DOHA (AFP) – The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, is preparing to hand control of the gas-rich Gulf state to his son, Qatari diplomats and officials said.
A cabinet reshuffle is also expected in which powerful Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani may lose his post, or at least the foreign affairs portfolio, the sources said.
A Qatari official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the emir “is convinced that he should encourage the new generation” of politicians and rulers.
“He hopes to transfer power to the crown prince, Sheikh Tamim (bin Hamad al-Thani), and to carry out a ministerial reshuffle” and appoint younger ministers, the minister said.
Sheikh Tamim, born in 1980, is the second son of the emir and his second wife Sheikha Mozah.
The crown prince is joint commander of the armed forces and head of the country s Olympic committee.
Political sources said that the premier, a cousin of the emir, could lose the foreign affairs portfolio he has held since 1992, and maybe even the premiership which he has held since 2007, in a reshuffle.
A French diplomatic source told AFP that the emir could “take a step back, that is, not completely retire but take on a more honorary position, in such a way that his son could take on more responsibilities and become the man in charge”.
“This change could come quite quickly, after (French) President Francois Hollande s visit” to Qatar on June 22, the source added.
Qatar has become a major regional player thanks to its support for the Arab uprisings.
The prime minister has played a key role in Qatar s foreign policy, which saw the country take part in the armed intervention against former Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.
Qatar also actively supports Syrian rebels who have battled the regime of President Bashar al-Assad since 2011.
The crown prince is playing an increasingly important role in the Gulf state, particularly in internal affairs.
According to a Qatari official, the emir may already have transferred “more than sixty percent of his powers in security and military matters”.
The emir, who took power in a 1995 palace coup against his father, recently told several diplomats that he would like to hand power over to his son.
One diplomat told AFP that Hamad hopes to “score a first in the Arab world,” where his country has supported uprisings against autocratic rulers who held power for decades.
The diplomats said that the emir s decision could be linked “to developments in the region,” where Qatar s policy on Syria seems at odds with the United States indecision, rather than to the state of his health.
Hamad has been suffering from kidney problems, “which are forcing him to cut down his activities but have not had an effect on his ability to lead the country,” according to a Qatari official close to government circles.
Other Qatari officials said that the power transfer may not take place immediately, however.
“If Sheikh Tamim is named emir straight away that would mean that his oldest son, who is four or five years old, would become crown prince,” one said, speaking privately.
“In this case there would have to be a constitutional amendment to name one of Sheikh Tamim s brothers as crown prince,” he added.
He is the fourth son of the emir, and was named crown prince in 2003 after the withdrawal of his older brother Jassem in his favour.
The emir, born in 1952, has overseen the transition of modern Qatar into a key regional and international player.