Qatar’s new prime minister reports for duty
Doha, Asharq Al-Awsat—If sports seeks to entrench the principles of teamwork and cooperation in young people, then a military education must surely encourage discipline. This is an attribute that characterizes Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the man entrusted with heading up the first government of the Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani era.
Qatar’s new prime minister, who also doubles as minister of the interior, was educated in Britain and the United States and has always been close to the new Emir, Tamim Bin Hamad. Throughout his government career, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser has consistently held positions related to sport and the military. He is not alone in this, for Emir Tamim himself also boasts a background in both sport and the military, having graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the United Kingdom in 1998. In addition to this, Hamad Bin Ali Al-Attiyah, Qatar’s new defense minister who previously served as the head of the joint chiefs of staff, also comes from a similar background. This is not to mention the country’s new foreign minister, Dr. Khalid Bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah, who served as a fighter pilot in the Qatari Air Force between 1987 and 1995.
Qatar’s new leadership have a singular mission summed up in the new Emir’s speech on taking power: to instill discipline and achieve the highest levels of success for the people of Qatar.
Discipline and Success
Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser is known for his disciplined nature, something which those close to him confirm.
The new Emir has made applying stricter standards to government operations and improving the quality of life of the Qatari people his primary objectives, while the new prime minister has been quick to respond to his new remit. Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser’s notion of discipline was cultivated during his three decades of military service, which will bring a new meticulousness and diligence to government operation, ensuring that services are of the highest quality. Each ministry in Qatar will emphasize “planning, precision and quality” in its administration, reflecting the goals of the Qatar National Vision 2030.
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser spent nearly three decades in the military. He graduated in 1984 from Durham Military College in Britain, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in police sciences. In 1995, he earned a bachelor’s in legislation at the Arab University of Beirut. Following this, he jointed the Qatari military, being promoted to the rank of brigadier-general in September 2004. He served in several posts during his time in the military, including assistant director for operations of the Special Security Forces, and later director of the Special Security Forces. Following this, he was appointed commander of Qatar’s internal security force, before ultimately taking over the Ministry of State for Interior Affairs.
On February 15, 2005, he was appointed minister of state for interior affairs and took his seat on Qatar’s Council of Ministers; he was re-appointed to this post in July 2008. He has taken part in 23 specialized training sessions at home and abroad, and was responsible for drafting bilateral security agreements between Qatar and other countries with the objective of combating terrorism. Over the past two years, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser has visited a number of foreign countries, meeting with well-known political and military leaders, particularly in the United States.
Looking at Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser’s role at the Qatari Interior Ministry, it becomes clear that he spearheaded the serious changes in the state’s facilities that began in 2005, and this leaves him with the requisite experience and determination to follow this through as the country’s new prime minister.
Dr. Bashir Kahlout, an economic analyst and the director of the Al Bairaq Center for Economic Studies in Doha, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the new prime minister can perhaps best be characterized as “well-organized and efficient.”
He said, “The ministry of the interior is the most efficient ministry in Qatar. These characteristics were on display mere hours after his government took the oath of office last Wednesday, when his staff held their first meeting the very same evening. The following day, all of the ministers were at their offices or making the rounds visiting the various departments of their ministries.”
Discipline was the primary message of Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani’s first speech. The new Emir emphasized: “We will continue to invest in diversification, but we will be more stringent and transparent about targets and results. . . . If we make major investments that do not meet these objectives, we will not turn a blind eye . . . and we will certainly achieve our objectives if we do everything that is necessary.”
He added, “We will only fail in this regard if there is poor planning or mismanagement, or if false reports are filed. There can be no more cover ups, and there is much that needs to be addressed immediately, lest corruption spread across our institutions and society and our finances be allocated in vain.”
Qatar’s new Emir also stressed, “[Ministerial] appointments are no different than results: no-one has the right to an office or public position unless they perform the duties of that office to the betterment of society and the state.”
Following the appointment of the new prime minister, prominent Qatari political analyst Jaber Al-Harmi told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Qatar is in need of business-like, high-quality management, and Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser is up to the task.”
He also stated that the next priority for the country’s new government will be “focusing on completing past projects and realizing the goals of the Qatar National Vision 2030, particularly with regard to sustainable development.”
Harmi cited the example set by the Ministry of the Interior, which is under the prime minister’s control. He stressed that this interacts with Qatar’s citizens far more than any other ministry and also uses more modern means of communication.
He added: “Contrary to its reputation of being secretive and draconian, the Ministry of the Interior is among the most open and accessible of Qatar’s ministries,” adding that “Qatar’s interior ministry has always been cited as an example of successful modernization and the streamlining of information.”
In Harmi’s view, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser’s military background gives him a competitive advantage: “This experience helps him to make decisions within a tight time-frame (such as preparing for the World Cup). His military-influenced character assures that he will be diligent and thorough while overseeing these undertakings.”
The Economy First
Approximately half of Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser’s first government is composed of new faces. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Dr. Bashir Kahlout said that this is evidence of Sheikh Tamim’s desire to change the status quo and realize the Qatar National Vision 2030.
He said: “Qatar’s new cabinet implies that they intend to stay on the path of development, yet make a tangible change by focusing on internal affairs at the expense of external affairs.”
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser is taking control of a government that experienced unprecedented economic growth during the 18-year reign of former Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani. Qatar transformed from a country whose oil exports did not exceed USD 3 million and suffered from a crushing budget deficit into a country boasting one of the largest economies in the region and which is the largest exporter of liquid natural gas in the world. Moreover, Qatar now enjoys a robust international investment portfolio overseen by the Qatar Investment Authority, which claims more than USD 100 billion in assets. Qatar is also one of the richest countries in the world in terms of income per capita, which stood at USD 88,222 last year.
According to a report from the Al Asmakh Real Estate Development Company, USD 45 billion has been invested in development projects in Qatar in 2013. The report, which was published last June, predicts that in four years the rate of net GDP growth will reach 9.6 percent, and that more than USD 30 billion will be spent on infrastructure across 700 projects which are part of the Qatar National Vision 2030.
Qatar is the largest exporter of natural liquid gas worldwide, and third in terms of natural gas reserves. In the north of Qatar, natural gas reserves are estimated to be at about 500 trillion cubic feet. In 2010, Qatar raised its production capacity of liquid natural gas to 77 million tons annually, becoming the largest producer of natural gas in the world.
The Tourism Project
The Qatari government plans to spend USD 130 billion in preparation for the 2022 World Cup, USD 35 billion of which will go towards building a metro railway network, a new port, multi-lane highways, and nine new air-conditioned stadiums. According to a Qatari report released last April, direct investment for facilities and infrastructures related to preparations for hosting the World Cup finals reached almost USD 80 billion, in addition to USD 20 billion for the development of the tourism sector in Qatar.
Traditionally, the Emir is responsible for shaping Qatar’s foreign policy; however, Qatari policy was largely affected by the charismatic former Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani, who also served simultaneously as Qatar’s foreign minister. Reflecting the disposition of the new Emir, Abdullah Bin Nasser’s government is now in the process of formulating a new foreign policy. However, most experts agree that it is unlikely that this will deviate significantly from the guidelines set by Emir Tamim in his first official speech.
Dr. Bashir Kahlout noted that the new government’s makeup includes only one official for foreign affairs, while the previous government had three ministers involved in this arena. There was the prime minister who also held the position of foreign minster, the minister of state for foreign affairs, and the minister for international cooperation. The difference between the current government and the previous one is that the previous government saw the prime minister double as foreign minister, while the prime minister today doubles as the interior minister, reflecting a new focus on domestic matters.
In June, Dr. Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Institute in Doha, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the fundamentals of Qatari foreign policy will not change, “at least for the time being,” adding that “it will focus on Syria, Sudan and Afghanistan, the continuation of peace talks, and supporting the political transition process. In the long term, no-one knows for certain how the new administration will mold foreign policy to the changing facts on the grounds. Many issues are up for discussion in Qatar. I believe that the focus on foreign policy may be tempered.”
Mr. Harmi pointed out that many Qataris believe the appointment of Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser to be a good sign, citing his disciplined approach to management. When asked if this appointment reflects a trend towards a more inward-looking Qatar, Harmi told Asharq Al-Awsat: “As a Qatari myself, it is important to me to see the leadership paying more attention to domestic affairs and development goals.”
He added that Qatar is in the process of beginning a number of large-scale projects, especially in terms of infrastructure, such as the new airport. He emphasized that this has left the people of Qatar expecting a qualitative shift from the new prime minister as he sets out to launch these massive projects.