The new emir of Qatar, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has said he plans to follow policies established by his father and the country's last government. He gave his position during his first speech as head of state.
In a televised speech on Wednesday, the 33-year-old emir signalled that Qatar would not see a drastic change in domestic or foreign policy despite new leadership. The father of the new emir announced the end of his 18-year rule the day before, an unprecedented move for the country.
"We don't take direction [from anyone] and this independent behavior is one of the established facts," Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said during his brief speech on Qatari state television on Wednesday.
During the previous emir's rule, Qatar increased its political and economic influence in the region through brokering negotiations between Arab partners and spreading its wealth through foreign investments, largely financed by its vast natural gas sources.
Qatar supported the Arab Spring in other countries and has maintained an alliance with the United States. However, its open support of the Syrian opposition, which critics worry could mean financial support of al Qaeda-linked groups, and friendly terms with the Muslim Brotherhood have raised concern with foreign powers who fear the rise of Islamist extremists.
The new emir reaffirmed his country's wish to remain on peaceful diplomatic terms with all governments.
"We respect all the influential and active political trends in the region, but we are not affiliated with one trend against the other. We are Muslims and Arabs who respect diversity of sects and respect all religions in our countries and outside of them."
"We are a coherent state, not a political party, and therefore we seek to keep relationships with all governments and states," he said.
Sheik Tamim refrained from mentioning the Syrian war during his speech, instead expressing his support for the Palestinians' struggle against Israel.
No change expected
The cabinet reshuffle coincided with the emir's speech. Outgoing Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani is to be replaced by Sheik Abdullah bin Naser Al Thani and Khalid al-Atiyah, respectively. Despite the shift in the government, experts said the emir's speech served to allay any misgivings over the changes.
"He didn't give too much away but generally sought to reassure people that while there may be a change in leadership style there will be continuity in the underlying substance of Qatari policy-making," Kristian Ulrichsen, a Gulf expert at the Baker Institute for Public Policy told news agency Reuters.
The director of the Brookings Doha Center told news agency AFP that Sheik Tamim's message on Wednesday confirmed he would follow his father's previous policies, which included partnerships with groups that make Western leaders uncomfortable.
"Qatar has built bridges with emerging forces in the region, such as Islamist movements including the Muslim Brotherhood, who made their breakthrough in Arab Spring countries, rising to power in Egypt and Tunisia," Ibrahim Sharqieh of the Brookings Doha Center said.
"This will not change during the reign of Sheikh Tamim," said Sharqieh.
Qatar holds the world's third largest gas reserves and produces around 77 million tons of liquefied natural gas annually, making it the largest supplier on the planet. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world, although according to figures from the World Bank, the richest Qataris receive nearly 13 times the income of the poorest.
kms/lw (AFP, Reuters, dpa)