Qatar's ruler Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani has transferred power to his son following weeks of speculation. After 18 years, a new face will take charge of the energy-rich Gulf state.
Sheik Hamad, 61, said during a televised speech Tuesday that he was stepping down to bring younger leadership to Qatar.
"I address you today to announce that I am handing the rule over to Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani," the emir said. Tamim (pictured above) had been groomed for years to take over for his father and at 33 he will be the youngest leader of any of the Gulf Arab monarchies.
The power shift marks the beginning of "a new era in which a young leadership will hold the banner that would place the hopes of the coming generation upon its priorities," Sheik Hamad added.
The change of leadership is not expected to bring about a major policy shift for the wealthy country. After the address, the father and son stood next to one another and greeted members of the ruling family.
"I am convinced you will back him as you did with me," the emir said, referring to his son. "I am also convinced that Tamim will have his eyes set on the interests of his nation and people and the happiness of the Qatari national will always be his priority."
Wealth and investment
Sheik Hamad came to power in 1995 following a bloodless coup to depose his father. During his time as Qatar's leader, he has used the country's vast natural gas wealth to drive modernization and foreign investment. The broadcaster Al Jazeera was launched there in 1996, and the country also beat out the United States and Australia to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar has also had a hand in the Arab Spring uprisings, backing Islamist rebels in Libya and Syria, as well as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
The country depends mainly on oil and gas revenues to drive its economy. It hold's 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.
dr/rg (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)