Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said on Tuesday he was stepping down and handing power to his 33-year-old son Sheikh Tamim.
In a speech broadcast on Qatar state television, 61-year-old Sheikh Hamad said it was time for a new generation to take over. He made no direct mention of the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who had also been widely expected to step down.
The transfer is the first major shift of rule among the Western-allied Gulf Arab states since a contentious transition in Kuwait in early 2006. It also signals the sudden rise of a new generation at the helm of one of the region’s wealthiest and most politically ambitious countries, whose international profile has risen sharply since the Arab Spring as a key sponsor of rebel forces in Libya and Syria.
“This is message to the rest of the region that Qatar is not just an outside player in the Arab Spring but is ready to make room for changes as well,” Mustafa Alani, a regional analyst with the Gulf Research Center in Geneva, told AP.
Sport and mediation
Qatar’s reach is further extended by its global investment strategies – ranging from sports clubs such as football’s Paris Saint-Germain to aid for debt-burdened Greece and Italy – and its role as mediator in conflicts such as Sudan’s Darfur region and regional disputes including Palestinian political rifts. Qatar this week hosted a Syrian opposition conference attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry and is the venue for possible US-led peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban.
Sheik Hamad has played a central role in expanding Qatar’s international clout since 1995, when the emir took power in a bloodless coup against his father.
No immediate policy changes are expected under British-educated Sheik Tamim, but the crown prince has also been active in pushing high-profile initiatives by Qatar, including winning the rights to host the 2022 World Cup and leading Doha’s unsuccessful effort for the 2020 Olympics. Doha has expressed interest in seeking the 2024 Games.
Sheik Tamim became the next in line to rule in 2003 after his older brother stepped aside.
The potential Qatar transition to a ruler born in the 1980s is in marked contrast to its neighbours such as Saudi Arabia, which remains dominated by relative old guard figures in line to succeed the 90-year-old King Abdullah.