Qatar is preparing to launch a leadership transition this summer that will see the emir relinquish power to his son, and his cousin, the owner of Harrods, step down as prime minister.
Senior figures in Qatar have briefed foreign counterparts that the time has come for Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, the 33-year-old crown prince to take over the leadership of the gas-rich Gulf state, the Daily Telegraph has learned.
The succession plan, which is due to be launched by the end of the month, will see Hamad bin Jassim, the prime minister and one of the biggest investors in Britain, give up his post.
Within weeks of that decision the royal court will announce that the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, who has struggled with health problems, will cede powers to the Sandhurst-educated crown prince.
A prominent British visitor to the gas-rich Gulf state was told of the plans earlier this year and sources said other key states, including the US and Iran, have also been briefed about the succession.
« The plan is to manage a staged handover of power that allows the crown prince to come to the fore, » said one source with knowledge of the discussions. « The stakes are very high because Qatar is at forefront of events in a very sensitive region. »
Representatives of the Qatar government were not able to comment on the discussions about the emirate’s future leadership but analysts said any changes in Qatar’s leadership would have huge implications for the Middle East and Western foreign policy.
« The legacy of the emir and the prime minister has been to make Qatar a player in the world, » said Michael Stephens, a Gulf researcher at the Royal United Services Institute. « It was an outpost when they took over and now it has grown into a modern city, it is one of the biggest investors in Europe and Britain, has set up a very powerful Arab television station [Al Jazeera] and has a very prominent foreign policy. That is almost all down to the driving force of those two men. »
Sheikh Hamad, the emir, took power in a bloodless coup in 1995, taking advantage of his father’s absence on a trip to Europe. The charismatic monarch has overseen the transformation of the emirate, which lies just 21 miles from the coast of Iran. His glamorous wife Sheikha Mozah, who was last week seen at a charity function with the Prince of Wales at Windsor Castle, has been a symbol of women’s rights in the Arab world.
The resignation of Hamad bin Jassim has huge consequences for Britain even though he is staying as chief executive of the Qatar Investment Authority, an immensely well resourced sovereign wealth fund that recycles the emirate’s gas revenues.
He will continue to be the driving force behind the entity that owns Harrods and invested in prime property projects in London, including The Shard, Europe’s tallest building.
With a relatively tiny population of less than two million, Qatar is an outsized force in Middle East politics.
Although Sheikh Tamim is well known to diplomats and foreign officials, there are questions over the future direction of policies under the new leadership.
As a result of his education in Britain and Qatar’s role as the host of an American airbase, he has close links to Western militaries.
But observers point to his close alliance with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood as a potential sign that he will not be as liberal as his father and the prime minister.
The country has spent liberally on supporting Islamist movements in the Arab Spring, playing a key role in providing arms and logistics for rebels in Libya, Egypt and Syria.