Qatari ruler hands power to son to mark ‘new era’

Qatar’s ruler formally handed power Tuesday to his 33-year-old son, capping a carefully crafted transition that puts a new generation in charge of the Persian Gulf nation’s vast energy wealth and rising political influence after the upheavals of the Arab Spring.

The 61-year-old emir, Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, used a televised address to note repeatedly the importance of shifting leadership to more youthful hands — an indirect acknowledgment of the demands for reforms sparked by the uprisings that have swept the region.

Qatar has been a player in the regional turmoil, using its riches to support rebels in Libya in 2011 and in Syria’s ongoing civil war. Qatar also broke ranks with other gulf states to help the Muslim Brotherhood, which rose to political dominance in Egypt. Qatar’s influence is further spread by the powerful al-Jazeera TV network, which it founded.

Amid the Arab Spring turmoil, the Western-backed Persian Gulf Arab dynasties have managed to remain in power, but they have revealed their insecurity by launching crackdowns that have included arrests over alleged ­anti-state plots and social media posts deemed insulting to the leadership.

“The future lies ahead of you, the children of this homeland, as you usher in a new era where young leadership hoists the banner,” the emir said as he announced the transition to the British-educated crown prince, Sheik Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani.

Qatar has given no official explanation for the transition, which had been expected for weeks, but Hamad is thought to have chronic health problems.

In a sign of continuity and shared goals, the outgoing emir and Tamim stood shoulder to shoulder Tuesday and greeted members of the ruling family and others after the address. Later, Tamim was greeted by members of the ruling family, military officers and others “who came to swear allegiance,” the official Qatar News Agency reported. The transition is a rarity in a region where leadership changes are nearly always triggered by deaths or palace coups.

Tamim has been closely involved in key decisions since 2003, when he became the next in line to rule after his older brother stepped aside. The outgoing emir is expected to remain a guiding force from the wings.

“Sheik Tamim will be driving his father’s car, which is already programmed on where to go,” said Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Geneva.

Under Hamad, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1995, Qatar has been transformed into a political broker and a center for global investment with a sovereign fund estimated to be worth more than $100 billion.

It has also mediated in conflicts such as the one in Sudan’s Darfur region and regional disputes, including Palestinian political rifts. This weekend it hosted a Syrian opposition conference attended by U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry. Qatar also is the venue for possible U.S.-led peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban.

— Associated Press

Brian Murphy joined the Post after more than 20 years as a foreign correspondent and bureau chief for the Associated Press in Europe and the Middle East. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has written three books.
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