News / Middle East

Qatar's Emir Transfers Power to Son

Qatar's Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (C) attends a soccer match at al-Sadd Stadium in Doha, May 4, 2013.
Qatar's Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (C) attends a soccer match at al-Sadd Stadium in Doha, May 4, 2013.
An image grab taken from Qatar TV shows Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani delivering a televised speech in Doha, June 25, 2013.An image grab taken from Qatar TV shows Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani delivering a televised speech in Doha, June 25, 2013.
x
An image grab taken from Qatar TV shows Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani delivering a televised speech in Doha, June 25, 2013.
An image grab taken from Qatar TV shows Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani delivering a televised speech in Doha, June 25, 2013.
Qatar's ruler handed power Tuesday to his son in a carefully managed transition. The move puts a new generation in charge of a key U.S. ally that has pursued a high-profile, interventionist policy that funds Islamists throughout the region and is controversial in the West.

In a rare abdication by a hereditary Gulf Arab ruler, the 61-year-old emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, handed power to his son, 33-year-old Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim, to try to ensure a smooth succession.

The new emir, who will become the youngest ruler in the Gulf, will deliver a speech to the nation Wednesday, after which he will choose a new government.

Qatar has vast energy wealth and the highest per-capita income in the world. The situation allows the tiny emirate to simultaneously support the Arab Spring uprisings as well as generous social programs that help it avoid domestic criticism and remain an absolutist monarchy.

Assertive interventionism

The country also hosts the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East. According to University of Vermont scholar Gregory Gause, that has freed Qatar to take an aggressive foreign policy stance and avoid pushback from the West and nervous Gulf neighbors.

"Qatar has cooperated with the United States on a lot of things, but it made a strategic choice under [the outgoing] emir that it thought the Islamists - particularly Sunni Islamists - were the wave of the future in the Middle East and it developed very close relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, including Hamas. That has given Washington some amount of heartburn," said Gause.

Qatar has broken ranks with other Gulf states and established strong ties with Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood movement. It has mediated a number of crises and wars, including Sudan's Darfur, Palestinian politics, Yemen and Lebanon.

In recent days it allowed the Afghan Taliban open an office in Doha.

Qatar also financed the rebels who toppled and killed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 and continues to fund Sunnis fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

While Qatar's Libyan intervention meshed with U.S. goals, its actions in Syria are far murkier for Washington.

"While there's always some overlap, because you have various groups in Syria who are selling themselves to all sorts of foreign patrons - because they need the ammunition, the weapons and the money - they might be telling different audiences different things," said Gause, who is affiliated with the Brookings Institution Doha offices.

"Its pretty clear to me the U.S. was not pleased with some of the groups Qatar has supported, he said.

Qatar's elevated influence

Sheikh Hamad has further spread the Gulf nation's outsized influence since he founded the powerful Al Jazeera satellite television network in the 1990s and helped Qatar win a surprising bid to host football's (soccer's) World Cup in 2022.

The outgoing emir has a history of innovative thinking.

"Qatar has been taking a leading role in foreign policy issues, as far as the Gulf is concerned, over the past years, always surprising people as far as the positions it takes, and here we see somewhat of a surprise on the domestic front," said Christian Koch, who directs the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center.

Gulf analysts say Qatar's veteran prime minister and foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim - the public face of the emirate's assertive foreign policy - is likely to follow the emir and resign. But most observers expect no significant changes to the Gulf nation's taste for strategic intervention.

The Qataris will likely continue to use their great wealth in the short term to "punch above their weight," Gause said.

Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

You May Like

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid