Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Shakedown in Qatar

The emergence of potential challengers to Tamim bin Hamad’s rule says both that the crisis with Gulf nations won’t end soon, but could if an internal coup occurs, writes Haitham Nouri


#Bin Suhaim # Bin Ali
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اقرأ باللغة العربية

A few days ago, another member of the ruling Al-Thani family in Qatar emerged to challenge Prince  Tamim bin Hamad’s reign, in response to a call to hold a “family and national” conference to look into “developments in Qatar”.

The new face is Sheikh Sultan bin Suhaim, a cousin of former prince Hamad bin Khalifah, whose father was Qatar’s first foreign minister at independence from Britain in the early 1970s. Bin Suhaim, 33, lives in the French capital Paris since the start of the crisis, as stated in his video message. “I live in Paris,” he said. “Since the start of the crisis, I could no longer stay in a land where seemingly colonialist foreigners are arriving in hordes, and intervene in our affairs under pretense of protecting us from our brethren in Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Gulf.”

Bin Suhaim continued in the statement broadcast on Sky News Arabia Monday that the Qatari government as “allowed intruders and haters to spread their poison in every direction until we reached the brink of catastrophe. Our role is to close ranks to cleanse our land of them.” He continued: “I support all calls for meeting with all the members of the ruling family, dignitaries and nobles in order to come together to protect Qatar from the treacherous and hateful.”

The message came one day after a statement by Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali, who was named as ruler of the country by an opposition conference, to replace the incumbent Sheikh Tamim. The statement called on “the wise and rational in the family” and dignitaries to meet to discuss the crisis because it had reached the point of “incitement against the stability of the Gulf”.

Bin Ali is the grandson of Qatar’s third ruler, Abdullah bin Jassim, and his father is the fourth ruler. His brother is the fifth ruler before Sheikh Khalifah (father of the previous ruler Hamad and grandfather of the incumbent prince) who deposed him in a palace coup. Bin Ali said he is pained to see the situation deteriorate further, warning against “a destiny we do not want, like other countries that gambled and ended with chaos and destruction”.

Since Bin Ali was named as the replacement ruler, Saudi media has been celebrating the man who is married to a Saudi Arabian woman and lives in London, and has strong business connections to the Gulf. However, many do not believe he has enough popular support to challenge Tamim and take over power. Nonetheless, his appearance and support from Saudi and UAE media revealed that the crisis will not be resolved soon.

The same is true for Bin Suhaim, however the incumbent prince and his father are immune to being abandoned by the ruling family, as noted by Simon Hendersen, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Tamim’s father, Sheikh Hamad, is only a “half Al-Thani” because his mother is not from the royal family, but from the Atiya family who have gained much influence during his rule.

Henderson, director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Programme at the Washington Institute, said that although two of his three wives are from the Al-Thani family, “his favourite wife” and mother of the incumbent prince, Sheikha Mozah, was from Al-Musnad clan. Her father was an opponent of the regime who was in self-exile in Cairo during the 1960s and 1970s, and after reconciliation returned to Qatar and married the daughter of then crown prince Hamad who overthrew his father Khalifah in 1995.

Although this reason alone is not enough to say that Tamim and his father are not immune to palace machinations, many in Qatar do not agree with their views. Many believe Qataris have direct interests with the Saudis and UAE and do not want to forfeit them for relations with Iran. Most Qataris follow Wahhabism in interpreting Islam, and this spiritual issue is another key factor in their strong ties to Riyadh, even though they adopt a more moderate form of Wahhabism compared to Saudi Arabia.

The incumbent prince and his father have not forgotten that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and to some degree Bahrain participated in a coup against them one year after Sheikh Hamad overthrew his father in the mid-1990s. The coup failed and included dozens of tribal members after they were betrayed in the palace.

Nonetheless, the emergence of several Al-Thani princes should disturb Doha’s incumbent rulers because it means alterative figures are being promoted and supported, and Qataris may end up supporting them if the crisis continues much longer.

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