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Middle East

A new ruler for a transformed country

Qatar's emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, turns over control of a transformed country 18 years after taking power.

Last Modified: 24 Jun 2013 19:09
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The emir has ruled since 1995 [Reuters]

Nearly two decades after accession to power, the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, is set to hand control of a transformed country to his son and heir apparent Sheikh Tamim.

Sheikh Hamad, then the crown prince and defence minister, took power in 1995 while his father was on an overseas trip.

He became the ruler of a country with an $8bn economy, a figure which grew to $174bn a decade and half later.

The growth came largely from natural gas; Qatar possesses some of the largest proven reserves in the world, but produced almost nothing before 1995.

Sheikh Hamad, 61, also pushed several prestige projects, including Al Jazeera, the Arab world's first satellite news channel, and Qatar Airways, which was relaunched in 1997.

The growing natural gas wealth and media clout allowed Qatar, a country with less than half a million citizens - and less than two million residents - to develop into a major player in regional politics.

During most of Sheikh Hamad's rule, Qatar adopted a progmatic policy, cultivating relationships with countries and groups across the political spectrum.

He maintained close ties with the United States, which for decades has flown warplanes from a military base in Qatar. But he also built cordial ties with Iran, which most of Qatar's neighbours regard as a serious threat; the two countries share control of the world's largest natural gas field.

The Qatari capital played host to a range of peace talks and negotiations: between Sudanese rebels and president Omar al-Bashir; warring parties in Lebanon; as well as Fatah and Hamas, the long-divided Palestinian factions.

The Arab Spring brought a more prominent role for Qatar.

Hamad backed the NATO-led military intervention in Libya, which helped to depose Muammar Gaddafi, sending a handful of Qatari planes in support.

But his government also defended Bahrain after it cracked down on protesters, and announced that it was sending troops to support the Gulf force that suppressed the country's uprising in 2011.

Qatar has also emerged as a strong supporter of the rebels in Syria, despite the emir's efforts, just a few years ago, to cultivate ties with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Taking the reins will be the emir's fourth son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who in recent years has become deeply involved in Qatari decision-making.

Sheikh Tamim

At 33 years old, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani – the second son of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and his second wife, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser - will be among the youngest emirs in Qatar’s history.

Sheikh Tamim attended Sherborne School, Harrow School and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the United Kingdom, from which he graduated in 1998.

Sheikh Tamim was named heir apparent in 2003. His responsibilities include serving as president of the Qatar National Olympic Committee and deputy commander-in-chief of the Qatar Armed Forces.

He is the chairman of the committee organising the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which will be hosted by Qatar, and chairs the Supreme Education Council.

Sheikh Tamim is also chairman of Qatar Investment Authority, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, which reportedly has assets of more than $100bn and owns stakes in many major companies such as Barclays, Xstrata, Harrods, and Volkswagen.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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