Almost 18 years to the day after he ascended to ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani has announced that he is stepping down, and transferring power to his fourth son, 33-year-old Heir Apparent Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Government-owned Al Jazeera broke the news following the 61-year-old Emir’s meeting with members of the ruling family and several Qatari advisors today.
BREAKING: Qatar Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani informs he has decided to hand power to heir apparent Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani— AJELive (@AJELive)
No date for the transition of power has been announced yet, but the Emir is expected to address the public tomorrow morning at 8am.
According to Al Arab, the first local newspaper to report on the succession, and confirmed by the official Qatar News Agency, Tuesday will be a national holiday. British schools DESS, DBS, Parkhouse and Doha College have all sent emails to parents confirming that they’ll be closed tomorrow.
— أخبار قطر (@AlArabNewsPaper)
The news is a historic event for Qatar and the Middle East, a region where rulers normally reign until death, or when ousted from power. Over the past two weeks, several foreign diplomats have said that a transition of power in Qatar was imminent.
Although not confirmed, Qatari officials have said that a Cabinet shakeup to include more members of the younger generation is likely. That may entail the departure of longtime Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, 52.
The Emir himself was a young 44 years old when he took power from his father in a bloodless coup on June 27, 1995.
He has been credited with turning Qatar into a regional economic and political powerhouse.
Sheikh Tamim, who just turned 33 a few weeks ago, was educated at Sandhurst Royal Military Academy like his father and is the second son of Sheikha Moza. He already oversees much of Qatar’s day-to-day operations.
According to the Amiri Diwan’s website, he is the commander in chief of the Armed Forces, and presides over the Supreme Education Council, Ashghal, the Board of Regents of Qatar University, Board of Directors of the Qatar Investment Authority, and is also president of the Qatar National Olympic Committee.
Though analysts have said the transfer of power to Sheikh Tamim is expected to prompt few changes in governance, today has nonetheless been an emotional day for Qataris and expats alike, who recalled with fondness the Emir’s reign.