Qatar Leadership Transition: Assessing The Potential Risks

  • Arab and Western diplomats in Doha have announced that a Qatari leadership transition is now underway, with 33-year old Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani set to assume a more prominent role over the coming months. The succession plan would likely see Prime Minister Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who also serves as foreign minister, leave his posts. Sheikh Tamim could then either occupy the position of prime minister, or could directly replace his father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, as Emir.
  • Crown Prince Tamim is the fourth son of the Emir and was made heir apparent in 2003. His influence in policy-making has risen steadily in recent years: he issued a decree granting a 120% salary hike to military officers in 2011, and has helped to manage the crucial portfolios of internal security and Qatar’s foreign relations with Saudi Arabia and Libya. He has also consolidated his power base within the government by appointing key officials and overseeing various economic and social ministries. Given the diminutive size of the Qatari bureaucracy and Foreign Service, most of Qatar’s policies are alleged to have been pioneered in practice by the ruling triumvirate of the Emir, the prime minister, and the Crown Prince.
  • We believe that Sheikh Tamim’s close involvement in the policy-making process, as well as his decade-long status as Crown Prince, should help to ease his ascension to the top. Nevertheless, the succession process is clouded with several risks in our view:
  • Internal Rivalries Remain Elevated: Politically, the ruling family is characterised by factionalism and internal rivalries, which could now burst into the open. The outlook is complicated by the size of the Emir’s family, which consists of three wives and 24 children, of whom 11 are sons. Nor is historical precedent encouraging in Qatar’s case; the past two Emirs have both come to power by overthrowing their predecessors.  However, given his role in the 2011 military pay increases and his long involvement with the security forces, the Crown Prince most likely enjoys a strong degree of support from the army. This close relationship should help to limit the odds of a hostile coup.
  • Limited Changes To Economic Policy, But Near-Term Risks Exist: Assuming Sheikh Tamim successfully navigates his way to either the premiership or the throne, we expect few changes to Qatar’s current economic policy. We believe both the Emir and the Prime Minister will likely retain significant influence over policy behind the scenes. Qatar could however suffer from bureaucratic delays in the near term, particularly if a wider governmental reshuffling takes place or the Crown Prince struggles to assert his control over public agencies.
  • Direction Of Foreign Policy Uncertain: The Crown Prince’s close involvement with Qatar’s foreign policy to-date suggests that a sudden shift is unlikely, and we expect Qatar’s close partnership with the US to continue. That said, Sheikh Tamim is known to have stronger ties with the Muslim Brotherhood than his father, and could seek to further deepen Qatar’s ties with Brotherhood-linked movements in Egypt and Tunisia. We note that Qatar’s hyperactive foreign policy has brought mounting regional resentment, which risks undermining Qatari business and diplomatic ties in the long term. In our view, the Crown Prince will eventually be confronted with the need to balance or downscale Qatar’s current foreign policy.