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Nearly a year after leaving his post as prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani has broken his silence about the departure.

In an interview with American journalist Charlie Rose this week, Al Thani discussed the government transition, Qatar’s foreign policy and the Gulf country’s recently strained relationship with its neighbors. (The abbreviated non-Hulu link to the interview is here).

In response to questions from Rose, the former Qatar Investment Authority chairman acknowledged that he had “healthy” differences with other senior officials in Qatar. But he said rumors that he and Sheikha Moza (the former first lady and the Emir’s mother) had conflict were unfounded.

He also expressed full support for Qatar’s new Emir, and said he only left because it was time to step away from power. Asked about what Sheikh Tamim was like, he said:

“First of all he’s a serious guy. He’s clever -not a playboy. Third thing – he’s been trained by his father.”

He added that the Emir had been tested over the past four years and done extremely well, and as a citizen he believed he was the right choice as a leader.

Al Thani did not say what he has been up to over the past year, though he has been widely believed to be living outside of the country. He implied, however, that he may return to life as a businessman here.

“Yes, I am not poor,” he told Rose. “I’m rich.” But he added that his wealth did not come from his former political position, and instead his family and profession as a merchant.

The former politician also fielded questions about Qatar’s much-decried labor laws, saying:

“There is maybe some mistakes – but I can tell you during our time, and now, especially, the government is working hard to do what is needed to be done to have a good standard.”

He also denied that abuses such as late salary payments could be going on, as laws protect workers from such violations. Finally, Al Thani mused whether the intense international focus on Qatar was political, due to its hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

Regional role

In terms of Qatar’s role in the international arena, Al Thani addressed a question about the country “punching above its weight” by saying “you can punch as much as you think you weigh.”

He insisted that Qatar played no favorites in countries that saw revolutions over the past few years, and instead backed whoever the people of those nations supported. For example, in Egypt, Al Thani said he was not fond of the Muslim Brotherhood, and added:

“We did not bring the Islamic Brotherhood to power in Egypt. They’ve been elected by the Egyptian people.”

In terms of Qatar, he said the local population numbers less than 300,000, and is content for now with its monarchy – though this may change in the coming decades, he added.

Moving on to the recent Gulf-wide dispute, Al Thani called for the acceptance of healthy disagreement in the region. But he also sought to reassure Rose that Qatar’s priority was maintaining good ties with its neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia. “I always tell them they are the main bone in our body,” he said.

Al Thani also talked about Syria, Palestine and Qatar’s relationship with the US, saying it was not in Doha’s interest to see Washington in trouble.

He added that the majority of Qataris have no problem with the US military base here, the largest such American installation in the region.

Finally, he said Qatar and other resource rich Gulf nations need to plan for a future in which its revenues do not depend so much on oil and gas, especially as countries like the US are moving to become energy independent.

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We are now blamed for anything that happens in Egypt.

Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar’s Prime Minister, dismissing rumors that Qatar is going to lease the pyramids or buy the Suez Canal, when asked during an Arab League Summit press conference, as reported in the Financial Times.

imageAccording to FT, the questions Al Thani faced about Egypt showed that a “massive backlash” is brewing against Qatar for its involvement in post-revolution governments:

Riding the Islamist wave in the region makes political sense for a small country with huge ambitions and the need to secure its future. But as Qatar is discovering, becoming a party in domestic political struggles is a risky business, more hazardous than Doha had bargained for.

But Michael Stephens, researcher at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in Qatar, argues that the PM’s response may also indicate a shifting strategy. In an article in OpenDemocracy, he asserts:

Sometimes it is easy to think that Qatar is interfering and expanding wherever it can, simply because it possesses the means to do so. HBJ’s performance at the press conference clearly showed that this is not the case. Qatar is becoming picky about when and where it interferes.

Both pieces appear to agree, however, that Qatar will be judged for whatever happens in Egypt for years to come. 

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Credit: Photo by oarranzli

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Amid growing discontent with Qatar’s role in certain revolutions across the Arab world, the country’s prime minister has rejected claims of partisanship in Syria, Egypt and Libya.

Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, who serves as both Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister, defended the country’s actions during a press conference tonight with visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“We are supporting the moderates [in Syria],” the prime minister said in response to questions about Qatar’s role there. 

“The longer the crisis, we will find [more] radical groups taking part, [but] we don’t wish for these radical parties to win,” he said.

Refuting claims across the Middle East that Qatar has been supporting hardline Islamist parties in the various Arab uprisings, including the Muslim Brotherhood, he said:

“It is believed that we are supporting a particular group in Egypt. However it is the right of the people themselves, whether it is Egyptians or Libyans, who or which group [is leading them]. 

From that time, it was falsely propagated that Qatar was supporting one group or another…”

The prime minister did not clarify what role Qatar is currently playing in providing arms to the Syrian opposition.

Kerry, who recently replaced Hillary Clinton as the United States’ most senior diplomat and has been touring Middle East countries, said only that “we are aware of what people are doing” in regards to arms.

But in an interview with Fox News earlier today, he confirmed that the US has been training opposition forces offsite. 

During tonight’s press conference, Kerry added:

“In terms of the fundamental balance of battlefield tactics and of effort, I think it’s pretty clear that the prime minister shares a belief in trying to do what we need to do rapidly and to try to affect this [crisis] most effectively, through the Syrian opposition coalition.”

Kerry also defended US President Barack Obama’s “clear” stance in support of the Syrian people by working to impose sanctions on Syria’s government, and working to identify and strengthen the opposition. 

However, Kerry made no indication that the United States would take any stronger action in Syria.

The other major line of questioning at the press conference had to do with the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, which the Qatar prime minister referred to as “dead”.

“The stalemate, or the dead peace process, we hope can be revived seriously and genuinely by the key sponsor – the United States,” Al Thani said.

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