Qatar emir abdicates and hands power to his son

Qatar’s emir abdicated in a televised address on Tuesday handing over power to his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Khalifa.

In a highly unusual move among the hereditary monarchies of the Gulf, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, 61, said he would take on another role, without elaborating.

The strategic Gulf state is now waiting for the formation of a new government amid reports that the prominent prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, will step down as premier.

Qataris expect some significant changes in the cabinet as new blood is brought in to revitalise the team around the new emir.

When the outgoing emir deposed his father in 1995, he said the country needed an injection of youthful thinking to modernise the Gulf state. In his leaving address, he also emphasised the need for new thinking as Qatar moves into a new phase of development.

“The future lies ahead of you, children, as you usher in a new era,” he said. Sheikh Hamad said he had done his best to discharge his responsibilities, seeking to create stability, security and prosperity.

Qatar has risen to prominence on the diplomatic stage, supporting rebel groups in Libya and Syria.

Fuelled by massive gas reserves, the country has become a powerful global investor.

The outgoing emir expressed his confidence in his son, Sheikh Tamim, who has taken an increasingly prominent role in running the country over the past few years.

Sheikh Hamad urged his son to preserve the cultural values of Qatar, recognising the state’s role in the Arab world.

Saying he had never desired power for its own sake, the outgoing emir expressed confidence in Sheikh Tamim, who was educated at the UK’s military college at Sandhurst.

The new emir on Tuesday started to meet notable Qatari citizens as they were invited to pledge allegiance to Sheikh Tamim over the next two days.

One of the emir’s last decrees extended the session of the country’s advisory council, in effect delaying elections planned for the body in the second half of 2013.

One of the world’s richest nations, the state’s 300,000 citizens receive generous benefits and preferential access to well paid government jobs, blunting calls for reform that have swept much of the Arab world.

While few observers believe the transition will prompt a radical shift in national policy, the new ruler is expected to focus more on domestic development, potentially limiting some of Qatar’s regional interventions.

By Simeon Kerr in Doha, June 25, 2013