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Qatar: The Al Thani
Country Study > Chapter 5 > Government and Politics > The Al Thani

THE AL THANI


In the early 1990s, the Al Thani ruling family comprised three main branches: the Bani Hamad, headed by Khalifa ibn Hamad (r. 1972-); the Bani Ali, headed by Ahmad ibn Ali; and the Bani Khalid, headed by Nasir ibn Khalid (minister of economy and commerce in 1984). The family had 20,000 members, according to one estimate.

The two preindependence rulers, Ali ibn Abd Allah (r. 1949- 60) and his son, Ahmad ibn Ali (r. 1960-72), had no particular interest in supervising daily government, content to hunt in Iran and Pakistan and spend time at their villa in Switzerland. Thus, somewhat by default, those duties were assumed, beginning in the 1950s, by Ahmad ibn Ali's cousin, Khalifa ibn Hamad, the heir apparent and deputy ruler. By 1971 Khalifa ibn Hamad not only had served as prime minister but also had headed the ministries or departments of foreign affairs, finance and petroleum, education and culture, and police and internal security.

On February 22, 1972, with the support of the Al Thani, Khalifa ibn Hamad assumed power as ruler of Qatar. Western sources frequently refer to the event as an overthrow. Qataris regarded Khalifa ibn Hamad's assumption of full power as a simple succession because leading members of the Al Thani had declared Khalifa ibn Hamad the heir apparent on October 24, 1960, and it was their consensus that Ahmad ibn Ali should be replaced.

The reasons for the transfer of power were not entirely clear. Khalifa ibn Hamad reportedly stated that his assumption of power was intended "to remove the elements that tried to hinder [Qatar's] progress and modernization." Khalifa ibn Hamad has consistently attempted to lead and to control the process of modernization caused by the petroleum industry boom and the concomitant influx of foreigners and foreign ideas so that traditional mores and values based on Islam can be preserved. He and other influential members of the ruling family are known to have been troubled by the financial excesses of many members of the Al Thani. Ahmad ibn Ali reportedly drew one-fourth, and the entire Al Thani between one-third and one-half, of Qatar's oil revenues in 1971. The new ruler severely limited the family's financial privileges soon after taking power.

Family intrigue may also have played a part in the change of rulers. Factionalism and rivalries are not uncommon, particularly in families as large as the Al Thani. Western observers have reported rumors that Khalifa ibn Hamad acted to assume power when he learned that Ahmad ibn Ali might be planning to substitute his son, Abd al Aziz, as heir apparent, a move that would have circumvented the declared consensus of the Al Thani.

Data as of January 1993




Last Updated: January 1993


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Qatar was first published in 1993. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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