The emir of Qatar has replaced one of his sons as crown prince, setting the stage for instability in the tiny Gulf island nation.
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani shook up his leadership structure on Aug. 5 by shifting the title of crown prince from his third son, 25-year-old Jassim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, to younger son, 24-year-old Tamim. Maneuvers like this are not an unusual practice in the Arab world, where rulers often may designate one son, uncle or cousin as crown prince as a stand-in for a more favored son who has yet to reach maturity. Qatar's situation is no different, but the move still might be a source of political trouble for the tiny Gulf island in the future. Qatar's security rests largely on its ability to resist interference from neighboring states like Saudi Arabia. In the past, Riyadh has supported ousted Qatari officials as a way of threatening the government in Doha. Although Qatar hardly measures up as a rival for regional influence, bad blood between the two states — and Saudi meddling in Doha's affairs — have long been a feature in the region. For its part, Qatar has challenged Saudi's moral authority, using Doha-based satellite television channel Al Jazeera to broadcast debates regarding corruption in the House of Saud and to undermine Riyadh's relations with other Gulf states. Ties between the two countries were further aggravated after U.S. military headquarters in the Middle East were moved from Saudi Arabia to Qatar following the Sept. 11 attacks. The switch within Qatar's ruling hierarchy is the latest turn in a long-running family saga. The now former Crown Prince Jassim was designated heir to the Qatari throne after his grandfather, Khalifa al Thani, attempted and failed to retake power from the current ruler, Hamad, in 1996. A year earlier, Hamad had ousted his father in a bloodless palace coup, which Khalifa — with Riyadh's help — hoped to reverse. According to official accounts, Jassim stepped down willingly as crown prince on Aug. 5, having served merely until his brother Tamim completed his education and could take on the role. Tamim recently graduated from the prestigious Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in Britain. However, diplomats quoted by the BBC claim that Jassim had been asking for greater powers. The former crown prince was chief of the Environment and Protectorates Authority, while Emir Hamad continued to control the defense and intelligence agencies. Jassim often met with foreign diplomats and senior U.S. military officials, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Having served as crown prince for eight years, it is not implausible that Jassim had hoped to expand his political powers. Now, with his chances inheriting the throne officially nil, Jassim may begin looking for alternative methods. Without allies among the military forces or secret police, he has few chances of overturning his father's decree. However, he might turn to his grandfather Khalifa — who is still maneuvering from outside Qatar — and to his backers in Riyadh for help in the future. Jassim could not expect any immediate help from his grandfather or from Saudi Arabia — Riyadh, at least, is a slow-moving entity. Khalifa and Jassim eventually would be rivals for control of Qatar, but they now might share an interest in ousting Hamad and the new Crown Prince Tamim — enabling them to work together for a time. And from Riyadh's viewpoint, the greater the dissident sentiment against Doha, the better: A relationship with the youthful Jassim might not pay off immediately but could yield dividends in the future. This means that Qatar, at least for the short term, will remain relatively stable. Jassim and his allies may not be happy with Hamad's decision, but neither are they in a position at the moment to challenge it. But in the longer run, the grandson and the grandfather may find sufficient common interests to challenge the emir and new crown prince in Doha. In the interim, political intriguing and maneuvering on both sides will be in full swing.