Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Qatar to See Transfer of Power Abdicating Emir's Son to Take Charge; PM Moving Aside

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Qatar to See Transfer of Power Abdicating Emir's Son to Take Charge; PM Moving Aside

Article excerpt

DOHA, Qatar -- Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the absolute ruler and emir of Qatar, who used his tiny nation's oil and gas wealth to alter the course of events across the Middle East -- siding with rebels in Syria and Libya, negotiating peace in Lebanon, hosting a U.S. military base and backing the militant group Hamas -- told his family he would abdicate and transfer power to his 33-year- old son, the Qatar-owned Al-Jazeera news organization has reported.

At the age of 61, the emir surprised the outside world, if not his subjects, with the announcement that he would cede power to his son, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and also move aside his longtime foreign and prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, 53.

His decision comes as Qatar's hand -- more precisely its checkbook -- can be felt throughout the Middle East, raising questions about whether the son would continue Qatar's high-profile interventionist policy. In recent days, Qatar has let the Taliban open an office in Doha and has helped keep the Syrian rebels armed. And while it is allied with Washington, it has raised the West's ire by financing radical Islamist rebels in various arenas.

The soon-to-be emir, Sheik Tamim, has little international profile and has concentrated almost entirely on domestic issues so far. At the same time, the prime minister expected to be replaced, Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, who is widely known as HBJ to distinguish him from the emir, aggressively pushed Qatar onto every world stage possible.

"I've never seen any evidence that Sheik Tamim has a particular desire to focus internationally," said David Roberts, the director of the Qatar branch of the Royal United Services Institute, a British research center.

The surprising abdication comes 18 years after Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, then in his early 40s, deposed his own father in a bloodless coup that began the modern transformation of Qatar from a well-heeled backwater into a fantastically rich modern state, wielding its great wealth to, as the scholar F. …

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