Will Qatar’s Emir Abdicate in August?

Article Summary
In a country with a modern political history marked by successive coups, the transfer of power in Qatar anticipated in August has been the topic of much discussion.

Prince Tamim bin Hamad might become the first, in a succession of three Qatari rulers from the Al Thani family, to ascend to power without resorting to a coup, having been preceded by his father and grandfather.

This break in the tradition of overthrowing [those in power] that characterized the Al Thani family’s history might be the most prominent piece of news amid rumors that spread like wildfire in the last few days about Prince Hamad bin Jasim bin Khalifa abdicating in favor of Crown Prince Tamim, who's his fourth-oldest son, and the second-born from his second wife Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned.

In this context, a Western diplomat told As-Safir that the transfer of power is expected to be concluded after the Eid al-Fitr celebration in the first week of August. The same diplomat confirmed that Doha had informed its French partners in February that the emir, as a result of the health crisis that he suffered, was seriously considering relinquishing his post at the earliest possible opportunity.

According to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, full transfer of power is expected to begin at the end of the current month, to be followed, several weeks later, by an announcement that the emir had fallen ill and decided to hand power to the crown prince.

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Paris was the first to be informed of the coup orchestrated by Hamad bin Jasim against his father, Khalifa, in 1995, subsequently undertaking to introduce him to France’s allies. In his book Qatar: Les Secrets du Coffre-fort (Qatar: Secrets of the Safe), French journalist Georges Malbrunot relayed the content of several conversations held by a Western diplomat with the emir in the course of the last two years, in which the latter expressed his desire to leave power.

In Malbrunot’s book, the diplomat stated that “the emir did not say so publicly, but made his intentions known to those close to him. Sheikh Hamad wishes to hand the flame over to the crown prince before he dies.”

“I will leave office in four years,” that is what the emir confided to a friend in the Spring of 2012, “I will abdicate and leave the scene for the younger generation.”

It is evident that the change in Doha will not be limited to the prince alone, for it is likely that the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr will exit the Qatari political scene, as a precondition to a normal transfer of power between the two generations, and to prevent the foreign minister, who controls the country’s $200 billion sovereign fund and has a wide reaching network of international and local contacts, from competing with the rising emir.

A tense relationship prevails between the crown prince and foreign minister over who has more say in the decision-making process. The transfer of power cannot therefore occur without the latter being removed from the scene. The Western diplomat conveyed the fact that the Qatari emir informed him of the difficulties relating to the transfer of power and the dangers surrounding the foreign minister remaining in power. The diplomat once asked him, “Do you think that Hamad bin Jassim will agree to relinquish power as well?” To which the emir replied, “Hamad will do whatever I tell him to do.” The diplomat persisted, “But he is nine years your junior,” and the emir answered, “He will stay as long as I remain, and will leave when I do.”

It should be noted that Mozah also had to be convinced of her husband’s desire to abdicate. Years ago, the emir confided the following to an old friend of his: “You know, I’ve been wanting to leave office for a long while now, but Sheikha Mozah opposes this decision and urges me to remain in power. I even considered relinquishing 80% of my authority to Tamim but she was opposed to that as well. We are prisoners of our wives, but I told her that I agree to remain in power for no more than four more additional years, after which I will abdicate.”

Arab and Western diplomats in Doha and other countries confirmed that the transfer of power has become guaranteed by many Western and Arab nations. Reuters quoted them as saying that they expected changes to occur in one of two ways: with either Prince Tamim replacing Sheikh Hamad as prime minister until he becomes ruler of the land when his father ultimately abdicates, or the current deputy prime minister, Ahmad al-Mahmoud, taking over the premiership once the prime minister steps down.

One source further elaborated that expectations are for the transfer of power process to begin with the prime minister, who also holds the office of foreign minister; which means that he will have to vacate both posts.

Reuters also quoted a diplomat residing in Doha as saying that Qatar’s emir “has been mulling over this matter for a while. Throughout the past year, the path was clearly paved for power to be transferred to Tamim.”

Diplomats thought that the motive behind this change was a desire to smoothly transfer power to a younger generation — a relatively unusual move in Arab Gulf countries where rulers typically remain in office until their death.

Western news agencies opine that the change might lead to a certain degree of ambiguity in Qatar’s foreign relations, which played an important role in backing NATO operations in Libya, and used its Al-Jazeera channel and billions of its dollars to back the Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, in their successful efforts to appropriate the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan revolutions besides its role in arming the Syrian opposition.

It is unclear whether the change in positions would lead to a profound review of Qatar’s full-blown attack on Syria, given that the crown prince has been managing the [Syrian opposition’s] armament efforts for over a year, in addition to him being seen as extremely close to the extremist Islamist movement.

The religiously devout crown prince is 31 years old, and his ascension in the shadow of his father began once his mother, Mozah, succeeded in keeping Mishaal, the emir’s eldest son from his first wife, away from the line of succession. Tamim effectively grasped the keys to power three years ago, when two people close to him were appointed deputy prime ministers. His authority further increased when he began overseeing defense and armament issues, and was appointed deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

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