DOHA: A NEW HAND AT THE HELM

On 25 June in a move not entirely unexpected in diplomatic circles, Sheikh Hamed bin Kahlifa Al Thani formally handed power to his 33-year-old son, Sheikh Tamim.

Sheikh Hamed, who is 61, used a televised address to note the importance of shifting leadership to more youthful hands – an indirect acknowledgment of the demands for reforms opened by the uprisings that have swept the region, capping a carefully crafted transition that puts a new generation in charge of the gulf nation’s vast energy wealth and rising political influence after the upheavals of the Arab Spring.

“The future lies ahead of you, the children of this homeland, as you usher into a new era where young leadership hoists the banner,” the outgoing emir said as he announced the anticipated transition to the british-educated crown prince.

As part of taking on the mantle, Sheik Tamim will begin putting together a new government that may be in direct contrast to the old guard leaders across the gulf. Qatar has given no official explanation on the transition, which had been expected for weeks, but Sheikh Hamed is believed to be suffering health problems.

Sheik Tamim has been closely involved in key decisions since 2003.

“Sheik Tamim will be driving his father’s car, which is already programmed on where to go,” said Mustafa Alani, a political analyst at the gulf research Center in Geneva.

The transition – a rarity in a region where leadership changes are nearly always triggered by deaths or palace coups – also sends a message the wider Middle East.

“The time has come to turn a new leaf in the history of our nation,” the outgoing emir said in his address, “where a new generation steps forward to shoulder the responsibility with their dynamic potential and creative thoughts.”

Under Sheikh Hamad, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1995, Qatar has been transformed into a political broker and a centre for global investment with a sovereign fund estimated to be worth more than $100bn. Its portfolio includes landmark real estate, luxury brands and a powerful presence in the sporting world; it defeated rivals including the united States to win the rights to host the 2022 football world Cup.

Christopher Davidson, an expert in gulf affairs at Britain’s Durham University, believes some of the tough measures by Qatari officials reflect internal squabbles with hard-liners trying to exert their influence. Such groups could be among the first housecleaning targets by the new emir, he predicted.

“Tamim is seen as focused on domestic issues first,” said Davidson. “One of the main tasks will be to establish a new social contract with the population … what kind of opposition is allowed and what is not, will be part of that.”

Pat Lancaster

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