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QATAR - Qatar's Decision Makers - Hamad Background.

Hamad bin Khalifa was born in Doha in 1950 as the first son of Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani. He studied in Qatar before entering the British Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where he graduated in 1971 as a lieutenant colonel. That was months before his father took over power in Doha by ousting his cousin in a coup. On his return to Qatar, Hamad was made commander of a mobile brigade, which he founded.

In the 1970s he developed this to become an elite force called "Hamad Brigade". He got the help of foreign specialists, including French experts who had served in France's elite Legions Etrangeres (the famous Foreign Legions). This brigade received the best training, equipment, salaries and allowances. Hamad also formed the engineers corps, the military police and the border guards. He modernised Qatar's weapons systems. (The "Hamad Brigade" was a main asset in his power struggles with his younger-half brother Abdel Aziz, with his father and with other adversaries. The Qatari force which took part in the US-led offensive to liberate Kuwait from Iraq, during the January-February 1991 war, consisted mainly of "Hamad Brigade" units, which impressed the Western allies at it drove Iraqi troops out of Khafji in a fierce battle).

Hamad's power struggle with Abdel Aziz and his father began shortly after Shaikh Khalifa's coup against his cousin. As emir, Shaikh Khalifa wanted to promote his second son Abdel Aziz to become crown prince because he favoured the latter's mother over the mother of Hamad. In 1972, Hamad forced his father to promote him to the rank of general and became army chief of staff. Later he became commander-in-chief of Qatar's armed forces with the rank of major general. In 1977, he compelled his father to make him crown prince and defence minister. Shaikh Khalifa had made Abdel Aziz minister of finance and petroleum, a position which Hamad wanted to undermine.

In the 1980s, Hamad gained experience in many fields other than defence, including the petroleum sector which he wanted to control. In mid-1988 he issued a decree making QGPC the sole executive body in charge of the petroleum sector, thus sidelining Abdel Aziz's ministry. In July 1988 Hamad became the first man in Qatar to grant a PSA (as explained earlier on - see Vol. 61, DT No. 12).

On July 18, 1989, Hamad changed the cabinet and brought in several allies to replace figures promoted by his father. By then he had forced Shaikh Khalifa to take a back-seat in the running of the state's day-to-day affairs. In 1992, Hamad decreed another cabinet change and brought in more of his allies. From then on he functioned as "acting prime minister", although that title was still held by his father. On June 3, 1993, Hamad became deputy emir. Because his father never ceased trying to bring Abdel Aziz back to power, Hamad had to stage his coup against Shaikh Khalifa and become emir on June 27, 1995.

Relations with Bahrain have improved much since a World Court ruling on March 16, 2001, resolved their territorial disputes. After the young rulers of the two emirates exchanged visits, Shaikh Hamad ordered construction of a $2 bn, 50-km causeway to link Qatar with Bahrain called Friendship Bridge. Saudi-Qatari relations improved as the Saudi and Qatari foreign ministers signed a final border settlement agreement in Doha on March 21, 2001, ending a 35-year-old territorial conflict; but they worsened later as Shaikh Hamad never agreed to stop al-Jazeera from airing anti-Saudi views.

Despite his overtures to the Jews, however, Shaikh Hamad never hesitates to attack Israel for its excessive violence against the Palestinians. In August 1999, he was the first GCC ruler to visit the Palestinian territory. Nor does he hesitate to forge links with anti-US statesmen, like Fidel Castro who visited Qatar in May 2001 or Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who visited Qatar in February 2001. He has close ties with Iran.

Al-Jazeera, getting an annual grant of about $100m from Shaikh Hamad, is the one of the freest satellite TV channels in the Arab World. Its 24-hour news programmes nourishing democracy have swept up audiences from Morocco to Iran. It airs free and lively debates, offers timely news with an Arab bias, interviews Israeli leaders, and allows criticism of Arab regimes with the exception of Qatar.

More intriguing is the state's position as regional peace-broker. Qatar's small size means it has often been able to tread a fine line on foreign policy. In the 1990s, it managed to have close ties with both Iraq and Iran, and even initiated trade ties with Israel - while other GCC states took a more circumspect position. Sending peace-keeping troops to Lebanon, and the refusal to let the US use its soil for any potential attack on Iran, shows an international awareness previously unheard of. The latter is particularly noteworthy considering the US has its Middle East HQ is Qatar.

It is in the economy that Shaikh Hamad's liberal rule is felt most. Qatar under him has the fastest-growing economy in the world. Like the rest of the GCC, Qatar's fortunes have been transformed by the rebound in the oil prices since March 1999, with its exports of oil, LNG and gas liquids having risen sharply since 1995.

Qatar has become home to the largest project finance deals. As its credit ratings have been improved considerably, Qatar and its foreign partners are among the recipients of the most innovative commercial loans in the Middle East (see down9QatrEnBasAug27-07).

Doha hosted a ministerial mmet of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Nov. 5-9, 2001. In November 2000 it hosted the summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. For the first time, Qatar in October 1996 had a permanent prime minister other than the emir. Until then, the emir used to be the prime minister and held other positions at the same time.

The first PM under his rule was the emir's younger half-brother Shaikh Abdullah Bin Khalifa al-Thani, who in October 1996 formed a cabinet of pragmatists. On Sept. 16, 2003, Shaikh Hamad gave his Foreign Minister Shaikh Hamad bin Jassem the additional role of first deputy PM. He gave his Energy and Industry Minister Attiyah the ranking of second deputy PM.

Shaikh Hamad is the second youngest ruler in the GCC. The youngest is King Hamad bin Issa bin Salman al-Khalifa, born in 1957, who became Bahrain's emir upon the death of his ruling father in March 1999.

Below Shaikh Hamad the emir are two parallel centres of power: one under Crown Prince Shaikh Tamim who acts as deputy ruler in his father's absence, and Shaikh Hamad bin Jassem who has been Prime Minister since April 2007, having succeeded Shaikh Abdullah Bin Khalifa. Under Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa, the decision makers are pragmatic, young and bold. They are far more liberal than their predecessors. Women are playing an important role in the decision making process.

Shaikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani, the prime minister since April 3, 2007, has retained his position as foreign minister - the latter post he has held since the ruler's 1995 coup. The previous PM, Shaikh Abdullah bin Khalifa, had quit for unknown reasons. In the April 3 cabinet reshuffle, the key ministries of energy, interior and finance remained unchanged. A state ministry for energy and industrial affairs was created under Muhammad Salah al-Sada, former managing director of RasGas.

Like Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa the ruler, Hamad bin Jassem tries to market Qatar's oil and gas during his visits on both sides of Suez. He has been a key factor in Qatar's links with the US and Israel, though his critics describe him as being arrogant. He and his brothers have extensive business interests in Qatar.

The following is the full line-up of ministers in the cabinet formed on April 3, 2007:
Prime Minister & Foreign Minister: Shaikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani.
Deputy PM/Minister of Energy, Industry, Electricity & Water: Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah.
Finance, Economy and Trade Minister: Yussef bin Hussein Kamal.
Interior Minister: Shaikh Abdullah bin Khaled al-Thani.
Civil Affairs & Housing Minister: Sultan bin Hassan bin Dhabet al-Dossari.
Municipal Affairs & Agriculture Minister: Abdul-Rahman bin Khalifa bin Abdul-Aziz al-Thani.
Justice Minister: Hassan bin Abdullah al-Ghanem.
Education Minister: Shaikha bint Ahmad al-Mahmoud.
Awqaf & Islamic Affairs Minister: Faisal bin Abdullah al-Mahmoud.
Minister of State for Interior: Shaikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs: Ahmad Abdullah al-Mahmoud.
Minister of State for Energy & Industry: Muhammad Saleh al-Sada.
Minister of State: Muhammad bin Khaled al-Thani.
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Publication:APS Review Downstream Trends
Geographic Code:7QATA
Date:Sep 17, 2007
Words:1420
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