Amid swirling rumors and reports of a coup, signs of what could be a serious rift within Qatar’s ruling establishment are emerging.
On Monday, reports of military aircraft active in Qatari airspace and gunfire on the ground prompted a flurry of rumors about a military coup in the country – with speculation that it had been organized by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani.
Although Qatar’s Ambassador to Russia dismissed the reports, the next day Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim added to the speculation with a cryptic tweet that analysts interpreted as rejecting Sheikh Tamim’s authority in favor of his father, under whom Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim was prime minister.
On Tuesday, the former prime minister tweeted: “As I mentioned before I will not answer any polemics, and I want to confirm that I am continuing this policy.” He did not specify to which policy he was referring.
“I am not one of those people that go to others to defend them or attack or to fabricate lies about them from the money of their people. And if anyone wants to complain about me there is no need to complain to others, my higher authority is known,” he added.
According to analysts, this is a veiled reference to Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim’s loyalties to Sheikh Tamim’s father Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim was deposed from his position as prime minister and removed as head of the Qatar Investment Authority in 2013, when Sheikh Tamim took control of the throne after his father abdicated.
“Hamad bin Jassim is telling the Emir of Qatar you are not my higher authority, my higher authority is your father [Hamad bin Khalifa],” said Independent Arabia Editor-in-Chief Adhwan al-Ahmari in a tweet.
The rift between the emir and the former prime minister has reportedly deepened in recent years, and on Twitter, analysts and Qatari dissident royals speculated that Hamad bin Jassim had been behind a coup attempt.
One Qatari royal said that troops had been on the ground in the country, and called on the emir to stand down.
“Iran and Turkey are controlling Qatar. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Turkish officers are present in the streets and neighborhoods of Qatar to suppress and torture everyone they dislike,” said Sheikh Mubarak bin Khalifa al-Thani in an interview with Saudi Okaz newspaper.
Another activist living in Egypt, Mona al-Sulaiti, said that many social media users in Qatar had been too afraid to post anything about the incident online, but the reports of the coup had merit.
Al-Sulaiti pointed out that Sheikh Tamim’s brother, Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad, had tweeted a poem in Arabic with a picture of the emir on May 3 that translates to, “They wanted you to fall and they fell at your feet.”
The Qatari government has yet to issue an official statement despite speculation continuing throughout the week.
Feud between Emir and former Prime Minister
The alleged feud between Emir Sheikh Tamim and former Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim is close to the center of the speculation around the coup.
“The considerable wealth that Hamad bin Jassim has amassed over the years and the allegations of corruption have resurfaced with the allegation that the coronavirus field hospital that collapsed in Qatar injuring 23 people was built by a company linked to Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim,” said a GCC analyst who wanted to remain anonymous.
“This allegation is the latest of many allegations of corruption, including those linking Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim to bribing FIFA officials to allow the country to host the World Cup,” the source added.
In 2010, The United States Department of Justice and FIFA began investigating the bid that granted Qatar the hosting rights to the world’s largest sporting event when Sheikh Hamad was still at the head of Qatar's government.
On April 6, 2020, the justice department said that Qatari representatives bribed FIFA officials to allow the country to host the World Cup, causing public embarrassment to Qatar’s ruler.
The GCC analyst suggested that Hamad bin Jassim had also since fallen out with “the influential brothers of Moza al-Misnad, mother of the current emir and wife of the former emir.”
According to one Qatari who requested not to be named, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim is under surveillance by one of Moza al-Misnad’s brothers, who is often seen accompanying him.
“While some people say that he is a business partner of Hamad bin Jassim, others in Qatar seem to think that he is being asked to keep tabs on him for his sister Moza,” he said.
An audio recording attributed to late Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak can be heard saying that Sheikh Tamim's father Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa nicknamed Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim “the thief of Doha.”
In the recording, Mubarak is heard saying that Moza does not like Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim either.
In response, another person is heard asking why Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim has remained in power under Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, to which Mubarak is heard to answer: “Well, you know everyone makes mistakes.”
“We are not allowed to travel and not so many people know about this,” says Qatari women's rights activist Aisha Al-Qahtani, referring to guardianship rules in #Qatar.https://t.co/GJ9TpzUJxn pic.twitter.com/E8oT7kYeIw— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) May 4, 2020
Was there a coup?
Rumors of a coup attempt continue to circulate and it remains unclear what happened in the country.
On Monday, reports surfaced on Twitter of planes circling above Qatar and gunshots fired in the city of al-Wakrah.
“News of gun fire and explosions in Qatar, and of coups and fighter jets circling,” one Twitter user shared alongside a video on the morning of May 4 that later turned out to be inaccurate.
Qatari authorities have not made any comment regarding the incident. Speaking to the Russian News Agency (TASS), ambassador to Russia Fahad bin Mohammed al-Attiyah denied the authenticity of the footage.
However, Qatari dissidents and analysts familiar with the country say the reports have merit.
Speaking to Okaz, Sheikh Mubarak bin Khalifa al-Thani directly accused the government of using foreign soldiers to suppress dissent on the streets.
One Twitter user, Sharon Collins, showed pictures of smoke coming from a building close to a landmark in the Qatari capital of Doha. “Well, what’s going on in Qatar, will anyone say a word now?” she tweeted.
Sheikh Saud bin Jassim al-Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family, said that as a Qatari living abroad he is worried about the situation in Qatar.
Regardless of exactly what happened on Monday, with former Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim not disowning reports he was behind the coup and Sheikh Mubarak Bin Khalifa al-Thani actively calling on Sheikh Tamim to step down as emir, speculation that something is up in the Qatari elite is likely to continue.