Emir of Qatar hands power over to son (33)

Sheikh Tamin becomes leader of country that punches above its weight economically and diplomatically

The accession as emir of Qatar of Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the youngest leader in the Middle East, will have repercussions far beyond the tiny monarchy’s borders given its rise as a regional powerhouse. Photograph: Reuters/Fadi Al-Assaad

The accession as emir of Qatar of Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the youngest leader in the Middle East, will have repercussions far beyond the tiny monarchy’s borders given its rise as a regional powerhouse. Photograph: Reuters/Fadi Al-Assaad

Wed, Jun 26, 2013, 15:06

After months of speculation, Qatar’s emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani yesterday formally handed power to his 33-year-old son, a rare act of abdication in the Gulf where hereditary leaders usually rule until they die.

The move, which makes Sheikh Tamim the youngest leader in the Middle East (after Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad who is 47), will have repercussions far beyond the tiny monarchy’s borders given its rise as a regional powerhouse.

“The time has come to turn a new page in the journey of our nation and have a new generation carry out responsibilities ... with their innovative ideas,” Sheikh Hamad said in a televised speech. “I am fully confident that [Sheikh Tamim] is qualified for the responsibility and is trustworthy.”


Chief architect
There was no mention of Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim (53), who serves as both prime minister and foreign minister, and is considered chief architect of the assertive foreign policy that has helped Qatar make its mark in the region. Speculation is rife that he will also step down.

Sheikh Tamim assumes leadership of a country of some 1.9 million people his father transformed from a relative backwater into a regional leader that punches above its weight economically and diplomatically. Under Sheikh Hamad’s rule, Qatar’s economy grew sevenfold and its population more than tripled. Its international profile increased through the development of the Al Jazeera television network, and its successful bid to host the 2022 soccer World Cup tournament.

The new emir’s mother, Sheikha Mozah, has pursued regional philanthropic and educational projects as head of the Qatar Foundation.

But it is through its foreign policy that Qatar has made the deepest impression. It provided significant support to the revolution that resulted in the ousting of Muammar Gadafy in Libya in 2011, and it continues to aid rebel forces battling Assad in Syria. The Gulf state has also hosted a delegation of the Afghan Taliban, which opened an office in its capital Doha last week in preparation for possible talks with the US.

But Doha’s support of uprisings in the Middle East and north Africa has not been short of controversy, with critics pointing out the irony of an absolutist monarchy (albeit one largely unchallenged by a population that boasts one of the world’s highest per capita incomes) promoting democracy and regime change elsewhere. Earlier this year a Qatari poet was jailed for 15 years for attempting to stir revolt.

Doha’s long-standing links with the Muslim Brotherhood have prompted something of a backlash across the region. Qatar’s flag and effigies of the emir were burned last month by protesters in Benghazi who accused Qatar of funding Islamists including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Given that the Sandhurst- educated Sheikh Tamim has been groomed for this moment since he was appointed crown prince in 2003, no significant changes to foreign or domestic policy are expected in the near future.