Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Foreign Policy: Qatari Emir’s Father Real Mover of Doha Diplomacy | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page
Media ID: 55377837

Qatar’s former Emir Sehikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. (AFP)

London – Diplomats have revealed that Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani is the real influencer of Qatar’s diplomacy despite his abdicating in favor of his son Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in 2013, reported Foreign Policy magazine.

In an article entitled, “The Palace Intrigue at the Heart of the Qatar Crisis,” the magazine said that the “father emir” is directing Qatar’s policy in the current diplomatic crisis with Arab and Muslim states.

It added that Hamad’s stances are a product of his personality and tribal considerations.

There are a variety of judgments of who is really in control in Doha, none of which are particularly complimentary to the Al Thanis, the onetime desert tribe that number a mere few thousand but effectively own the world’s third-largest reserves of natural gas, reported the magazine.

A former diplomat who lived in Doha for several years insisted that the father is still the driver of Qatari diplomacy. The 65-year-old Hamad apparently takes a historical and “intensely personal” perspective. Standing in a room festooned with ancient maps, he once lectured a visiting British defense minister for five consecutive days on the historical links of the Al Thani to distant locations, now mostly in Saudi Arabia. Hamad, in the judgment of a onetime insider, is “forceful” and “dangerous.”

Those with a less intimate acquaintance with the Al Thani family take a more benign view. “Tamim is willful, but his father is a restraining force” is the judgment of one European official involved in Qatar’s 2022 hosting of the World Cup, which involved billions in infrastructure building on top of the alleged bribes paid to be chosen as a venue, estimated by a European intelligence agency at $180 million.

Such an amount is almost pocket change for Doha. Qatar’s gas has given it the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world. During his reign, Hamad leveraged that wealth to set up Al Jazeera, the region’s first satellite television network, which dramatically increased Qatar’s influence — while upsetting its neighbors because it provided a platform to opposition voices and troublesome preachers like Islamist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Over the years, Hamad was unmoved by diplomatic protests at the station’s output, often blandly and incredulously responding to a range of ambassadors that Al Jazeera was either independent or should be allowed freedom of expression.

Doha has also supported the Muslim Brotherhood as the wave of the future for the Muslim world, an ironic position considering that the Brotherhood disapproves of hereditary sheikhdoms like, Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have all severed diplomatic ties with Qatar because of its support of terrorism. They issued a list of 13 demands for Doha to accept in order to end the crisis. Qatar does not appear to be adhering to its opponents’ playbook, and insiders say Riyadh and Abu Dhabi were disappointed when Doha publicized the list of demands. The question is: What happens now?

In the slightly longer term, how Hamad and Tamim will respond depends on how much pressure they feel from the wider Al Thani clan. Hamad’s leadership is not fully respected; Tamim’s even less so, said Foreign Policy. The former emir’s 1995 accession to the throne was resented within the extended family, and the view lingers.

Bloodlines are important to the Al Thani, so it is a negative that Hamad’s mother was from the al-Attiyah tribe. Two of Hamad’s three wives are Al Thani, but his favorite — and the mother of Tamim — is the statuesque Moza, who comes from the al-Missned tribe. So Tamim’s position within the Al Thani family is no more secure — and arguably less secure — than Hamad’s.

In wider Qatari society, most probably don’t want to be at odds with Saudi Arabia. Nor do they want to be dependent on Iran, which is serving as a route for food supplies no longer arriving via Saudi Arabia.

But domestic pressure for reconciliation may not be enough for Hamad to concede much, at least for now. His health could prove to be an important factor. Once very overweight, he is now much thinner but looks gaunt rather than healthy. His kidneys have also been a problem.