Qatar is adding new jet fighters, enhancing missile defenses and recruiting more soldiers to buttress its armed forces in a standoff with a bloc of neighboring states led by Saudi Arabia.
The tiny nation has ramped up its military expansion as part of a broad effort to step out of the shadow of its more powerful neighbors and hedge against any future aggression.
North of Qatar’s capital, the new city of Lusail is a maze of empty streets and semi-completed towers. Dozens of cranes loom over construction sites. Signs indicate directions to the sole government building operating in the area, the economy ministry.
The occasional glimpse of washing drying on a balcony is the only evidence of daily life in this waterfront city near Doha, which is planned to accommodate 200,000 people. Yet come 2022, Lusail’s 80,000-seater stadium, designed by Foster + Partners and under construction, will host the final of the football World Cup.
The city’s rapid progress from dusty desert to global centerpiece comes as the rest of Qatar faces the most serious external threat in its four-decade history, the trade and travel embargo imposed last June by four Arab states — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt — over the peninsula’s alleged support for terrorism.
The schism has turned strong US allies on each other, undermining Washington’s attempts to build a united front against Islamist terror and Iran. The US, which has its regional military headquarters in Qatar, is increasingly active in pursuit of a compromise deal, but few believe a breakthrough is imminent, with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi content with Doha’s isolation.
Qatar, the richest country in the world on a per capita basis, is offsetting the economic impact of the embargo by ploughing ahead with its $200bn infrastructure development program, building roads and railways.
The government also redirected $50bn from the country’s sovereign wealth fund and reserves to protect the banking sector and exchange rate.