear to the world as a true sporting nation. And that is still far from being the case. Their goal, when they bought PSG, was to lift the biggest trophy in European soccer: the Champions League. The young Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim, who is also the architect of this sports diplomacy strategy, is particularly focused on this objective. So far, they've fallen well short of the mark. But in soccer as well as in most of its other strategic investments, Qatar, though not pursuing pure philanthropy, is a patient operator in soft diplomacy.

The 222 million euros ($262 million) it spent to snag the Brazilian jewel away from Barcelona falls in line with this logic of reinforcing PSG's capabilities. It's clear evidence that Qatar's investments in the Parisian soccer club are not subjected to Doha's recent financial restraint. This can only make the club's supporters happy — as they wait for the return on investment.

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Geopolitics

Patronage Or Politics? What's Driving Qatar And Egypt Grand Rapprochement

For Cairo, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil,” with anger directed at Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, and others critical of Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood ouster. But the vitriol is now gone, with the first ever visit by Egyptian President al-Sisi to Doha.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with the Emir of Qatar in June 2022 in Cairo

Beesan Kassab, Daniel O'Connell, Ehsan Salah, Hazem Tharwat and Najih Dawoud

For the first time since coming to power in 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi traveled to Doha last month on an official visit, a capstone in a steadily building rapprochement between the two countries in the last year.

Not long ago, however, the photo-op capturing the two heads of state smiling at one another in Doha would have seemed impossible. In the wake of the Armed Forces’ ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, Qatar and Egypt traded barbs.

In the lexicon of the intelligence-controlled Egyptian press landscape, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil” working to undermine Egypt’s stability. Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, was banned from Egypt, but, from its social media accounts and television broadcast, it regularly published salacious and insulting details about the Egyptian administration.

But all of that vitriol is now gone.

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