NEWSMAKERS | QATAR
In June, after only a year in office, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the 34-year-old emir of Qatar, found himself at the center of two global news stories. The first saw US president Barack Obama praise Al Thani for his help in securing the release of captured army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held in Afghanistan for five years by the Taliban. Republicans accused the Obama administration of negotiating with terrorists and making the United States less safe by releasing five Taliban detainees from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar in exchange for Bergdahl.
Meanwhile, as the FIFA World Cup competition was about to get under way in Brazil, the Sunday Times of London published accusations that Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam paid bribes to win Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee vehemently denied the allegations and said bin Hammam played no role in its bid committee. The accusations against bin Hammam and Qatar are likely to be deeply felt by British-educated Al Thani, who was voted “the best sports personality in the Arab world” by readers of Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper in 2006, the year he chaired the organizing committee for the 15th Asian Games in Doha.
The Al Thani family has ruled the small, oil- and gas-rich country of Qatar for 145 years. Sheikh Tamim became emir when his father, sheikh Hamad, abdicated last year in a peaceful transition to the next generation. The young emir has followed in his father’s footsteps by utilizing Qatar’s wealth and connections to perform the role of global mediator.
Meanwhile, Qatar hosts the command and basing hub for US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq at the Al Udeid Air Base, west of Doha. Tamim is a graduate of the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
In defense of the Qatari brand, Tamim is launching a new Arabic-language television station, Al Araby, to balance the views of Doha-based Al Jazeera, whose Egyptian commentaries have upset Qatar’s Saudi neighbors.