London: Qatar is preparing to begin a leadership transition this summer in which the emir will relinquish power to his son, and his cousin, the owner of Harrods, will step down as prime minister.
Senior figures in Qatar have briefed foreign counterparts that the time has come for Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad, the 33-year-old crown prince, to take over the leadership of the Gulf state, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.
Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasem, the prime minister and one of the biggest investors in Britain, will give up his post. The royal court will then announce that the 61-year-old emir, Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, who has struggled with health problems, will cede powers to the Sandhurst-educated crown prince.
A British source close to the Gulf state was told of the plans earlier this year. Sources said other key states, including the US and Iran, have also been briefed about the succession.
“The plan is to manage a staged handover of power that allows the crown prince to come to the fore,” said one source with knowledge of the discussions. “The stakes are very high because Qatar is at [the] forefront of events in a very sensitive region.”
Representatives of the Qatari government were not able to comment on the discussions about the leadership but analysts said any changes in leadership would have huge implications for the Middle East and Western foreign policy.
“The legacy of the emir and the prime minister has been to make Qatar a player in the world,” said Michael Stephens, a Gulf researcher at the Royal United Services Institute. “It was an outpost when they took over and now it has grown into a modern city. It is one of the biggest investors in Europe and Britain, has set up a very powerful Arab television station [Al Jazeera] and has a very prominent foreign policy. That is almost all down to the driving force of those two men.”
Shaikh Hamad, the emir, took power in a bloodless coup in 1995 while his father was on a trip to Europe. His wife Shaikha Mouza, who attended a charity function with the Prince of Wales at Windsor Castle last week, has been a symbol of women’s rights in the Arab world. Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasem will remain chief executive of the Qatar Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund that recycles the emirate’s gas revenues, and will continue to be the driving force behind the entity that owns Harrods.
Although Shaikh Tamim is well known to diplomats and foreign officials, there are questions over policies under the new leadership. Military observers point to his close alliance with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood as a potential sign that he will not be as liberal as his father and the prime minister.