Last week, Qatari officials confirmed that the small Persian Gulf country’s emir, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, has abdicated the throne in favor of his 33-year-old son, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
The abdication, which has been rumored within the country’s borders for months, is allegedly because of Hamad’s growing health concerns, including his two kidney transplants, but the current official government position is to keep the rationale for the abdication obscured.
Tamim is the second son of Hamad’s second wife, Moza bint Nasser al-Missned. Al-Missned serves in a favored position among Hamad’s three wives as his public consort, and is famous as a modernizing and glamorizing force for the Qatari nation and for the al-Thani family.
His older full brother, Jasim bin Hamad al-Thani, was heir apparent to the Qatari throne until 2003, when he renounced his claim in favor of his younger brother. Tamim and Jasim also have two older half-brothers by Hamad’s first wife and first cousin once removed, Mariam bint Muhammad al-Thani: Mishaal bin Hamad al-Thani and Fahd bin Hamad al-Thani. Like Jasim, Mishaal also handed off his claim to a younger brother—he was replaced as crown prince by Jasim in 1996, after just a little over one year in the position.
It is not known why Tamim was given the position of crown prince over his three older brothers back in 2003, but since then, he has become heavily involved in the Qatari economic, cultural, and military scene as chairman of Qatar Investment Authority and the Supreme Education Council, and deputy commander-in-chief of the Qatar Armed Forces.
Despite ten years of significant experience, many are waiting with baited breath to see whether Tamim keeps Qatar on the trajectory set forth by his visionary father, who overthrew his own father in a bloodless coup d’état back in 1995. Hamad is well known for putting Qatar on the international radar economically. In the nearly two decades of his rule, the economy grew by over 2000 percent, mostly as a result of high levels of oil and natural gas extraction. This led to Qatar having the highest purchasing power parity GDP per capita in the world ($102,211 according to the International Monetary Fund).
With these considerable funds, Hamad founded Al Jazeera, a television network known for rigorously covering world events and dissenting viewpoints, including being the only news station to cover the outbreak of the War in Afghanistan live and on the ground.
Hamad not only pushed the country economically and journalistically, but also in terms of its international relations. He coordinated peace talks in Sudan, Lebanon, and Palestine, and proved a formidable regional support for rebels and rulers alike during the Arab Spring protests. Perhaps for this reason, F. Gregory Gause III, a scholar of the Doha branch of the Brookings Institution, says Qataris under Hamad tended to “punch above their weight.”
These are formidable shoes to fill for Tamim, who gave his first televised address as the new emir last Wednesday. He appeared to by and large fall in line with his father’s vision for the country, eschewing religious divisions in favor of modernization and development, and developing Qatar’s human capital along with its financial capital.
However, Tamim has been widely rumored to be more conservative than his father, which has thus far been supported by the citizens of Qatar, but will have unknown repercussions for the country’s regional relations.
By Laura Gates
Source: New York Times, Al Jazeera, International Monetary Fund