Qatar’s ruler appointed Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani as prime minister, calling on an experienced diplomat who has helped the gas-rich Gulf state assert its political influence abroad.
Sheikh Mohammed will take on the PM role while continuing as foreign minister, a position he’s held since 2017, the royal court said in a statement Tuesday. He’ll step down as chairman of the Qatar Investment Authority, the country’s $450 billion sovereign wealth fund, to be replaced by Central Bank Governor Sheikh Bandar bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Thani.
Khalid bin Khalifa Al Thani will relinquish the positions of both PM and interior minister. No reason was immediately given for the shake up. The leadership of other powerful government ministries — including energy, finance and commerce — remains unchanged.
“It’s not an out-of-the-blue decision,” said Cinzia Bianco, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, who focuses on the Gulf. Sheikh Mohammed has “emerged slowly as the emir’s most trusted adviser,” she said, highlighting his appointment as chairman of the QIA in 2018.
As foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed has played an important role in discussions between Qatar and European countries about the supply of liquefied natural gas after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upended energy markets. He also had to navigate a diplomatic crisis after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut trade and travel ties, accusing Doha of supporting hardline Islamist groups, which Qatar denied.
Relations were largely restored in early 2021 but tensions linger. Qatar helped the US evacuate its citizens and others from Afghanistan in 2021, prompting President Joe Biden to designated Qatar a “major non-NATO ally.” More recently, Sheikh Mohammed carried messages between the United States and Iran, playing a mediation role in the Gulf’s most significant regional feud, and showcased its international ambitions by hosting the $300 billion 2022 football World Cup.
In promoting Sheikh Mohammed, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani echoes the rulership style of his father, who relied heavily on the counsel of his prime minister and minister of foreign affairs Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani.
The duo spearheaded Arab League efforts to isolate Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad during that country’s war and support political Muslim movements in the wake of Arab Spring — drawing ire from Qatar’s neighbors. Both men stepped down in 2013.
“It’s more about creating that power structure than about the policies that they’re going to implement,” said ECFR’s Bianco. After a year-long pause to focus on the World Cup, Sheikh Tamim and his premier “want to be more proactive, but in a more conciliatory manner.”