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Qatar and the Al Thani Royal Family

Posted: July 24th, 2017


Qatar is a sovereign country occupying the small Qatar Peninsula on the northeastern coast of the larger Arabian Peninsula. Its sole land border is with Saudi Arabia to the south, with the rest of its territory surrounded by the Arabian Gulf. A strait in the Arabian Gulf separates Qatar from the nearby island country of Bahrain, as well as sharing maritime borders with the United Arab Emirates and Iran.

Following Ottoman rule, Qatar became a British colonial protectorate in the early 20th century until gaining independence in 1971. Today Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, and hydrocarbons account for half of Qatar’s GDP. Its wealth of fossil fuels has made Qatar the world’s richest county per capita.

Qatar follows the conservative Wahhabi Islam of neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Political Life in Qatar

Qatar is a hereditary monarchy and has been ruled by the royal family of Al Thani since the early 19th century. The ruling monarch is called the Emir. The CIA World Factbook classifies Qatar as an “absolute monarchy” although The State Department has called it a “constitutional monarchy”. Nevertheless, there are no elections for national leadership, and Qatari law forbids political parties. Citizens lack the right to change the leadership of their government peacefully through elections.

A human rights report from the State Department has noted that the government places restrictions on civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press (including the Internet), assembly, association, and religion. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but the government limits these rights in practice. Journalists and publishers self-censor due to political and economic pressures when reporting on government policies or the ruling family. Per a U.S. government document: “Newspapers in Qatar […] never criticize the ruling Al Thani family or foreign policy.”

The Al Thani Royal Family

The Al Thani family have controlled Qatar for approximately 140 years, maintaining a “tight grip on power” during British colonial rule and after independence. The Qatari constitution enshrines hereditary rule by the Emir’s branch of the Al Thani family. Accordingly, the Al Thani name can be “a ticket to opportunity,” as local and foreign businesses prefer working with a royal.

The Al Thani royal family occupy the highest levels of government. At least nine of Qatar’s twenty-four leading government positions, including the Emir and his cabinet, belong to members of the Al Thani family.

The United States government, in a diplomatic communication dated 2008 and publicly divulged by WikiLeaks, writes: “the distinction between the State and the Al Thanis is thin, varying, and uncertain.”

Per the same communication: “On the domestic front, the [Emir] and a small circle of family members [make] all the major decisions in the country”.

Regarding foreign policy, “the foreign policy of Qatar can be considered little more than Al Thani family policy, determined by a few Al Thanis at the very top&rdqup; (SOURCE).

The U.S. government maintains that a primary objective of Qatari foreign policy is “to mitigate the strategic risk to the Al Thani family and its control of the state and its hydrocarbon resources.” The document continues, “The strategic risks to Qatar are as much to the ruling Al Thani family as they are to the State of Qatar.”

Perhaps most concisely, the U.S. government declares “the foreign policy of this micro-state is both personality-driven and the product of an unceasing evaluation by the Al Thanis of the domestic and international risks to their family’s 140-year grip on power.”

Elsewhere, the U.S. Government has characterized the nation’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), along similar lines, writing that some of QIA’s investments appear to be based as much on the “personal predilections” of the Emir and his family as on any economic logic.

Al Thani Family Members

In light of the U.S. government assessment that “the distinction between the State and the Al Thanis is thin”; because the U.S. government has raised questions about QIA’s links to the royal family; and due to a report that QIA is the least transparent and least likely sovereign wealth fund to “comply with corporate governance norms”— has begun scrutinizing the QIA’s activities and the activities of the Al Thani family. In order to conduct this research, had to compile a list of key family members. A selection of Al Thani family are outlined below.

Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Bin Hamad Al Thani

Former ruling Emir of Qatar (1995 to 2013)

Photo of Hamad bin Khalifa Bin Hamad Al Thani

Born in 1952, Hamad bin Khalifa is a member of the ruling Al Thani royal family. He was the seventh Emir of Qatar from 1995 to 2013. Hamad seized power in a bloodless palace coup d’état in 1995. (Legend has it that, having secured support from other factions of the Al Thani family, Hamad bin Khalifa called his father at a Zurich hotel to inform him. The Emir hung up.) Subsequently he ruled over the country with an effective co-equal, his cousin Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani (often called “HBJ”) who served as Foreign Minister and Prime minister. The Emir summed up HBJ’s power with a quip: “I may run this country, but he owns it.”

In June 2013, Hamad bin Khalifa abdicated the throne in a politically orchestrated détente whereby his cousin HBJ also resigned from office. Subsequently Hamad bin Khalifa’s son, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, ascended to the throne.

Despite stepping down from his positions in government in 2013, Hamad bin Khalifa remains a diplomat representing the Qatari nation. He appears on the UK’s May 2017 Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomatic list as a “minister-counsellor” serving in the London embassy.

During his 18 years in power, Hamad bin Khalifa was widely credited with increasing Qatar’s political clout and expanding its economy.

The Qatari government now refers to Hamad bin Khalifa as His Highness the Father Emir. He has had three wives, including Sheikha Mariam bint Muhammad Al-Thani, Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser al Missned, and Noura bint Khalid Al-Thani. He is believed to have 24 children: eleven sons and thirteen daughters.

It was under Hamad bin Khalifa that Qatar embarked on a massive expansion in its international role. He founded Al Jazeera, the influential Middle East news outlet, and began to reposition Qatar as a key regional player and, through its US$335 billion sovereign wealth fund the QIA, a massive global investor.

Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani (called “HBJ”)

Former Prime Minister (2007 to 2013) and Foreign Minister of Qatar (1992 to 2013)

Former CEO of Qatar Investment Authority (2005 to 2013)

Photo of HBJ

Born in 1959, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim—commonly known by his initials “HBJ”—is a leading member of the royal family. He served as Foreign Minister from 1992 to 2013, and Prime Minister from 2007 to 2013. He also presided over the Qatar Investment Authority sovereign wealth fund as its CEO from 2005 to 2013.

HBJ ruled over Qatar as an effective co-equal to his cousin, the former Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Bin Hamad Al Thani, until June 2013, when both men resigned in a politically orchestrated détente. Subsequently Hamad bin Khalifa’s son, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, ascended to the throne as the eighth Emir.

The Emir Hamad bin Khalifa summed up HBJ’s power with a quip: “I may run this country, but he owns it.”

Despite stepping down from his positions in government in 2013, HBJ remains a diplomat representing the Qatari nation. He appears on the UK’s May 2017 Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomatic list as a “minister-counsellor” serving in the London embassy.

HBJ is the fifth son of Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. HBJ was married to Jawaher Al Thani from 1973 to 2005. HBJ married his current wife, Aljohara bint Fahad, in 2008. He has 15 children. (SOURCE)

Another source alleges a third wife named Nur bint ‘Abdu’l Aziz al-Subaie, also known as Noor Abdulaziz Abdulla T. Al Subaie.

Sheikh Hamad has an estimated personal net worth of over £7.8 billion ($12 billion).

Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned (also spelled Muza Bint Nasir Al-Misnad)

Second wife to Hamad bin Khalifa

Sheikha Mozah was born in 1959, the daughter of a prominent Qatari named Nasser bin Abdullah al-Missned. Married in 1977, she is the second of Hamad bin Khalifa’s three wives. Sheikha Mozah is the public-facing wife who made appearances with Hamad bin Khalifa in his role as Qatar’s head of state. Sheikha Mozah is the mother of the current Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Khalifa

United States government documents from WikiLeaks indicate a rivalry between Sheikha Mozah and the former Prime Minister/Foreign Minister HBJ.

Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani

Photo of Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani

Ruling Emir of Qatar (2013 to Present), Minister of Defense (2013 to Present)

The eighth and current Emir of Qatar, born in 1980. He is the fourth son of the previous Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. He became Emir of Qatar in June 2013 after his father’s abdication. At 36-years-old, he is one of the world’s youngest reigning monarchs.

British-educated Emir Tamim has previously served in a number of government positions including as Vice President of the Supreme Council for Economic Affairs and Investment. He also served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Qatar Investment Authority.

Emir Tamim is believed to have five sons and four daughters. His wives have included Sheikha Jawahar bint Hamad Al Thani, Sheikha Al-Anoud bint Mana Al-Hajri, and Noora bint Hathal Al-Dosari.

Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Thani

Governor of Qatar Central Bank (c. 2007 to Present), CEO of Qatar Investment Authority (2014 to Present)

Photo of Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Thani

Abdullah bin Saud was chief of the Qatari Royal Court (called the Emiri Diwan) from 2000 to 2005 and he also serves as Governor of Qatar’s central bank since at least 2007. Since December 2014, Abdullah bin Saud has served as the CEO of the Qatar Investment Authority, controlling the sovereign wealth fund’s US$335 billion in assets under management. He is also a member of the Supreme Council for Economic Affairs and Investment. Additionally, he is Chairman of the Board of Directors of one of QIA’s leading domestic investments, a telecom firm called Ooredoo Group.

His background and education are in the military and aviation. In 1993, Abdullah bin Saud completed his graduate studies at the Staff and Command College in Egypt before attending the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 1998.

Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani

Prime Minister of Qatar (2013 to Present), Minister of Interior (2013 to Present)

Born 1959 and a member of the ruling family, Abdullah bin Nasser has a state security background—serving in the state police and the Special Security Force. Subsequently he became Minister of State for Internal Affairs from 2005 to 2013. Subsequently in June 2013, he became the incumbent Prime Minister, replacing the outgoing HBJ. Simultaneously in 2013, he was also appointed Minister of Interior. Abdullah bin Nasser is the son of Sheikh Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani. He is married and he has six children. His official biography is HERE.

Abdullah bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani

Deputy Emir of Qatar (2014 to Present)

Born February 1988, he is the Deputy Emir of Qatar and the designated successor to Emir of Qatar. He is the son of the seventh and former Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, and a younger half-brother of the eighth and current Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad. His mother is Sheikha Noora bint Khalid Al Thani. In November 2014, the current Emir Tamim appointed Abdullah to the post of Deputy Emir.

Ahmed bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani

Minister of Economy and Trade (2013 to Present)

With an education in petroleum engineering, Ahmed bin Jassim served as a board member of the state-owned liquefied natural gas company Qatargas. Ahmed bin Jassim became the director general of the Al Jazeera new channel in September 2011. He left the channel in June 2013 when he was appointed Minister of Economy and Trade. He was recently made a member of the administrative council of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA).

Mohammed bin Abd al-Rahman bin Jassim Al Thani (also spelled Abdulrahman)

Minister of Foreign Affairs (2016 to Present)

Born in 1980, he has a background in in economics and business administration. From 2005 until 2009, he served as Director of Economic Affairs in the Supreme Council for Family Affairs. In 2010, he was appointed Secretary of the Personal Representative of the Emir at the Emiri Diwan. In 2014, he was appointed Assistant Foreign Minister for International Cooperation Affairs. And finally in January 2016, he rose to Minister of Foreign Affairs. (SOURCE)

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