Approachable, pragmatic and known for a robust sense of humour, Qatar’s new Emir Tamim al Thani appears to have earned a glowing reputation already. The youngest powerful leader of the Arab World, the 33-year-old sports enthusiast, trained as his father was at Britain’s prestigious Sandhurst military academy, is familiar with the heady environment of politics and wealth.
The fourth son of Emir Hamad his predecessor, Tamim was named Crown Prince in 2003, thanks to the influence of his mother Sheika Moza, the sovereign’s second wife. Tamim has been increasingly involved in the machinery of running the country since then, and today embodies continuity – economic continuity notably; he holds the throne of one of the richest states on the planet, due primarily to its position over immense natural gas reserves, estimated the third-largest in the world. Qatar put this treasure to work through investing extensively abroad. Tamim is the head of the Qatar Investment Authority, which supervises policy.
With this financial leverage, Qatar has simultaneously been active on diplomatic fronts. This conferred an incontrovertible regional mediator role on Qatar.
Tamim helped restart dialogue between the Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah – and this month even offered the Afghan Taliban an office in Doha to prepare for talks with Kabul.
The emirate also stood out as a sponsor of the Arab Spring uprisings, providing financial support and delivering weapons to rebels in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria. This put distance between Qatar and Shiite Iran, while bringing it closer to Sunni Saudi Arabia.
Tamim’s big break with continuity is replacing Prime Minister Sheik Hamad Jassim al Thani, the outgoing emir’s cousin. Some sources say Tamim, reputedly more conservative than his father, could tighten things up along those lines, but they add that scenario is improbable.
Qatar’s selection to organise the football 2022 World Cup is just one of the high profile illustrations of its momentum in cultivating a liberal image.
The emirate’s current budget is to run until 2016, and so no abrupt changes are expected, except perhaps in style.