The National reports: No one at the Tea Lounge in Doha’s Four Seasons Hotel seems to have come to Qatar to take in the sights. An exiled Somali shuffles documents back and forth to the man across from him, dominating the conversation with quick talk. An Australian businessman whispers his order to a waitress, then begins to speak in hushed tones on his mobile phone.
“I don’t dare go outside,” says a woman with a nervous giggle into her phone, as a pall of cigar smoke envelops several men deep in discussion at another table. “All of the meetings are inside the hotel.”
Last year, the opponents of Muammar Qaddafi were said to have plotted and planned in the Tea Lounge and nearby lobby. These days, many of the people on its stiff, Victorian-style chairs and couches are Syrian.
An assortment of opposition leaders and businessmen are passing through Doha, hoping to attract Qatar’s arsenal of quickly-deployed cash and considerable diplomatic clout to their cause.
The stakes are higher than ever. Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, has denied reports that his country is providing weapons to the opposition in Syria – but few here doubt that his country is providing financial backing and non-lethal aid.
Security sources in Doha say that could mean everything from cash and military trainers to incentives for leading Syrian officials thought to be considering whether to defect. Another highly sought prize for any aspiring opposition leader is an appearance on Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite television station.
Last year, the Syrian National Council (SNC), the opposition coalition based in Istanbul, enjoyed Qatar’s “most favoured” status. But it has failed to win broad-based international support and so the Tea Lounge and lobbies of Doha’s five-star hotels are once again bustling crossroads for opponents of president Bashar Al Assad – and the diplomats and scholars who scurry to meet them.
Western diplomats and analysts are exasperated that opposition groups have failed to form a coalition that everyone can support.
“Conflicting personalities are a natural occurrence within the Syrian opposition, as elsewhere,” says Peter Harling, a Syria analyst for the International Crisis Group. “What is truly problematic is how uninspiring and shallow these politicians have been in formulating an actual vision for the future.” [Continue reading…]