Qatar: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Qatar's new leader Sheikh Tamim will likely stick to his dad's policies.

Fadi Al-Assaad/Reuters/File
Qatar's Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (c.) arrives at Al-Sadd Stadium for the final Crown Prince Cup soccer match between Qatari teams Al-Sadd and Lekhwaiya in Doha, in May.

Qatar’s seamless and voluntary transfer of power from father to son, done without external pressure, has been heralded as an exemplary political transition in a region fraught with turmoil and wars catalyzed by autocratic rulers who refuse to give up power.

Yet most analysts agree that while Qatar’s transition is a positive development, it isn't transformative. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the new emir, has been groomed for the position for several years now and has already helped shape many government policies. And while Sheikh Tamim may be a new face and a voice for the country’s younger generation, his family has controlled the country for almost 150 years.

“I think he’ll continue within the strategic vision as set, and within that I don’t expect a huge amount of deviation,” says David Roberts of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar.

If anything, Sheikh Tamim is likely to have a slightly less aggressive foreign policy than his father, opting to focus more on domestic issues, especially as the country prepares to host the World Cup in 2022.

Today, a day after Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani announced the transfer of power to his son, Sheikh Tamim reshuffled the cabinet and addressed the nation. He vowed to follow in the path established by his father and avoid sectarian politics. He added that Qatar will respect its relations with other countries but will not wait to take orders from anyone.

Sheikh Hamad took control of Qatar in 1995 in a bloodless coup, wresting power from his father. Under his leadership, the tiny Gulf state took on an outsized role in foreign affairs. He introduced a number of liberal economic and political changes. Qatar actively supported many of the Arab uprisings of the last two years, most notably acting as one of the strongest backers of the Syrian opposition.

Qatar has been criticized, however, for supporting demands for democratic freedom in other countries while maintaining its own relatively restrictive polices. For example, the constitution makes it illegal to publicly criticize the emir.

Yet as citizens of one of the wealthiest nations in the world, few Qataris have been clamoring for change. The nation is home to the world’s third largest natural gas reserve and has successfully diversified its economy, attracting a number of international firms. During the first decade of the millennium, the country's economy grew at a yearly average of 12.9 percent. Unemployment is less than 1 percent and in 2012 the country had an estimated per capita gross domestic product of $102,800. Among Qatari nationals alone – who make up only 250,000 of the country's 2 million residents – per capita GDP was closer to $690,000 in 2011.

“So long as the going is good, so long as the money is flowing in, so long as life is good, people are not necessarily demanding political changes, political reforms and those kinds of those things, and so the state feels no need to respond to it in kind. Sheikh Hamad, who just gave up power, was remarkably popular among Qataris,” says Mehran Kamrava, professor and director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Qatar: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today