What’s behind the leadership change in Qatar?

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sheikhs
Sheikh Tamim (left) and his father, Sheikh Hamad

Normally, Qatar’s internal affairs don’t attract that much attention in the world. The small country in the Arabian Gulf, with a population of just 1.95 million and the richest globally in terms of per-capita income besides Luxembourg, at least for its native 300,000 people, has been family-managed by the Al Thani clan in a way that people became too wealthy to bother about political participation or even protests in the manner of Arab spring uprisings.

However, the power transition announced on June 25 has put the nation in the spotlight of international observers. Rumours have spread that the new emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, might introduce constitutional changes and even push ahead with elections and some careful steps towards democracy, an idea uncommon to the autocracies in the region.

Officially, the power transition was explained by Sheihk Tamim’s father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, that he wanted to have “a new and innovative generation carry the responsibilities,” even if the resigned emir is just 61 years old, a youngster compared to Saudi Arabia’s 90-year-old King Abdullah and other leaders in the region.

It is known that Sheikh Hamad has health problems and they might have been one of the reasons for his decision. He recently underwent a kidney transplant and privately spoke about his plans to retire for more than a year, according to diplomats.

But why did the choice fall on Sheihk Tamim?

The 33-year old was educated at English public schools before graduating from the Sandhurst military academy. He is seen as the “most mature” of Hamad’s sons, being a “disciplined military man.”

Tamin is the second-oldest son of Hamad out of his marriage with Sheikha Moza. The two first-born sons have been bypassed because “one is partying too much, the other is praying too much,” as analyst Simon Henderson of the Foreign Policy think tank puts it. Jassim, Tamim’s older brother, renounced his rights of being a crown prince in favour of his younger brother in 2003.

It remains to be seen how Qatar’s external affairs will be affected by the rejuvenated leadership. At the moment, the Wahabite country is on a zigzag course in its foreign policy: It has been supporting the rebels against Muammar Gaddafi and is helping out in the revolution against Syria’s Bashar Al Assad, at the same time supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia and is, on the other hand, conspiring with the US that operates one of its largest military bases in the Gulf in Qatar, and even with Israel while maintaining friendly relationship to Iran.

Internal critics of the emir have been reported to be incarcerated on ground of a form of lese majeste, while the country hosts the largest news broadcasting network in the Arab World, Al Jazeera, known for its liberal stance. Human rights groups have urged Qatar to improve conditions for foreign workers, though these particular problems never escalated such as in Saudi Arabia.

In any case, Sheikh Tamim is now the Gulf’s youngest ruler and his steps will be watched closely by the powerful families in the neighbourhood who want to know in how far he is capable of “shouldering the responsibility and fulfilling the mission”, as his father, who will still be consulting him, put it.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

Sheikh Tamim (left) and his father, Sheikh Hamad

Normally, Qatar’s internal affairs don’t attract that much attention in the world. The small country in the Arabian Gulf, with a population of just 1.95 million and the richest globally in terms of per-capita income besides Luxembourg, at least for its native 300,000 people, has been family-managed by the Al Thani clan in a way that people became too wealthy to bother about political participation or even protests in the manner of Arab spring uprisings.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

sheikhs
Sheikh Tamim (left) and his father, Sheikh Hamad

Normally, Qatar’s internal affairs don’t attract that much attention in the world. The small country in the Arabian Gulf, with a population of just 1.95 million and the richest globally in terms of per-capita income besides Luxembourg, at least for its native 300,000 people, has been family-managed by the Al Thani clan in a way that people became too wealthy to bother about political participation or even protests in the manner of Arab spring uprisings.

However, the power transition announced on June 25 has put the nation in the spotlight of international observers. Rumours have spread that the new emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, might introduce constitutional changes and even push ahead with elections and some careful steps towards democracy, an idea uncommon to the autocracies in the region.

Officially, the power transition was explained by Sheihk Tamim’s father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, that he wanted to have “a new and innovative generation carry the responsibilities,” even if the resigned emir is just 61 years old, a youngster compared to Saudi Arabia’s 90-year-old King Abdullah and other leaders in the region.

It is known that Sheikh Hamad has health problems and they might have been one of the reasons for his decision. He recently underwent a kidney transplant and privately spoke about his plans to retire for more than a year, according to diplomats.

But why did the choice fall on Sheihk Tamim?

The 33-year old was educated at English public schools before graduating from the Sandhurst military academy. He is seen as the “most mature” of Hamad’s sons, being a “disciplined military man.”

Tamin is the second-oldest son of Hamad out of his marriage with Sheikha Moza. The two first-born sons have been bypassed because “one is partying too much, the other is praying too much,” as analyst Simon Henderson of the Foreign Policy think tank puts it. Jassim, Tamim’s older brother, renounced his rights of being a crown prince in favour of his younger brother in 2003.

It remains to be seen how Qatar’s external affairs will be affected by the rejuvenated leadership. At the moment, the Wahabite country is on a zigzag course in its foreign policy: It has been supporting the rebels against Muammar Gaddafi and is helping out in the revolution against Syria’s Bashar Al Assad, at the same time supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia and is, on the other hand, conspiring with the US that operates one of its largest military bases in the Gulf in Qatar, and even with Israel while maintaining friendly relationship to Iran.

Internal critics of the emir have been reported to be incarcerated on ground of a form of lese majeste, while the country hosts the largest news broadcasting network in the Arab World, Al Jazeera, known for its liberal stance. Human rights groups have urged Qatar to improve conditions for foreign workers, though these particular problems never escalated such as in Saudi Arabia.

In any case, Sheikh Tamim is now the Gulf’s youngest ruler and his steps will be watched closely by the powerful families in the neighbourhood who want to know in how far he is capable of “shouldering the responsibility and fulfilling the mission”, as his father, who will still be consulting him, put it.

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