Qatar: a change of tack? There are signs of a changing role for the gas-rich Gulf emirate under its young new leader after Doha's dalliance with the Muslim Brotherhood and funding rebels in Syria.

Author:Blanche, Ed
Position:Current Affairs/QATAR
 
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QATAR, IT SEEMS, IS STEPPING BACK FROM the maverick foreign policy that has so antagonised its Gulf neighbours in recent years, especially its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia, the dominant power in the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the United Arab Emirates, in particular, are deeply suspicious of political Islam, which they view as a threat to their dynasties.

This change came about with the 25 June 2013, abdication of the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and the succession of his fourth son, 33-year-old Sheikh Tamim, a graduate of Britain's Sandhurst military academy who was confirmed as his designated heir in 2003.

Sheikh Hamad took power in a bloodless palace coup in 1995, ousting his father who was vacationing in Switzer land. Sheikh Hamad transformed tiny Qatar into one of the world's richest nations, developing its vast offshore gas fields to become a major global investor and diplomatic player, much to the chagrin of some of the emirate's bigger neighbours.

Sheikh Hamad's decision to voluntarily step down, due in part to health problems, and hand over the reins to his son is highly unusual in a region where monarchs habitually cling to power well into their 80s.

Sheikh Tamim, whose 10-year apprenticeship at the hands of the emirate's military and intelligence services, the institutional core of all Arab rulers, is expected to shift Qatar's policy-making away from such controversial foreign policy strategies as supporting the NATO intervention against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in February 2011 and arming Islamist rebels in Syria when the uprising against Bashar Assad broke out in March of the same year.

Testing Tamim

"In the short term, Qatari policy on issues such as Syria is not expected to change," observes the US global security consultancy Stratfor.

"But as the new emir moves out from under the shadow of his father and seeks to take on more power and control for himself it would not be surprising if Doha's neighbours test Tamim's resolve to continue Hamad's ambitious policies in the region."

In recent months, the Saudis, who are determined to see the Assad dynasty in Damascus overthrown, have restored their primacy as the key Arab backer of the Syrian insurrection while Qatar's influence has shrunk.

This was due in large part to the 3 July coup in Egypt in which the military overthrew the country's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, just over a week after...

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