Qatar talks hint at leadership transition

Qatar talks hint at leadership transition

Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, 61, said to be preparing to step down in favor of 33-year-old crown prince

Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in Gaza City. (photo credit: (photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in Gaza City. (photo credit: (photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Qatar’s ruler plans high-level meetings Monday that could formally begin the process to hand power to the Gulf nation’s 33-year-old crown prince, a report said, in a possible rare transition of authority in a region where most leaders remain until death.

The report by Qatar-based Al Jazeera gave no other details about the expected talks, but the network was founded by Qatar’s government and closely reflects its views on internal issues.

Such a transfer would mark the first major shift of rule among the Western-allied Gulf Arab states since a contentious transition in Kuwait in early 2006. It also would signal the sudden rise of a new generation at the helm of one of the region’s wealthiest and politically ambitious countries, whose international profile has risen sharply since the Arab Spring as a key sponsor of rebel forces in Libya and Syria.

Qatar’s reach is further extended by its global investment strategies — ranging from sports clubs such as football’s Paris Saint-Germain to aid for debt-burdened Greece and Italy — and its role as mediator in conflicts such as Sudan’s Darfur region and regional disputes including Palestinian political rifts. Qatar this week hosted a Syrian opposition conference attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry and is the venue for possible US-led peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban.

Qatar has made no official statements on a possible leadership shift even as speculation has grown in recent weeks that the 61-year-old emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, would step down. There also are no clear reports about his health, but he is believed to be ailing.

The emir, however, met Sunday with visiting officials including Kerry and French President Francois Hollande.

While no immediate policy changes would be expected under the British-educated crown prince, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, a possible transition could include the departure of Qatar’s highly influential Sheik Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, who serves as prime minister and foreign minister.

Sheik Hamad has played a central role in expanding Qatar’s international clout since 1995, when the emir took power in a bloodless coup against his father.

The crown prince, too, has been active in pushing high-profile initiatives by Qatar, including winning the rights to host the 2022 World Cup and leading Doha’s unsuccessful effort for the 2020 Olympics. Doha has expressed interest in seeking the 2024 Games.

Sheik Tamim became the next in line to rule in 2003 after his older brother stepped aside.

The potential Qatar transition to a ruler born in the 1980s is in marked contrast to neighbors such as Saudi Arabia, which remains dominated by relative old guard figures in line to succeed the 90-year-old King Abdullah.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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