Thursday, 6th February 2020

Latest Qatari reshuffle further concentrates power in Emiri Diwan

The late January appointment of Emiri Diwan chief Sheikh Khalid Bin Khalifa Bin Abdelaziz Bin Jassim Bin Mohammed Al-Thani as Qatar’s prime minister marks a further stage in the growing centralisation of power around the Emiri Diwan since 2013, when Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani took over from his now ‘father emir’, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani.

In keeping with the style of Emir Sheikh Tamim’s rule, the transition from long-serving prime minister and interior minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al-Thani’s safe pair of hands at the head of government to Khalid Bin Khalifa was a low key affair. 61-year-old Abdullah Bin Nasser resigned on 28 January, allowing the emir to make some small changes to his government, in Tamim’s third reshuffle following November 2018 (GSN 1,069/1) and January 2016 (GSN 1,009/3); those reshuffles also saw the consolidation of government bodies. Khalid Bin Khalifa has taken over both of Abdullah Bin Nasser big portfolios.

In other changes, Major General Abdelaziz Bin Faisal Bin Mohammed Bin Thani Bin Jassim Al-Thani was appointed commander of the Internal Security Force (Lekhwiya) and Ministry of Interior (MoI) undersecretary. His brother is a former Emiri Guard commander. Sheikh Abdelaziz was appointed Lekhwiya’s deputy commander in 2017. As deputy head of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy’s security committee he has been involved in security for recent sporting events such as the World Athletic Championships in 2019.

The acting Emiri Diwan head is thought to be Sheikh Saud Bin Abdulrahman Bin Hassan Bin Ali Al-Thani, who has been assistant chief since September 2019. He was previously ambassador to Germany.

Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser was said to have wanted to stand down for some time, having served in government since his appointment in February 2005 as state minister for interior affairs. Before that he had been involved in the Lekhwiya’s establishment; the force was set up to answer only to then emir Sheikh Hamad, rather than the (at the time) unreliable MoI (GSN 752/4749/5).

The 61-year-old former PM (his successor is ten years younger) may have found the going was getting tougher. According to a usually well-informed source, “he had lost the ability to rally all ministers around the flag.” As premier Sheikh Abdullah kept a low-profile, in contrast to his predecessor Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani. An analyst commented: “His role was to be a safe pair of hands during the transition [from the father emir to Tamim] and to assert greater discipline over both the implementation of domestic infrastructure projects and over the Qatari workforce.” To help achieve these aims he was appointed in 2014 to chair two poorly performing bodies, the Supreme Council of Health and Supreme Education Council.

The usually well-informed source noted that the late January reshuffle was in line with the growing influence and centralisation of power in the Diwan. This reflects Tamim’s efforts to move away from his father’s approach since coming to power in 2013 (GSN 950/1). Tamim has purged the old guard and created stronger oversight mechanisms to control ministers and their spending (GSN 1,032/1). Father Emir Sheikh Hamad built a government of patrimonial nepotism over 18 years in power, creating a system which often served the business interests of cabinet members and other senior figures in the administration (GSN 1,040/4). In contrast, Sheikh Tamim appears to have developed a deep aversion to the old guard’s practices.

GSN has previously noted that his cabinet is light on family members. Now only the new premier/interior minister and the foreign affairs minister/deputy prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Bin Jassim Al-Thani, are drawn from the Al-Thani – and they are only distantly related to the emir. This compares to two decades ago when the 1997 cabinet had 14 ministers from the ruling family.

Over the past few years the emir is said to have consolidated his control over key portfolios by directly tying ministries and government agencies to his Diwan. The Ministries of Interior, Defence and Foreign Affairs are now under tight Diwan supervision, particularly over their budgets. Ministers’ ability to build their own fiefdoms has been curtailed. Change has also been enacted through the periodic shake-up of government councils and the restructuring of ministries (GSN 965/8).

The new premier has been involved in the emir’s management since 2006, when he became head of the then heir apparent Tamim’s office. He is said to be trusted and very competent. Sheikh Khalid was appointed head of the emir’s office in June 2013 and then Diwan chief in November 2014. He comes from a distant part of the Al-Thani, but one which has provided key civil servants: his brother was the long running (2006-16) municipal affairs minister Sheikh Abdelrahman and his first cousin is Qatar Central Bank governor (2006-present) Sheikh Abdullah Bin Saud Al-Thani.

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