Elevating Doha’s top diplomat to the new prime ministership tells the world that Qatar is heavily focused on the international sphere and its position globally.
On 7 March, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani appointed foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani to be Qatar’s new prime minister.
Sheikh Mohammed, who will maintain his role as Doha’s top diplomat, replaced Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani, who began serving as prime minister in January 2020 and was in this position during the historic 2022 FIFA World Cup.
This reshuffle comes at a time in which Qatar seeks to build on its success in hosting the global sport event and focus even more externally.
As Amir Tamim’s most trusted minister, Sheikh Mohammed is widely respected in Qatar and abroad. Given the challenges and opportunities which exist for Qatar amid this post-World Cup period, his appointment makes a lot of sense.
‘Trusted with more responsibility’
Having served as Qatar’s foreign minister since 2016, Sheikh Mohammed is an experienced and talented diplomat. His skills served Qatar’s national interests well amid the 2017-21 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crisis.
While Doha was under unprecedented amounts of pressure from the blockading states, many Qataris referred to him as the “Knight of the blockade.” To Sheikh Mohammed’s credit, he proved capable of leading effectively as foreign minister amid the crisis and did so without attracting unwanted attention.
Maintaining a close relationship with Washington has long been an extremely high priority for Qatar. During the blockade, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Bahrain sought to convince the US that Qatar was the GCC’s problem child. Yet, Sheikh Mohammed’s diplomatic skills did much to not only preserve, but even strengthen, the bonds between Doha and Washington. President Joe Biden’s administration naming Qatar a “major non-NATO ally” last year underscored this point.
Sheikh Mohammed’s record as Doha’s top diplomat is about much more than his handling of the 2017-21 Gulf feud. He also earned more confidence at home and internationally as a result of other events and developments concerning the Taliban’s 2021 takeover of Afghanistan, US-Iran tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program, turmoil in Chad and the Palestinian struggle.
Amir Tamim appointing Sheikh Mohammed is a “recognition of someone who has done a really goof job and is now being trusted with yet more responsibility,” Dr. Tobias Borck, a research fellow for Middle East security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, told Doha News.
“He has done a good job at further building the professionalism of the foreign ministry. He is seen as having done a really good job. That’s perhaps the other bit that I’d put in this. Something we often underestimate when we look at cabinet reshuffles in the Gulf more generally. It is also about merit. We always get so caught up in talking about the family names, the personal relationships, and so on. But it’s also just about the record of what one’s achieved,” added Dr. Borck.
Indeed, Sheikh Mohammed has had an impressive career in government. At the Ministry of Business and Trade he became the Director of the Department of Public and Private Sectors Partnership in 2009. Nine years later, he started serving as the Chairman of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, Qatar Investment Authority. In 2017, Sheikh Mohammed was named Deputy Prime Minister.
Qatar’s focus on international files
For Qatar, peace and prosperity at home always require wise foreign policy decision-making and international engagement. Elevating Doha’s top diplomat to the new prime ministership and establishing Sheikh Mohammed as the number one in the council of ministers tells the world that Qatar is heavily focused on international files and the Gulf country’s position globally.
“Now with the World Cup behind us, the key big projects complete, and the trajectory set, all seemed in place to bring the foreign minister into the prime minister’s position and reinforce Qatar’s international strategies,” said Dr. Gerd Nonneman, a professor of international relations at Georgetown University in Doha, in an interview with Doha News.
“We believe that through appointing His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani as prime minister the ship will sail as it was towards more prosperity and more successes, not only on the national state but also internationally,” Dr. Majed Al Ansari, an advisor to the Prime Minister and official spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Doha News.
“The focus on the past period on delivering the best World Cup, which was achieved under His Excellency, the previous prime minister’s leadership, was an internal focus. It was a focus on building internal capacity. Now I’m quite sure that after these great successes the focus will shift to international initiatives.”
Pandemics, climate change and sustainable development are among the global issues that Qatar will take on amid its post-World Cup diplomacy push. It is important to note that this appointment took place while Qatar was hosting the United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5). The event attracted more than 6,000 participants from nations worldwide and underscored Qatar’s commitment to supporting low-income countries across the globe.
“Qatar is a leader today on the international stage and I believe that this decision will signal to the world how we are moving toward even more international engagement and strengthening the international role of Qatar,” Dr. Al Ansari told Doha News.
The strong relationships all over the world which Sheikh Mohammed has established will continue to bode well for Qatar’s foreign policy initiatives as even greater burdens of responsibility are on his shoulders.
“The link is very obvious between foreign policy and domestic policy, so here’s your man to do it,” said Dr. Borck.
As Dr. Nonneman explained, the appointment of Sheikh Mohammed to prime minister sends a message to the world about how “Qatar is now confident about its economic and development trajectory post-World Cup, as well as about its regional stature and global strategies in energy, finance, investment and geopolitics.”
Giorgio Cafiero is CEO and founder of Gulf State Analytics.