They queued in their droves to see the Middle East’s youngest ruler. Outside the Emiri Diwan in Doha, limousines lined up to disgorge their occupants, who quickly made their inside the striking white palace to pay their respects.
At the centre of all the attention were two men, 61-year-old outgoing Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani and his chosen successor, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, who is 33. Not since King Talal Bin Abdullah of Jordan abdicated in 1952 – and that was due to severe health reasons – has an Arab leader voluntarily handed over power. The move has all been all the more surprising given the abrupt way in which many erstwhile Arab leaders have seen their reigns ended in the last couple of years. By comparison, Qatar’s transition has more in common with Queen Beatrix’s abdication in the Netherlands earlier this year than the collapse of the Arab spring dictatorships.
"Qataris are being spared the pitfalls and uncertainties of the modus operandi surrounding the historically opaque and fractious transfer of power," wrote Larbi Sadikii, an expert in Middle East politics at the University of Exeter, for Al Jazeera. "In a palpable sense, Emir Hamad has broken with tradition. Rather than staying put and becoming enamoured with the trappings of power, he has envisioned the bigger picture. Such an act of moral courage has created a firewall of sorts against the typical cloak and dagger machinations of would-be heirs so common in the region."
Sheikh Tamim will certainly stand out in the regular meetings between the Gulf monarchs. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah is aged 88, while Kuwait’s Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah is 84. No other Gulf leader is less than 63 years old.
So what of the new Emir himself? Any analysis of Sheikh Tamim and his future policies should be presaged by the fact that the internal workings of the higher echelons of the Qatari government are opaque – to say the least. In reality, not a great deal is known about the former Heir Apparent, with Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani (colloquially known as HBJ) – the former prime minister, foreign minister and head of the $100bn Qatar Investment Authority - carrying out most of the country’s public-facing roles. Sheikh Tamim is the second son of Sheikh Hamad, and was educated at two British public schools, Sherborne and Harrow. He then went on, like many members of the Gulf’s royal families, to Sandhurst, the British Army’s officer training college. After passing out of Sandhurst, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Qatari armed forces in 1998.
In 2003, Sheikh Tamim was named Heir Apparent and since then has taken on a slew of senior executive positions, reflecting his enhanced role. These roles have included chairmanships of the Qatar Investment Authority - the country’s estimated $100bn sovereign wealth fund, which has been largely managed by Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani – the Supreme Education Council and the Urban Planning and Development Authority. As a result, Sheikh Tamim has spent ten years working at the top of some of Qatar’s most important industries. He has been closely involved in the development of Education City, which has welcomed some of the world’s top universities to Doha. Via his role as chairman of the Qatar National Olympic Committee, and as an avid sportsman, Sheikh Tamim has also helped shaped his country’s future as a sporting hub, which will be enhanced further when the World Cup comes to town in 2022.
In addition, CNN Arabic reported that one of the Emir’s first directives will be to raise salaries in the country by 10 percent. It was unclear whether this referred to just the public sector, or might include the private sector, but the pay hike would be the first increase in government salaries since nationals were handed a 60 percent boost in 2011.
Although Sheikh Tamim's longer-term plans for Qatar remain unclear, most analysts seem to agree that the country may focus on domestic policymaking in the near term.
"It may well be better in the long run for the tiny Emirate to return to doing what it does best, wowing people with mega purchases of European brands, hosting cultural initiatives and social development programmes, and leaving the entrenched problems of the Levant to the region’s historical players to solve," wrote Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute Qatar, in an op-ed piece last week for the Open Democracy website.
"It does Qatar no good to be sucked into the vortex of an unstable region, especially at a time when there is uncertainty surrounding the future of the country’s leadership."
Sheikh Hamad: The man who turned Qatar into a regional powerhouse
By Regan Doherty
To his admirers, Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani is a champion of the common man's struggle against tyranny, and a visionary who turned billions of dollars in energy revenues into strategic international investments.
To his critics, the 61-year-old ruler only pretends to be a friend of the masses, for while he backed Arab Spring revolts against autocracy, he clamped down on freedoms at home.
What both groups tend to agree on is that Sheikh Hamad has managed to turn the tiny Gulf state into a regional powerhouse that punches well above its weight in international diplomacy and high-rolling finance.
His vision is expected to continue after he announced on Tuesday that he was stepping down and handing power to his son, Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
The dramatic step is unheard of in a region where, until Arab Spring revolts two years ago, authoritarian rulers usually remained in power for life. The handover cements Qatar's standing as "the great regional maverick", said Kristian Ulrichsen, a Gulf expert at The Baker Institute for Public Policy.
The impetus behind Sheikh Hamad's pursuit of the limelight for his country over the past decade, analysts say, was a wish to differentiate Qatar from regional neighbours, especially Sunni powerhouse and rival Saudi Arabia.
"He dexterously fostered a unique place for Qatar as a relatively neutral country in a volatile region," said David Roberts, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute in Doha.
"This not only improved his status domestically, but furthered Qatar economically by encouraging a modern, attractive and liberalising image."
Under Hamad's tenure, along with his influential wife Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, Qatar garnered much attention in the past decade through the launch of the Al Jazeera television network, as well as its successful bid to host the 2022 soccer World Cup.
Sheikh Hamad mediated conflicts in Darfur, Somalia and Lebanon, often by hosting lavish multi-day peace talks in five-star hotels until the rival sides agreed to a deal.
But it was Qatar's aggressive intervention in the Arab Spring revolts, especially supplying rebels in Libya with weapons to oust long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi and pushing for Arab agreement on a no-fly zone, that really turned global attention to the peninsula state of 1.9 million people.
Sheikh Hamad personally directed that billions be spent on supplying weapons as well as fuel and supplies to the Libyan rebels.
As one of the world's richest countries with a cradle-to-grave welfare system for its 250,000 native population, Qatar has largely escaped the unrest seen in other Arab countries. It is perhaps that fact that has pushed Sheikh Hamad to throw his weight behind popular revolts abroad without worrying about any backlash at home.
He has also shored up Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood which rose to power after Hosni Mubarak was deposed, depositing millions of dollars in Egypt's central bank as the country struggled economically under the Islamist leadership of Mohamed Mursi.
In Syria, Qatar was at the forefront of Arab countries calling for the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad, as well as official recognition of the Syrian opposition at the Arab League. The first embassy for the Syrian opposition opened in Doha in March.
A close US ally that hosts a large American military base at Al Udeid, its copious natural gas reserves have made Qatar one of the world's richest countries.
The tiny country whose economy once centred on pearl fishing now has a sovereign wealth fund that controls an estimated $100 billion in assets. Its high-profile purchases, such as the acquisition of London department store Harrods, have highlighted the country's immense wealth.
"It would not be a stretch to say that in some ways, Qatar today is more influential than Egypt on the regional stage, even though Egypt has more than 240 times the number of citizens," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at Brookings Center Doha, the Qatar branch of the Washington-based think-tank.
That boldness helped Qatar cultivate remarkable success as a regional mediator. During Sheikh Hamad's reign, Doha displayed an ability to engage almost everyone from the United States to Hezbollah, and even Iran.
The transformation of Qatar from a backwater into a global powerhouse began in June 1995 when Hamad, then aged 45, ousted his father in a bloodless coup.
"I am not happy with what has happened but it had to be done and I had to do it," he said in brief televised speech at the time.
"God knows that I was not seeking power by this method for the love of power. It is rather a heavy responsibility and a great trust, and I beseech Almighty God to guide us."
As Hamad handed over the reins of power to his son, the Qatari Twitter-sphere was awash with supportive tweets for the outgoing ruler, with a "thank you Hamad" hashtag quickly gaining popularity.
"Today is a new step in the history of the state of Qatar," said one Twitter user.
Another Twitter user from Qatar said:
"Don't want media to analyse today, I just want them to witness the birth of an icon. Seldom do we come across this in MENA."
In a speech given last Wednesday evening, Sheikh Tamim announced a new cabinet. Some of the most prominent members are listed below.
Prime Minister and Interior Minister: Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al Khalifa Al Thani has been Minister of State for Internal Affairs since 2005. He takes over from former prime minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs: Ahmad Bin Abdullah Bin Zaid Al Mahmoud stays in the same position.
Foreign Minister: Former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Khalid Al Attiyah has taken on the second half of Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani's government portfolio.
Minister of State for Defense Affairs: Maj Gen Hamad Bin Ali Al Attiyah is promoted from chief of general staff.
Minister of Energy & Industry: Mohammed Bin Saleh Al Sada has retained this key portfolio in the new government.
Minister of Finance: After steering QNB to become one of the Gulf's biggest lenders, Ali Shareef Al Emadi has replaces Yousef Hussain Kamal's finance brief.
Minister of Economy and Trade: After two years at Al Jazeera, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Jassin Bin Mohamed Al Thani takes on the second of Yousef Hussain Kamal's two former roles.
Minister of Communication and Information Technology: Hessa Al Jaber becomes Qatar's third female minister after a succesful stint in charge of the country's telecoms regulator.
Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage: Hamad Bin Abdul Aziz Al Kuwari maintains his position in the new cabinet.
Speech to the nation
"The honourable Qatari people, my fellow countrymen and women, my beloved citizens, may God’s peace and blessings be upon you, I address you today, as we are ushering into a new era in the history of our homeland.
I wished to address you first, as you are the owners of this blessed land; its guards; the builders of its prosperity; and the architects of its future.
My fellow countrymen and women, this has always been the faith occupying my heart; filling my thoughts as I grew up on the land of our beloved homeland of Qatar; and since I shouldered my responsibilities serving the homeland and the people.
God Almighty is aware that I had not desired power for the sake of power; nor endeavoured to rule for personal motives; yet it has always been the nation’s interest; and that interest has dictated that we lead through a new chapter.
The time has come to turn a new leaf in the history of our nation, where a new generation steps forward to shoulder the responsibility with their dynamic potential and creative thoughts.
Our young men have proven over the past years that they are a people of resolve and fortitude; capable of accommodating the spirit of their time; realising its necessities fully and profoundly; coping with its newest; and above all contributing by their original thinking and creative initiatives.
Thanks to all this, I recall the words of the fourth Caliph, Ali bin Abi Taleb, May Allah be pleased with him, who said: 'Teach your children other than that what you were taught; as they are created for a time other than yours.'
You, our children, are the munitions of this homeland; builders of its present and bearer of its future torch. We have always thought well of you; pinning hopes on you; and you by virtue of your genuine eagerness and sincere achievements have proven to be deserving to lead and take our confidence.
My fellow Qataris; as I move to another position in serving my homeland and its people, I hope to have faithfully discharged my duties and honestly fulfilled the responsibility in a manner that pleases God first; and to have lived up to the trust and confidence you placed in me.
I acted and all the rightful deeds and achievements were by the grace and guidance of God; any slipup from me; and I hope those who will take the responsibility after me to learn from it.
As I address you today; I declare that I will hand over the reins of power to Shaikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani; and I am fully certain that he is up to the responsibility; deserving the confidence; capable of shouldering the responsibility and fulfilling the mission.
I am fully certain that you will be his support as you has always been mine; simply for the reason that in our nation run deep between the ruler and his people pledges of alliance; deep solidarity; and profound originality, cemented by our deeprooted traditions and glorious history.
The future lies ahead of you, the children of this homeland, as you usher into a new era where young leadership hoists the banner; bearing in mind the aspirations of future generations; working restlessly and relentlessly to achieve them, seeking guidance and support from God first and from the citizens; deriving force from the experience gained in running the country’s affairs; and the profound knowledge of realities in our region, particularly the Arab World.
While I am certain you are up to the responsibility, I urge you, to fear God by seeking knowledge and working hard; let knowledge be the beacon lighting your path; helping you build the future of the nation to its best; by knowledge emerge able generations, capable of shouldering responsibilities and embracing the straight right path.
Let hard work be your habit in serving your country, steering away from complacency or reluctance or acceptance of existing state of affairs.
Great nations cannot be built for current and future generations without the relentless work of their men; and cannot be safeguarded from greediness or threats without their sacrifice.
As I am confidant that you are fully aware of your loyalty and of your Arab and Muslim identity; I urge you to preserve our civilised traditional and cultural values, originating from our religion, Arab identity and above all our humanity; as we believe that the Arab World is one human body; one coherent structure; it prospers if all its parts are prosperous.
I also urge you to hold steadfast to virtues and rightfulness, no matter what or who days bring along; and God Almighty rightly said in His Holy Scripture: 'If they had [only] remained on the [right] path, We should certainly have bestowed on them rain in abundance."
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