Current Situation in Qatar

What is Currently Happening in Qatar?

Current Situation in Qatar: From a Sleepy Emirate to a Global Player

Qatar’s meteoric rise under the former ruler, or emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani (1995-2013) transformed the country from a sleepy Gulf Arab emirate to one of the wealthiest and most recognizable countries in the world, which is playing an increasingly confident and influential role in Middle Eastern politics.

Qatar is the world’s biggest exporter of natural gas, and with a native population of only 350 000, it is safe to say that Qatari citizens enjoy one of the most comfortable lifestyles on the planet. However, Sheikh Hamad – who in 1995 led a bloodless coup against his father, Sheikh Khalifa – didn’t stop at building superb infrastructure and a generous welfare state at home.

The generous proceeds from the energy trade were used to build a global Qatar brand, known for the Al Jazeera satellite TV channel, whose round-the-clock news program revolutionized the Arab media landscape in the late 1990s. Qatar began to rival the nearby Dubai as a global trade and business hub, inviting the best professional talent from across the world to set up shop in the glitzy capital Doha.

At the same time, the emirate is using its $200 billion sovereign wealth fund to acquire a range of international assets, from high-profile property in London and Paris, to stakes in leading companies such as Volkswagen and Porsche.

Foreign Policy: Regional Power Broker

British protectorate until 1971, Qatar is a stable country with a favorable geo-political position. As a host to US military bases it enjoys close ties with Washington, but common trade interests have also forged a working relationship with the neighboring Iran. Armed with gas wealth and international connections, Qatar engaged in mediating regional disputes, while slowly emerging as a foreign policy player in its own right.

Qatar brokered a peace agreement between rival parties in Lebanon, in Doha-hosted talks in 2008. It also helped in negotiations between the Sudanese government and rebels in Darfur, and brokered talks on the border dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti. Qatar hosts offices of the Taliban and Hamas, and until 2009 Doha even sported an Israeli trade center.

When mass anti-government unrest swept across the Middle East, Qatar became an enthusiastic supporter of the so-called Arab Spring. Sheikh Hamad played a key role in funding the rebels in Libya, and became one of the chief allies of the Syrian opposition. Qatar has also invested billions of dollars in Egyptian economy after the fall of the former leader Hosni Mubarak.

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Latest Developments: Royal Succession

Sheikh Hamad abdicated from the throne in June 2013 after 18 years in power, surprising foreign observers who are used to life-long rulers in the Gulf Arab monarchies. However, the passing of power to Hamad’s son Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani was planned well in advance. It was a smooth transition aimed at invigorating the state with a new generation of royals and technocrats, but without affecting any major policy shifts.

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Who is in Power in Qatar

Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani succeeded his father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, in mid-2013. Junko Kimura/Getty Images
  • Ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani: Key positions in Qatar are occupied by members of the Al Thani family, in power for almost 150 years. Born in 1980, Tamim is the fourth son of the former ruler (or emir) Hamad. Tamim was appointed crown prince in 1980, following which he assumed duties in foreign policy and other key portfolios. Tamim will bring on board his own circle of advisors, but he is generally expected to continue with the policy outlined by his father.

  • Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani: Sheikh Abdullah developed his career in the interior ministry under the former emir Hamad. Appointed Minister of State for Interior Affairs in 1995, Abdullah later became the acting Interior Minister. Known as a discreet man dedicated to work, Abdullah will play a key role in any reorganization of government under emir Tamim.

  • Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah: The former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Khaled is the political heir to ex-prime minister and foreign minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, the man who engineered the rise of Qatar’s foreign policy profile. Khaled's biggest regional challenge will be to continue supporting Syrian opposition without antagonizing Iran, which backs the Syrian regime in the civil war there.
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