Hamad Bin Khalifa life and biography

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Hamad Bin Khalifa biography

Date of birth : -
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Doha, Qatar
Nationality : Qatari
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2010-07-22
Credited as : Emir of Qatar since 1995, World's political leader,

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Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Hamad bin Abdullah bin Jassim bin Muhammed Al Thani (born in 1952), is the Emir of the state of Qatar. He rose to that position on June 26, 1995, after deposing his father, who was on vacation in Switzerland at the time.

Sheikh Hamad had been acclaimed Crown Prince in 1977 and at the same time was appointed Minister of Defense. In the early 1980s he led the Supreme Planning Council, which sets the Qatar's basic economic and social policies. Since 1992, Sheikh Hamad has selected Qatar's cabinet and been responsible for administering the country's day-to-day affairs. He has also led the development of Qatar's oil and natural gas resources.

Personal History

The current emir of Qatar, the seventh to rule, is a descendant of the state's founder, Shaykh Muhammad bin Thani Al Thani, who in the 1870s defeated the Bahrainis who were then in possession of the region. Shaykh Hamad finished his primary and secondary schooling in Doha, and then attended the British Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, where he completed a nine-month training program and was then commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Qatari armed forces. His commission came just months before his father, Shaykh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, then crown prince, overthrew the reigning emir, Shaykh Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani, on 22 February 1972, in a nonviolent palace coup whose cause is still not entirely clear. The reason given was the failure of Shaykh Ahmad to remove elements hindering Qatar's progress and modernization. Western observers in Doha reported that Shaykh Khalifa acted when he learned that Shaykh Ahmad was planning to replace him as crown prince with his son Abd al-Aziz.

During Shaykh Hamad's youth, there were profound changes in his country. The export of oil from Qatar on a regular commercial basis began in 1949 and Qatar's income began to rise. It was during this period that the first administrative institutions were created, beginning with the ministries of education (1957) and finance (1960); British civil servants and professionals came to Qatar to run the departments of water, electricity, police, and telecommunications, and in 1946 the first modern hospital was opened. The first primary school for boys was opened in 1951 and one for girls in 1954. By the 1960s, high schools were graduating many Qataris and authorities were sending students abroad to attend universities and colleges.

At that time, Qatar was an official protectorate of the British, based on a treaty signed in 1916. However, by the 1960s, Qatar began to replace British civil servants with young, educated Qataris and other Arab nationals, laying the basis for a Qatari civil service. In 1968 the British government announced its intention to withdraw from the Persian Gulf and put forth a proposal to federate the principalities of Bahrain, Qatar, and the seven emirates that now constitute the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This proposal failed, and on 3 September 1971, Qatar officially announced its independence.

When the young Shaykh Hamad returned from Britain after his years at Sandhurst, he was made commander of Qatar's Army Mobile Brigade, which, with the help of foreign specialists, he developed into an elite force. He was later promoted to major general and appointed commander-in-chief of Qatar's armed forces. In this capacity, he oversaw an extensive program to expand and modernize the military. In 1975 when members of the Al Thani family staged a mutiny against the central government, Shaykh Hamad used his mobile brigade to march on them and suppress the uprising. On 31 May 1977, his father appointed him crown prince, and at the same time made him minister of defense.

Shaykh Hamad also showed a keen interest in developing youth organizations and expanding sports and athletic activities. He chaired the Higher Council for Youth Welfare, created in 1979, which opened clubs and sponsored youth activities, and established a military sports association. More significantly, in 1989 Shaykh Hamad established the Higher Council of General Development. The main task of this organization was to build the modern state of Qatar; it is still functioning today.

Hamad Becomes Emir

In time, the duties and involvement of Shaykh Hamad in government affairs increased substantially. Gradually, his father, Shaykh Khalifa, took more time off, leaving his son in charge of affairs. As time went on, the emir became increasingly suspicious of people and was slow in making decisions on important issues, letting government files accumulate without action. On 27 June 1995, while the emir was vacationing in Switzerland, Shaykh Hamad seized power in a bloodless coup, ousting his father and declaring himself emir. News of the takeover did not come as a surprise to most Qataris, who believed that affairs could not continue as they were for much longer. The rest of the ruling family and other important personalities quickly gave their support to the new emir. One of the most important factors behind the coup was the slow pace of economic development even while Qatar was accumulating oil money. Shaykh Hamad soon began a modernization program.

Soon after the coup, Shaykh Khalifa returned from Europe and settled in the UAE, where he attempted to get help from neighboring countries to reinstate himself. On 20 February 1996, the Qatari government announced that it had foiled a coup attempt by "foreign-backed saboteurs," presumably in his support. Following this announcement, hundreds of people who were suspected of participating in the coup attempt were arrested and put on trial. This trial lasted several years. In February 2000, a verdict was announced: Some defendants were acquitted, some were sentenced to death, life in prison, or lesser sentences. However, by the end of 2006, no one had been executed. For years after the coup attempt, Shaykh Hamad remained suspicious of the al-Ghufran clan of the powerful al-Murrah tribe, many of whose members had participated in the coup. In 2005, the emir deported some 5,000 members of that clan to Saudi Arabia; they were fired from their jobs and stripped of their Qatari nationality. The deportation affected some 2.5 percent of the native Qatar population, totaling around 200,000. Some of the exiles have since been allowed to return; others remain scattered in the countries of the Gulf. The official reason for this act was that this large number of people held dual nationality--Saudi and Qatari--not permitted by Qatari law.

One of the complications of the 1996 coup was financial, as Shaykh Khalifa had kept billions of dollars in personal accounts, money that by right belonged to the state treasury. It took a good deal of maneuvering and negotiations for the new emir to get some of these funds back to Qatar in a deal reached in 1997. Finally, father and son reconciled, and the former emir returned to Qatar, where he has resided since 2005.

Influences and Contributions

Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar adhere to the strict Wahhabi sect of Islam. Shaykh Hamad, however, is liberal in the application of religion and does not impose his religious views on others. Since 2002 he has allowed at least two churches to open in the country. But even as crown prince, the emir did not hesitate to crack down on members of his family involved in cases of corruption.

Domestically, Shaykh Hamad rules a country with little political opposition to his regime. The al-Qa'ida terrorist organization and the Islamic extremists have shown few manifestations there. A noted exception, however, came in March 2005, when militants used a car bomb to attack a theater in Doha, killing a British citizen and twelve other people. Another worry over domestic stability comes from concern over the emir's health; he has already had one kidney transplant.

Since the rise of modern Qatar in the 1870s, the position of emir has alternated among branches of the ruling family, rather than passing from father to son. This has made the appointment of the next emir a sensitive issue, one that has had to be agreed on by the entire family. Shaykh Hamad has put an end to this tradition. In Article Eight of the new permanent constitution, he has limited the succession to his direct line of male descendents. The constitution, however, preserves some of the prerogatives of the Al Thani family by providing that the appointment of the crown prince should come after consultation and approval of members of the ruling family and notables. The tradition in Qatar is that members of the ruling family and other Qatari personalities visit the ruler and heir apparent after they assume these positions and pledge allegiance to them.

Elections, Media, and the Role of Women

One of Shaykh Hamad's most surprising reforms came in November 1995, when he announced his intention to hold general elections for the first municipal council in Qatar. These elections were held in March 1999, and were repeated in 2003. The 29-member Qatari Municipal Council was groundbreaking in two ways. First, although other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries had municipal councils, the Qatari council was the first to be elected. Subsequently, other Gulf countries, such as Kuwait, Bahrain, and even Saudi Arabia, followed suit. Second, the emir gave both men and women the right to vote, the first time women in any GCC country were given the vote.

Shaykh Hamad also took steps to open up the media, with a remarkable impact, not only in Qatar but in the Arab world as a whole. The first step was to abolish the ministry of information on 13 March 1998, thus ending formal government control of the press. The second and more important was the establishment of the satellite TV channel, al-Jazeera. The idea of al-Jazeera was first conceived by Shaykh Hamad in 1994, while he was still crown prince. It began broadcasting in November 1996. Initially, the Qatari government donated about $137 million to initiate al-Jazeera, hoping that in time it would become self-supporting. Ten years later, al-Jazeera is still dependent on the government for its financial support, but it has made a huge impact on the Arab world. Al-Jazeera operates independently of the Qatari government with frank and daring reporting; no other TV station is able to broadcast continuously without censorship. Many Arab and other international leaders have protested to the emir and to Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabr Al Thani about its "unfair" reporting, but the Qatari government continues to support it. Other Arab satellite stations have tried to compete with limited success.

Shaykh Hamad has also supported the entry of women into the public sphere in Qatar. Women's education has spread rapidly and today at Qatar University, an institution with more than 10,000 students, almost 75 percent are women. Qatari women now have the right to vote in municipal and national elections and are appointed to some top jobs. In May 2003, Dr. Shaykha al-Mahmud was appointed minister of education, the first woman to hold a cabinet position in any GCC country. In July 2003, another woman, Dr. Shaykha al-Misnad, a professor of education at Qatar University, was appointed president of the university in 2003, another first for women in the GCC. Women and men sometimes work side by side in government offices and women receive equal salaries and pensions. The progress of Qatari women is due in part to the emir's second wife, Shaykha Mawza bint Nasir al-Misnad, who has encouraged her husband to serve the cause of women and is herself a role model. She campaigned hard to secure rights for Qatari women and she participates in important women's conferences in Qatar, the Gulf, and the world. She also heads the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Social Development, established in 1996. The foundation controls Education City, which includes branches of several major American and other Western universities. The emir's sister, Princess A'isha bint Khalifa Al Thani, is also active in public life.

The increasing role of women in Qatar has met with some resistance from Islamic conservatives who see the new role for women as contrary to Islamic teaching. When the Emir decided in 1998 to give women the right to vote, protests were heard from Islamists. One of these was Dr. Abd al-Rahman bin Umayr al-Nu'aymi, professor of history at Qatar University. He was so vocal that the emir had him arrested and put in jail, although they were friends. After a thousand days without a trial, Dr. Nu'aimi was released, but he still expresses his conservative Islamic views and heads an important intellectual center.

The Qatari Economy

Since the accession of Shaykh Hamad to power, Qatar has experienced enormous economic expansion, particularly in opening up private business and investment opportunities, especially in the development of its hydrocarbon resources. In 1971 Shell discovered Northfield, the world's largest maritime gas reservoir, about 55 miles northeast of Qatar, and by 2000 Qatar was the world's third largest producer of liquid gas (Qatar is believed to have the second largest reserves of natural gas in the world). Qatar has also made progress in the social and educational sectors and in building its infrastructure.

In the early 1990s, as crown prince, Shaykh Hamad developed a policy for the development of Qatar's oil and gas that has given the country one of the highest per capita incomes in the world ($46,000 in 2005 and rising steadily). To achieve this development Shaykh Hamad allied himself with the oil giant Mobil, allowing the company to build new oil infrastructure and to acquire the shipping and marketing rights to Qatar gas. This relationship has made Mobil (now ExxonMobil) a leading partner in Qatar's hydrocarbon industry and integrated the country firmly into the global capitalist economy. The Qatar-Mobil oil and gas deals of the 1990s were influential in persuading Shaykh Hamad to establish closer political and security ties with the United States. These ultimately led to the establishment of al-Udayd military base, one of the largest U.S. military facilities outside the United States.

Today Doha is one of the main centers for international conferences and meetings. For example, Qatar hosted the summit conference for the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in 2002 and the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in 2001, now known as the Doha Round. Qatar also hosted the 15th Asian Games in December 2006. Work is underway to open roads, hotels, shopping centers, and skyscrapers which are rising in the fashionable al-Dafna area of Doha along the waterfront.

The World's Perspective

Shaykh Hamad has opened the doors of Qatar to political refugees from many countries in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Among them are former Ba'thist leaders, including members of Saddam Hussein's family who fled Iraq after the fall of the regime in 2003. Qatar is now playing an active role in regional and international politics. Despite Arab protests, the emir allowed Israel to open a trade mission in Doha in 1996, and since then a number of Israeli delegations have visited. The Qatari foreign minister has paid more than one visit to Israel. Qatar was also one of the first GCC countries to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. Qatar also frequently plays a role in mediating international disputes elsewhere in the Arab world. In 2003, Qatar also tried unsuccessfully to persuade Hussein to step aside and avoid a military confrontation with the United States. Shaykh Hamad was the only Arab leader to visit Beirut after the August 2006 war between Hizbullah and Israel; while there he created a stir when he praised the "Lebanese resistance" and offered generous donations to help reconstruct Lebanon. Qatar was the only Arab country to offer to participate in the United Nations (UN) international force to be stationed on the Lebanese-Israeli border in the aftermath of the war. In 2006, Qatar obtained a seat as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council.

Behind the new Qatari weltpolitik is, besides the emir, his foreign minister, Shaykh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabir Al Thani. There is little doubt that this policy is costing Qatar money in donations, support for foreign countries and causes, and other expenses. In return, Qatar and its emir are getting a strong international image and recognition.

The Qataris under Shaykh Hamad have shown flexibility in solving one of the oldest of Qatar's problems--its border dispute with Bahrain over several offshore islands. This dispute goes back to the 1930s, but was finally settled on 16 March 2001 when the world court granted Bahrain sovereignty over the Hawar Islands and the Qitat Jarada Shallows. Qatar was awarded sovereignty over Zubara and the shallows surrounding the Islet of Fasht al-Dibal. Both Qatar and Bahrain have stated that they will abide by the court ruling.


It is too early to assess Shaykh Hamad's permanent legacy, but it is likely that he will be remembered for his work in helping Qatar become increasingly visible on the world stage as well as the strides toward modernization that Qatar has taken during his reign.

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