The Al Thanis are Qatar's power family

New research sheds light on the overwhelming influence of the leading tribes in the GCC state
By Daniel Bardsley
Sun 21 May 2017 08:42 AM

The web of influences between Qatar’s ruling family and the other prominent tribes in the peninsular state has been laid bare in recent research.

Shifting levels of power between various clans, the effects of changes in the top political leadership on a family’s fortunes and the importance that some prominent Qatari families hold outside the nation are highlighted in the research by the consultancy Priya Dsouza.

Covering 21 families plus the ruling Al Thanis, “A guide to the most powerful families in Qatar” notes that the Al Thanis remain, overwhelmingly, the country’s most powerful group. In addition to the emir and the prime minister being Al Thanis, individual family members head such institutions as the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is running preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The managing director is Sheikh Mohammed Bin Hamad Al Thani, who was chairman of the Qatar 2022 Bid Committee.

“There is no other that comes even close to the power they wield. This, of course, doesn’t come as a surprise since they have been the ruling family since the 19th century,” the report says.

At one point, Al Thanis held more than three-fifths of ministerial positions, although more recently the proportion has been closer to one fifth. The report suggests that this may reflect the Al Thanis becoming more secure in their power and having less need to appoint family members to preserve the status quo. Al Thanis hold 101 board seats on Qatar Exchange-listed companies; the family with the next-largest number, the Al Emadis, has 15. Similarly, Al Thanis head five government ministries, while the families with the second-largest number, the Al Mahmouds and the Al Kuwaris, each hold two.

(From left) Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani and Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani.

Behind the Al Thanis, some families have achieved prominence in multiple arenas. The Al Kaabis, as well as holding the fourth-largest number of board seats (worth a total of $3.85bn (QR 14bn), the ninth-largest amount), hold two seats on the Central Municipal Council. Other especially prominent families include the Al Kuwaris, who head two government ministries, hold many significant board seats, and provide the deputy speaker of the Shura Council. Another especially powerful family are the Al Mahmouds, who control two ministries and hold board seats valued at $5.77bn (QR 21bn), the fourth-largest amount.

Some names no longer hold the political importance they once did. The Al Manas, who originate from Saudi Arabia, have not held ministerial positions for two decades, although the name remains prominent in business thanks to the wealth of sectors that they are involved with, while the Al Subaeys no longer run multiple government departments, and the Fakhroos are no longer key advisers to the emir.

By contrast, other families have gained significance, such as the Al Hajris, whose prominence in the police force is now mirrored by key business and diplomatic roles. The emir's second wife, Anoud Bint Mana Al Hajri, is from the family.

Sometimes a change of emir changes a family’s position. For example, there have been no ministers from the Al Marri family (also written as Al Murrah) since the current emir came to power in 2013. Although still powerful, the family saw thousands of its members lose Qatari citizenship in 2005, possibly, the report states, for involvement in a 1996 failed counter-coup.

Qatari Minister of Health Dr Hanan Al Kuwari.

“Various reports linked the loss of citizenship to other factors, such as the dismissal of the former Minister of Interior Hamad Bin Nasser Al Thani, who is said to have ‘facilitated’ citizenship and special passports for a large number of Al Murrah tribesmen, causing concern in Qatar and abroad,” the report says.

Whilst individual families move up and down, the total political influence of prominent families appears to remain relatively constant. Several key families, among them the Al Attiyahs and the Al Kuwaris, have long held about 5 percent and 10 percent of ministerial posts each, sometimes more, up to the present day.

Prominent roles in business and politics remain overwhelmingly male dominated in Qatar, as elsewhere in the Gulf. Nevertheless, particular families have championed their female members or seen them achieve senior positions.

From the Al Mahmoud family, Shaikha Bint Ahmed Al Mahmoud became the first female minister in a Gulf state in 2003, when she was made minister of education.

Qatari finance minister Ali Shareef Al Emadi.

Likewise, the Al Kuwaris have promoted the careers of female family members, with some going overseas for education as far back as the 1970s. This has a modern-day legacy, with the current minister of public health being family member Dr Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari. Another family member, Fatma Al Kuwari, was a female pioneer in being elected to the Central Municipal Council.

Another family with an important female individual is the Al Nuaimis, with Aisha Fahad Al Nuaimi holding multiple board positions. The Al Nuaimis are prominent outside Qatar, being rulers of Ajman emirate in the UAE.

To detail the importance of families, the report used the Arabian Business Qatar Power 50 list, current and previous ministerial posts, marriages with the Al Thanis, the number and market capitalisation of board seats of Qatar Exchange companies and the representation of families on Shura Council and the Central Municipal Council.

The consultancy, which highlights its insider knowledge of Qatar, describes the report as part of its “business intelligence offer”. The company runs a business development consultancy service and helps foreign firms, investors and expats who operate in Qatar and those looking for partners and business opportunities in the region.

Prominent Qatari businessman Hisham Al Mana.

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