“I address you today to inform you that I will transfer power to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. I am fully confident that he is qualified for the responsibility and is trustworthy and able to carry the message forward. I am full of faith that you will be the best support for him as you supported me ... I am confident too that Tamim will put the interest of the nation and its people as his priority and that the happiness of the Qatari people will be his main goal at all times.” With these words, Qatar begins its leadership transition. What do these changes mean at this moment?
Qatar finds itself today in the midst of a blowback from its foreign policy intentions across Northern Africa and in Syria since the start of the Arab Spring. Qatar, forced by the United States and Saudi Arabia to halt Doha’s supply of arms to Syrian rebels, until a systemic solution is found, is now sidelined as a result blowback factor.. This fact does not mean Qatar is out of the solution to Syria. In fact, after the Friends of Syria meeting recently held in Doha, Qatar is part of an emerging coalition willing to enforce the development of safe havens in which the new Emir, Sheikh Tamim, will play a major role. In other arenas, such as Egypt or Yemen or even Syria, we may see from the New Emir a change in policies that are less aggressive and more cooperative with regional partners and that do not put the Muslim Brotherhood at the forefront.
Sheikh Tamim’s next moves
It is important to remember that Emir Tamim will now be able to concentrate on its internal and external economic policies. There is much work to be done in Qatar in the coming years regarding infrastructure development to realize the goals and aspirations of the Qatar National Management Strategy, 2011-2016 as well as Qatar Vision 2030 made by, his father, the former Emir. In addition, being the richest country by capita in the world, Qatar will continue to buy assets abroad and make investments in worthwhile projects that will ultimately help Qatar at home.
Qatar’s new Emir and the leadership will open a new era security cooperation likely without the assertive foreign policy under the former Emir.Dr. Theodore Karasik
It is important to be clear on Emir Tamim’s portfolios before his appointment. Indeed, the New Emir had many responsibilities for Qatar’s economy. But Emir Tamim has been responsible for arms purchases and policy for the past several years. He is close to the Qatari Chief of Staff Al-Attiyah. Earlier this year, it is assumed that the then-Crown Prince Qatari official had compiled an equipment list worth at least 26 billion dollars. In May 2013, Saab of Sweden was said to be working with Sheikh Tamim to discuss Gripen NG (Next Generation) multirole fighter jet to other fighter jets, including notably the F-16, the Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon. In June 2013, before he became Emir, he became responsible for all aircraft purchases.
Indeed Qatar’s new Emir is no stranger to Qatar’s security and defense needs and requirements. For the past several years, the then Crown Prince had responsibility for Qatar’s defense purchases and modernization program. He resumed many of the purchases that had been put on hold by soon to be former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad Bin Jasmin al-Thani (also known as HBJ). Notable purchases include PATRIOT missile systems and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), both of which were secured late in 2012. Qatar spent billions on new Apache and Black Hawk attack helicopters and Hellfire missiles from the U.S. and ordered 200 Leopard-2 tanks from Germany besides other equipment. In addition, Qatar already received 12 MRH Helicopters from the Italian-UK consortium Agusta Westland. Qatar also knows how to get the best deal for the Emirate’s money. In 2008, Qatar ordered 2 C-17 Globemaster III strategic transport aircraft for the Qatar Emiri Air Force to help boost Doha’s lift capability for humanitarian operations around the region.
Western governments know that Qatar will still be a valued ally, particularly as tensions run high against Iran and the conditions in Syria deteriorates with an expected push by the United States for a coalition intervention. The country will clearly remain host to the U.S. Central Command’s Forward Headquarters and the Combined Air Operations Center. But there are discussions ongoing about moving the U.S. Fifth Fleet from Bahrain to Qatar. Perhaps under the new Emir these negotiations may move forward.
Finally, the change in leadership is very good news for defense companies. Many nations have cleared companies to sell arms to Qatar, partly to offset cuts in domestic spending in the West. For example, Qatar bought an EADS border surveillance contract, dubbed National Security Shield, but has not bought French military gear for many years. That may now change with more sales and actual deliveries under the new leadership is likely imminent.
Overall, Qatar’s new Emir and the leadership will open a new era security cooperation likely without the assertive foreign policy under the former Emir. This change in leadership is good for the GCC, good for the region, and better for Qatar itself. In coming days, more appointments will be made and Qatar’s next generation will come unto its own.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.