Interpreting Middle East Economic News and Analyzing Market Trends

Qatar emir to step down and hand over power to son

 

In a surprise move, Qatar’s emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani is to hand over power to his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.  Sheikh Hamad has been the most controversial leader in the Gulf ever since he overthrew his father in a bloodless coup in 1995, moving Qatar to center stage in terms of Middle East foreign policy.  Qatar also became the wealthiest country in the world in terms of per capita income under his rule.

 

There’s also a clear message to other Middle East leaders: Don’t hang on to power forever.  In a region where transfer of power is typically triggered by death of a leader, Sheikh Hamad is setting the precedent by willfully handing over power to a successor, even though it’s his own son.  Being leader for life is no longer fashionable.

 

Qatar’s emir is to transfer power to his son the crown prince, with an announcement expected as soon as today.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani “confirmed to members of the ruling family that he will step down and transfer power to his heir apparent” Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, 33, said Al Jazeera, the Qatari broadcaster controlled by the government.

The emir, 61, declared today a national holiday and is expected to address the nation this morning.

The news follows weeks of reports and rumours that a transfer of power was planned for before Ramadan. Thursday is the 18th anniversary of Sheikh Hamad’s becoming emir.

The handover is expected to lead to the departure of the prime minister and foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, an indefatigable diplomat who took office in 2007 and has been the face of the small emirate’s far-reaching foreign policy, especially during the Arab Spring in 2011.

Diplomats from the United States, Britain, France, and several other embassies are all thought to have been briefed on the transfer, some as early as six months ago.

The transfer, the first of its kind in the modern history of the Arab world, comes as Qatar continues an ambitious programme of building at home and vast investments abroad funded by the world’s third-largest natural gas reserves, almost 14 per cent of the world’s total.

In the past two years, Doha has emerged at the forefront of regional diplomacy from supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Arab Spring states and backing anti-Qaddafi rebels in Libya, to bankrolling rebel fighters in Syria and most recently US negotiations with the Taliban.

It has also poured US$5 billion (Dh18.4bn) into Egypt’s new Islamist government to stave off financial meltdown.

“The timing is very crucial because of how Qatar is playing a huge role in the region,” said Reem Al Harmi, a Qatari writer. “The timing is very crucial because of how Qatar is playing a huge role in the region,” said Reem Al Harmi, a Qatari writer.

Analysts said they expected only gradual shifts in policy rather than dramatic change under the new ruler, particularly as Qatar builds towards hosting the 2022 football World Cup.

Read the full story from The National.

 

The tiny nation of Qatar has made it’s mark on the world stage, beginning with the launch of Aljazeera news channel in 1996.  You either love it or hate it, but what everyone will agree on is that there was no other Middle East news channel that was so outspoken and so controversial at the time.

 

Qatar went on to forge diplomatic relations with countries deemed to risky for such a tiny country.  Some of these countries include, Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan’s Taliban.  Since the Arab Spring, Qatar has been funding and supporting rebels in several countries, including Libya and Syria.  It also has been a heavy supporter of Egypt and is host to one of the largest US military bases in the region.  This has come at a price.  It is often at odds with big brother Saudi Arabia, which views itself as the leader of Middle East politics.  Qatar stepping out on its own makes Saudi Arabia look bad.

 

Let’s hope Sheikh Tamim builds on his father’s legacy.