QATAR is preparing for a transfer of power, with 33-year-old crown prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad set to become leader of the tiny, but hugely wealthy, Gulf Arab state.
Such a change could inject an element of uncertainty into the foreign policies of the US-allied gas exporter, which is a global investment powerhouse and a bankroller of Arab Spring revolts in alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The emir has had this in mind for quite a long time. The path has clearly been paved over the past year for authority to be transferred to Tamim,” a Doha-based diplomat said yesterday.
The emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, has struggled lately with serious health problems and is thought to be keen to cede power to his Sandhurst-educated son.
The succession plan, due to be launched by the end of the month, will also see prime minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, the driving force behind Qatar’s massive global investment in recent years, give up his post.
The diplomats said they understood the motive for the reported reshuffle was the desire for a smooth transition to a younger generation. Such a move would be unusual: It is customary for Gulf Arab heads of state to continue in office until death.
One source said the transition was expected to start with Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, who also serves as the foreign minister, leaving his cabinet posts. The diplomats mentioned various timetables, from some time in the next few weeks to September. Arab and western diplomats said that countries, including the United States, Britain, France and Saudi Arabia had been briefed on the plan.
Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim, 53, has been prime minister since 2007 and has played a key role in positioning Qatar as power broker in the region. He is also chairman of the board of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), a position he is expected to retain. QIA has estimated assets of up to £128 billion.
The emir elevated Qatar’s international profile in recent years through the launch and development of the al-Jazeera television network, as well as its successful bid to host the 2022 football World Cup tournament. The Gulf state has played a substantial role in promoting the Arab Spring, despite keeping a tight grip on political dissent at home.
A close US ally that hosts a large American military base, Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas and wealthiest nation per-capita.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa seized power from his father in a bloodless coup in 1995. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim played a key role in facilitating the coup, for which he was rewarded with influence for life.
British-educated Sheikh Tamim is believed to be closer to the Muslim Brotherhood than many in the current leadership, and may pursue more socially conservative policies.