Report: Qatar talks hint at leadership transition

Associated Press

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Qatar's ruler said Monday he plans to transfer power to the Gulf nation's 33-year-old crown prince, a report said, in what would mark a rare transition of authority in a region where most leaders remain until death.

The report by Qatar-based Al Jazeera gave no other details about the transition, but the network was founded by Qatar's government and closely reflects its views on internal issues.

Such a transfer would become the first major shift of rule among the Western-allied Gulf Arab states since a contentious transition in Kuwait in early 2006. It also would signal the sudden rise of a new generation at the helm of one of the region's wealthiest and politically ambitious countries, whose international profile has risen sharply since the Arab Spring as a key sponsor of rebel forces in Libya and Syria.

"This is message to the rest of the region that Qatar is not just a outside player in the Arab Spring but is ready to make room for changes as well," said Mustafa Alani, a regional analyst with the Gulf Research Center in Geneva.

Qatar's reach is further extended by its global investment strategies - ranging from sports clubs such as football's Paris Saint-Germain to aid for debt-burdened Greece and Italy - and its role as mediator in conflicts such as Sudan's Darfur region and regional disputes including Palestinian political rifts. Qatar this week hosted a Syrian opposition conference attended by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and is the venue for possible U.S.-led peace talks with Afghanistan's Taliban.

Qatar has made no official statements on a possible leadership shift even as speculation has grown in recent weeks that the 61-year-old emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, would step down. There also are no clear reports about his health, but he is believed to be ailing.

The emir, however, met Sunday with visiting officials including Kerry and French President Francois Hollande.

While no immediate policy changes would be expected under the British-educated crown prince, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, a possible transition could include the departure of Qatar's highly influential Sheik Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, who serves as prime minister and foreign minister.

Sheik Hamad has played a central role in expanding Qatar's international clout since 1995, when the emir took power in a bloodless coup against his father.

The crown prince, too, has been active in pushing high-profile initiatives by Qatar, including winning the rights to host the 2022 World Cup and leading Doha's unsuccessful effort for the 2020 Olympics. Doha has expressed interest in seeking the 2024 Games.

Sheik Tamim became the next in line to rule in 2003 after his older brother stepped aside.

The potential Qatar transition to a ruler born in the 1980s is in marked contrast to neighbors such as Saudi Arabia, which remains dominated by relative old guard figures in line to succeed the 90-year-old King Abdullah.

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