Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani: 10 Years as Emir of Qatar

The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani recently celebrated 10 years in power. His father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, abdicated in his favor in 2013 when his son was 33 years old. The handover was significant and exemplary in that it did not involve a coup d’état which is quite common in the region; however, it coincided with a very difficult period. The Arab Spring was in full swing, and the state of Qatar found itself at odds with the authoritarian Arab regimes in the region for actively supporting popular uprisings.

Regional and international actors wondered whether the emir would change the country’s foreign policy which was based on Doha’s active partisanship. A U-turn in foreign policy was seen as normal, but what if he followed the path of his father? Would he be able to cope with the difficulties at a time when The Arab Spring was slowly turning against the people who were rebelling. The answer to this question was on everyone’s mind.

As soon as Sheikh Tamim came to power, he decided to continue the foreign policy inherited from his father and to use a slightly softer discursive language. But Sisi’s Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain wanted to hold Qatar accountable for supporting popular uprisings. In fact, they triggered a diplomatic crisis by withdrawing their ambassadors from Doha in March 2014.

The emir asked these countries to reconsider their decision, but to no avail. While dealing with hostile states, Sheikh Tamim also sought to revive the mediation diplomacy that had been a feature of Qatari foreign policy before the Arab Spring. For example, he acted as a mediator between Iran and the West, and brought the Taliban and American officials together in Doha to find a lasting solution.

The blockade of Qatar

In June 2017, Qatar’s neighbors, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and further afield Egypt, began to blockade Qatar by air, land, and sea. Qatar suddenly found itself on the verge of losing its independence. The angry four demanded full allegiance from Qatar. They made a series of demands, from the closure of Al Jazeera to a commission to verify that Qatar had fulfilled the commitments they had demanded—officially all this meant taking over Qatari sovereignty. If the emir accepted the demands, Qatar would become a kind of satellite state. If he didn’t, Qatar would face sanctions.

Although his country was besieged from all sides—even the sending of food was forbidden—the emir did not give up and, with the support of his closest ally, Turkey, and his neighbor Iran, he reduced the destructive aspect of the blockade and managed to keep his country afloat for four years until the Al-Ula agreement was signed in 2021, which lifted the blockade.

Qatar was able to emerge from the blockade without any significant damage, which was a great personal success for Sheikh Tamim. The effect of the soft power factor, invested in since Sheikh Hamad’s reign, was crucial to this success. Since Sheikh Hamad came to power, the Qatari government has been nurturing good foreign relations and making new friends. Thanks to soft power moves such as hosting the U.S. army at the Al Udeid Air Base, actively using the Al Jazeera media group in foreign policy, providing a base for the Turkish army, balancing Saudi Arabia with Iran, and attracting Western support through investment, the blockade was overcome with almost no serious repercussions.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup

Sheikh Tamim also continued to work to improve the country’s image at a time when its sovereignty was under threat. Under his leadership, Qatar organized the 2022 FIFA World Cup. He began preparations for the tournament as soon as he succeeded his father and managed to organize the world’s largest event at an unusual time, in November-December 2022, spending a total of almost $200 billion. The 2022 FIFA World Cup has always had an important place in the image of Qatar. For decades, Qataris have wanted to put Qatar on the map for all to see and thanks to this event, the whole world had the opportunity to get to know Qatar better. In addition, the fans gained knowledge about the Arab Muslim culture.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s investment in football encouraged its Arab neighbors and brought them into the competition. For example, Saudi Arabia brought top players, including Cristiano Ronaldo, to the Saudi Football League; bought Premier League’s Newcastle United; and invested heavily in e-sports and golf—all after Qatar boosted its image thanks to the World Cup.

On the domestic front, Sheikh Tamim allowed elections for the Shura Council, even though Qatar is an emirate. The first elections took in October 2021. By law, 30 of the council’s 45 members are elected by popular vote. Although the council does not share power, it is an important development that the members of such an institution are elected by the people. Sheikh Tamim also abolished the kafala (sponsorship) system before the World Cup in response to criticism of labor rights abuses.

Normalization of diplomatic ties

On the foreign policy front, relations with the blockading Arab states have been normalized and ambassadors have been appointed on a reciprocal basis. The Qatari government has also abandoned its active interventionist foreign policy in recent years and begun to play the role of mediator again. In particular, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan through Qatar and the Taliban’s opening to the world through Qatar are the most notable achievements of Qatari foreign policy in recent years. In the upcoming period, the Emirate of Qatar under Sheikh Tamim is expected to continue its mediation diplomacy and not to get involved in regional conflicts.

Among others, Sheikh Tamim is expected to play an active role in foreign policy, bring the conflicting parties in the region to Doha, pursue a policy of balancing between the great powers, continue to be involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, personally deal with issues of the Islamic world, and increase aid to other countries. In short, Qatar’s maverick foreign policy, handed down from father to son, will continue as it has for the past three decades.

It should be noted, however, that this will come at a price. Although Sheikh Tamim has improved relations with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt, it is certain that rivalry will continue. UAE leader Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) are locked in an unrelenting rivalry to become the leaders of the Gulf and even the Arab world.

Source: Politicstoday.org

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