New Emir Of Qatar: A Gulf State Gets a Millennial Sheikh-Up

As America comes closer to realizing its constitutional promise of equality for all citizens with the striking down of DOMA, a tiny country on the opposite side of the globe has made progressive waves across the Arab world with news of its transfer of power to a man born in the 1980s.

This week, 33-year-old Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani officially replaced his 61-year-old father, Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, as the emir of Qatar in the sort of voluntary abdication of power virtually unknown to most of the world, let alone the Middle East.

The official announcement of Qatar’s youthful new head of state on Tuesday followed days of orchestrated leaks to Al Jezeera, the country’s media outlet consistently under the influence of government monitoring, that Sheikh Hamad would relinquish his throne to his fourth son from his second wife.

For a man in his early 30s, Sheikh Tamim is a young but familiar face to Qatar’s Gulf neighbors and the international community in recent years, most notably as Qatar’s public advocate for bringing the World Cup to the country in 2020, the chairman of the Qatar Investment Authority, and a senior official overseeing the Gulf kingdom’s military following his graduation from the United Kingdom’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. 

While policy experts inside the Gulf kingdom and out debate how much Shiekh Tamim will do to alter his father’s ambitious foreign policy and regional engagement strategies, there is some promising consensus that he will push Qatar’s government toward enacting domestic policies necessary to allow the country’s tiny population to better cope with the rapid development of its financial, economic, and international markets.  

Remarkably, the fact that his new Cabinet is expected to include members even younger than the millennial emir promises to usher in a new era of progressive policy-making.

Much like neighboring Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, youth are seen in Qatar as an increasingly vital resource to support long-term economic development plans financed by petrodollars — mainly because there is a lot of young people to go around. However, in other Gulf monarchies and countries in the region, youth participation is largely commercial as nations find ways to cope with rising unemployment rates by creating jobs and diversifying their economies in partnership with the global community. 

In a region of the world where a majority of the population is under the age of 30, a young ruler makes sense, but is far from traditional. The expectation for other countries in the region to follow in Qatar’s footsteps by replacing aging leaders with younger generations is almost nonexistent. However, the message sent by the country which has consistently “punched above its weight” to other Arab monarchies is clear: Peaceful and pragmatic transfers of power are possible and may have the potential to benefit the political and general welfare of a nation.