Monday, June 24, 2013

A New Emir!

Rumors were swirling, articles had come out earlier in Western papers, and it looks like it's all come true -- His Highness the Emir will abdicate power to his son Sheikh Tamim. Apparently he met today with members of the Royal Family to announce the decision, and tomorrow has been declared a National Holiday.

I had gotten wind of big changes coming to the hierarchy from some of the Qataris I know, and today everyone had been talking about an impending meeting His Highness was having as all assumed it was an announcement he would transfer power. For this region it is pretty uncommon, possibly unique, for there to be a smooth transition of power in this manner, typically rulers in the Gulf stay in power for their rest of their lives. Even more unique, not only will the new Emir’s father be around, but his grandfather, former Emir Sheikh Khalifa, is still alive as well (though Sheikh Khalifa’s transfer of power was not smooth -- he was deposed by his son, the current and soon-to-be-retiring Emir, in 1995). Three generations of rulers will be living in Qatar during Sheikh Tamim’s reign.

Once Sheikh Tamim becomes the Emir (or maybe he has already, I don't think Qataris have grand formal coronation ceremonies like they do in Britain), I wonder who will be the Crown Prince? Sheikh Tamim’s children are very young, he’s only 33 himself, but I asked a couple of Qataris and apparently they do not do what many European monarchies do and nominate regents to assist the now-too-young Crown Prince in case he becomes ruler due to early death of the monarch. I assume then the Crown Prince will be one of Sheikh Tamim’s younger brothers until such time as one of his sons is old enough to assume the role. Anything is possible though, it could be a half-brother or even one of his uncles.

Also unlike most European monarchies the Al Thani family does not automatically pass rule to the eldest son. Sheikh Tamim is (I think) the Emir’s 4th eldest son, not the oldest. It appears the Al-Thani family looks closely at who becomes Crown Prince, perhaps because without a strong ruler their position as the ruling clan may be in jeopardy. In any event the eldest son is not automatically entitled to become the Emir. Older brothers or half-brothers have held the position of Crown Prince in the past but eventually had to step down to give it to another. Sheikh Tamim has been Crown Prince since 2003.

Everyone I've spoken to does not expect a lot of change. Many Qataris have told me that Sheikh Tamim was already overseeing large parts of the country as his father was giving him more and more responsibility over the years. Numerous policies were likely developed by Sheikh Tamim himself, and some have said that he was practically running everything now anyway, so the secession should be without a lot of problems.

So why the abdication? I can only speculate (maybe more detail will come forth when the Emir gives a speech to the people tomorrow), but I think there’s two reasons. Firstly, ensure a smooth succession -- the previous two sessions were due to coups from within the Al Thani family, and I think this father-son team will have no issue hanging onto power.

Secondly, maybe His Highness knows that in this day and age it's better that someone younger lead the way. The Emir himself took over when he was in his early 40s, and went on to transform Qatar in astounding ways. I think some newspaper reports have shown the economy has increased seven-fold in the 18 years he has ruled. Heck, I occasionally wax poetic on this blog about the amount of change that has occurred here in just the last seven years! Perhaps he recognizes that he too yearned to take the country in a new direction when he was still relatively young, and that his son would as well. It's an incredibly bold, and likely wise, move from His Highness to ensure that Qatar stays dynamic rather than stagnating.

Like I said, this transition is probably unique in the Arab world. In some ways it's unbelievable to think that His Highness would abdicate at 61 to a new generation.

Congratulations to the new Emir, Sheikh Tamim.

No comments: