The new Emir of Qatar will follow the policy forged by his father and the prime minister
- Simeon Kerr
Doha: As Shaikh Tamim, the 33-year-old new Emir of Qatar, receives tribal notables to accept their allegiance, many are asking how he will shape the future of a society transformed by his father’s modernising 18 year-rule.
Shaikh Hamad is leaving power at 61 after turning a near-bankrupt Gulf backwater into one of the world’s richest nations, using its gas receipts to become a global investor and diplomatic player.
Educated in the UK at Sherborne public school and Sandhurst military college, Shaikh Tamim’s career has been rooted in the military and security services. In recent years, he has taken on an increasingly public role as his father groomed him for the handover of power.
Shaikh Tamim has taken on a bigger foreign affairs role, handling Qatar’s tricky relations with Gulf superpower Saudi Arabia and post-Gaddafi Libya.
A keen sportsman, Shaikh Tamim has oversight over many of Qatar’s sporting pursuits, playing a role in the successful bid to host the World Cup in 2022, failed attempts to win the right to host the Olympic Games and the purchase of a Paris St Germain football club.
As the outgoing emir abdicated, he called on his son to preserve Qatar’s cultural identity, and its links to the Arab world and religion.
Many Qataris believe that preserving national identity in a fast-changing society will be a focal point for Shaikh Tamim as he balances between modernity and tradition.
Married twice with six children, few expect the young emir to instil radical changes.
But different personalities and priorities on the fringes of policy could emerge as a younger cabinet is named later this week.
“The broad strokes of Qatari policy are well established, but that leaves much room for interpretation led by the new emir,” says David Roberts of the Royal United Services Institute in Doha.
Observers say that, politically, Shaikh Tamim may emerge as a more conservative, risk-averse figure than his father, attuned to the conservative forces that run deep in society while aware of the need to update the country’s outdated bureaucracy and legal system.
As Qataris become an ever-decreasing minority in their own land, many are calling for the promotion of traditional ideals, such as limiting the sale of alcohol and promoting Arabic language in education, as a counterweight to the country’s greater openness as a new Gulf hub for finance, tourism, culture and sports.
Some have argued Shaikh Tamim is more religious and willing to see a greater role for religion in daily life, saying this has led to Qatar’s increasing promotion of political Islam in Egypt and Syria.
However, most observers in Doha say Shaikh Tamim is a pragmatist who will follow the policy forged by his father and the prime minister, Shaikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani.
They have used the rise of political Islam to further Qatar’s regional objectives, betting that the Muslim Brotherhood will become an even more potent force for decades to come.
While the new emir may not roll back previous policies, Qatar’s leading regional role may still be diminished, especially if — as expected — the powerful prime minister is relieved of his foreign affairs brief.
Many observers say such a domestic reorientation may be welcome as the country embarks on its next great economic boom.
If the past decade was marked by fast growth based on gas development, a new period of rapid infrastructure development is coming as Doha prepares
New contracts have already been awarded for the creation of a metro system and new roads as the country forges ahead with the building of museums and a new city in Lusail, where the final of the World Cup in 2022 is scheduled to take place.
His father’s legacy was to use Qatar’s new-found wealth to put the state on the global stage.
Shaikh Tamim will now have to define the trajectory of this young, conservative country under the harsh spotlight of global scrutiny.
- Financial Times