The 20 key moments that shaped Sheikh Hamad’s Qatar

MEED’s timeline looks at the major decisions and events that have helped build Qatar’s international presence over the past 18 years

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani stepped aside on 25 June after 18 years of ruling Qatar, handing power to his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. During his time as emir, the small Gulf nation, with a population of less than two million people, has seen its international presence rise.

Before Sheikh Hamad came to power in 1995, many in the West knew little of Qatar. Now the country has the world’s highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, the rights to host the 2022 football World Cup and is a key player in Middle East and international diplomacy.

So has his time running one of the world’s richest countries been a success, or has Qatar flattered to decieve during his rein? MEED looks at 20 key moments during his reign.

1. 27 June 1995 Sheikh Hamad becomes emir of Qatar, following a bloodless coup to overthrow his father, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani. The incoming emir thought his father’s approach to governing was not progressive enough and wanted to introduce more liberalism.

2. 3 July 1995 The new emir moves quickly to establish a stock exchange, the Doha Securities Market under Decree 14. The exchange opens its doors in 2007 and now has 42 companies listed. In 2008, US-based NYSE Euronext bought a 25 per cent stake in the exchange for $250m.

3. October 1996 Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani, third son of the emir, is appointed crown prince, making him heir apparent.

4. November 1996 Al-Jazeera satellite news channel launched in Arabic, with the aim of broadcasting independent, unbiased news from an Arab perspective. The English-language satellite channel was launched in July 2005. Sheikh Hamad loaned the channel $137m to cover its first five years of trading.

5. March 1999 Voting held to elect members for the Municipal Council, Qatar’s first democratic elections.

Qatar Bahrain Causeway at night
6. September 2001 First contract signed in plans for the Qatar-Bahrain Causeway (also known as the Friendship Bridge), the world’s longest fixed link bridge at 45 kilometres in length. The green light for the $4bn bridge came after both countries accepted the 1999 International Court of Justice ruling on the disputed Hawar Islands. However, plans did not progress far, and the project has been on hold since 2010.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani
7. August 2003 Sheikh Tamim becomes crown prince and heir apparent, replacing his older brother. He has been groomed to replace his father, with Sheikh Tamim later taking on some key roles, including in the bid to win the Olympics, being the figurehead for the Public Works authority, responsible for delivering much of Qatar’s infrastructure and becoming head of supreme councils of the economy, healthcare and education.

8. October 2004 The Doha Debates begin, with the first arguing the motion ‘This house believes that Arab governments are not interested in genuine reform’. The motion was passed. The debates run eight times a year and have been broadcast by UK broadcaster BBC since January 2005.

9. January 2005 Construction begins on the 22-square-kilometre site for the New Doha International airport, now called Hamad International airport. Once completed, it will have two of the longest runways in the world, a 510,000-square-metre passenger terminal and will be able to accommodate Qatar Airways’ new A380 planes. Construction has been heavily delayed and it is now expected to be fully operational later this year.

10. July 2006 Qatar announces that it will build Pearl GTL, the world’s largest gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant. Designed to handle 140,000 barrels a day, it wascompleted in late 2010, at a cost of approximately $19bn.

11. January 2007 Launches bid for 2018 Fifa World Cup. It decided to try for the World Cup after sucessfully hosting the 15th Asian Games in 2006.

12. August 2008 Qatar signs a deal for the design of its rail projects, kicking off its now $94bn plans for a rail and metro network in the country. Just weeks before Sheikh Hamad stepped down, Qatar Railways Company (QRail) awarded $5.4bn-worth of contracts for the construction of the Doha Metro.

13. 2008 Gross domestic product per capita passes $75,000 for the first time, hitting $79,582 according to Washington-based IMF figures. By 2012, GDP per capita had reached $99,700, according to the IMF.

14. May 2010 Qatar Holding buys iconic UK store Harrods Group for $2.2bn. In June 2007, the royal family’s Qatar Investment Authority had increased its stake in UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s to 25 per cent. Known Anglophiles, these are just two of many investments the family has made in the country, particularly in landmark London properties.

15. December 2010 In a controversial decision, Qatar wins the right to host the World Cup finals in 2022. The award was the catalyst for much of the planned infrastructure work in the country.

16. December 2010 Qatar hits 77 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) production capacity, making it the world’s largest producer and exporter. It achieved this after four LNG trains came on stream between 2008 and 2010, increasing its production capacity as well as giving it the revenues it needed to be able to invest in other projects. The Qatargas initiative was launched in 1997, at which time its focus had been on oil.

17. 2011 Qatar sends troops into Libya to support the rebels and took part in in Nato-led air attacks. It was the first time Qatar had taken part in international military action and part of its growing foreign policy efforts outside the Gulf.

18. March 2012 Launches its unsuccessful bid to host the 2020 summer Olympics, learning later in the year that it had not won the games. Sheikh Tamim was a lead figure in Qatar’s bid.

19. November 2012 Qatar hosts the UN Climate Change Conference, the first time the event has been held by an Opec member.

20. 25 June 2013 Sheikh Hamad stands aside, allowing his son Sheikh Tamim to become the new emir, ushering in a new era for the country.

By Robert Jones, 26 June 2013