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Tiny Qatar played outsized role as Arab League president. Will it last?

This week, Iraq takes over the Arab League presidency from Qatar, which has ruffled feathers with its surge in leadership. A Russian official famously told Qatar, 'Go back to your size.'


Syrians living in Qatar hold prayers for those killed during attacks by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on the Syrian city of Homs, and in solidarity with Syria’s antigovernment protests.

Fadi Al-Assaad/Reuters

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Tiny Qatar has emerged as one of the most unexpected and lauded stories of the Arab Spring – a gas-rich emirate heralded for "punching above its weight."

While all the traditional heavyweights of the Arab world – Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and even Saudi Arabia – were preoccupied with their own affairs last year, Qatar stepped in to fill the leadership gap. It sent arms to Libyan rebels, supported the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and was the first Arab country to close its embassy in Syria to protest President Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown on his people.

It's been a big year for Qatar, which has held the Arab League presidency since last spring. But as it hands that mantle to Iraq this week, real questions have emerged about just how sustainable Qatar's leadership is.

Resentment of its efforts has grown pronounced in Libya and Egypt, and patience for Qatar's bravado is wearing thin in the Gulf, where Saudi Arabia has traditionally held greatest sway.

Perhaps most of all, its departure from neutrality to a more activist foreign agenda could pose challenges ahead.


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