A controversial state accused of supporting terrorism has stepped up its aid for an autocratic President who has jailed opposition leaders and been condemned around the world for his human rights record, raising further questions about a contentious tie up with Cardiff Airport, it has emerged.
A credit line has been arranged, known as a currency ‘swap’ deal, between Qatar and Turkey aiming to facilitate trade between the two contentious countries, support financial stability and provide liquidity, according to the Qatari central bank, with an overall limit of $3 billion.
Qatar, which holds pariah status among its neighbours, has already pledged to back Turkey’s collapsing currency with loans worth $15 billion (£11.8 billion), and this is the first part of the massive investment.
Yet despite a disturbing background, earlier this year amid huge fanfare from the mainstream Welsh media, Cardiff Airport proudly unveiled direct flights to Qatar’s capital Doha with the state airline Qatar Airways, and it received a big endorsement from politicians.
As The Eye have reported, three months ago the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, tweeted that he ‘welcomed’ the first Qatar Airways flight into Cardiff Airport saying it represented a “huge boost” for Wales.
The Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said: “The new flight from Cardiff to Doha plugs our entrepreneurs straight into one of the most dynamic economies in the Middle East, and an airport which offers a further 150 global destinations”.
The mainstream media in Wales and senior management at Cardiff Airport were not far behind in their praise.
The new flight to Qatar’s Hamed International Airport was described in the South Wales Echo as providing “capacity for 150,000 passengers a year, as well as significant freight capacity for Welsh exporters at around 10 tonnes a flight”.
In April last year BBC Wales’s Economics Correspondent Sarah Dickins said approvingly: “The new direct route from Cardiff to Doha is a reminder not just that the economy of Qatar is growing significantly but also that trade between Wales, the Arab world and beyond is increasing”.
When the first flight from Doha was due, WalesOnline reported the gushing words of the Chairman of Cardiff Airport, Roger Lewis: “This is a pivotal moment for Cardiff Airport, for Wales and the South West of England.
“The far reaching consequences of this service for passengers and businesses will be transformational”.
Yet it seems the latest news may show the venture in a rather different light, with the announcement of the first part of the investment by Qatar in Turkey.
Qatar has been described as a “rogue state” and eight sovereign countries around the world have cut diplomatic ties altogether, while Turkey has been attacked for its authoritarian regime.
The Turkish lira has lost 40 per cent of its value since the start of the year following a row with the USA, but rallied slightly after the initial announcement of the financial backing by Qatar.
Turkey is led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has overseen what human rights campaigners call a “suffocating” crackdown on free speech.
After a failed coup in 2016 more than 120,000 people in the police, military, academia, media and civil service have been detained or dismissed from their jobs over their alleged links to Fethullah Gülen, an exiled preacher based in the US whose supporters Ankara blames for the coup.
Like Turkey, Qatar is also a controversial state and this too has been ignored by the mainstream Welsh media and politicians in the fuss about the link up with Cardiff Airport.
In July last year it was reported that the tiny oil-and-gas-rich Gulf state had been cut off by some of its powerful Arab neighbours over its alleged terrorist support.
Qatar refused to comply with an initial list of 13 demands, saying it would not agree to any measures that threatened its sovereignty or violated international law.
The emirate was told by its neighbours that they wanted it to accept six broad principles on combating extremism and terrorism.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, severed relations with Qatar on June 5 2017 amid the allegations.
Qatar denies them, yet it does acknowledge that it has provided assistance to some extremist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, but says it does not aid militant groups linked to al-Qaeda or so-called Islamic State (IS).
Nevertheless the UK Government has warned potential travellers to Qatar that there are major risks.
It stated on its advice website: “Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Qatar“.
Meanwhile the flight to Cardiff has not been universally welcomed even within Qatar Airways itself.
Akbar Al Baker, the Chief Executive of the airline told The Independent newspaper the performance so far had been a disappointment.
“We are giving it time”, he told the paper.
“We are hoping Cardiff will come around, passenger-wise.”
More details may also ‘come around’ as Qatar continues its backing for an autocratic President who locks up political opponents and Cardiff Airport boasts of its link up.