Bright future for leader of the new Gulf

06 December 1996

The government of Qatar led by the emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al- Thani is getting down to the serious business of reforming the country's political and economic landscape.

Change is noticeable in all aspects of life. Traffic jams at rush hour, a more open press and the decision by major international exhibitions like Milipol to locate in Doha attest to the wind of change sweeping Qatar. The people are quick to credit the new emir as the author of the reforms.

'There's been a definite change under the new emir,' says one local commentator. 'The difference is very much a generational difference. A younger generation is taking over and pushing the pace of change.'

Insiders point to a number of important changes wrought by Sheikh Hamad. His eagerly-anticipated cabinet reshuffle in October was not as radical as some had predicted, but the new 20-member cabinet contained a number of important pointers to the direction of his leadership. Five new faces were brought in and he appointed his younger brother, Interior Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa al-Thani as prime minister. The Information & Culture Ministry was abolished and a new Ministry of Housing & Civil Service was created.

Sheikh Hamad has signalled that he is seeking to establish a government based on efficiency and ability. The most explicitly ambitious element of the changes is his plan for municipal elections to take place in mid- 1997. This experiment in local democracy, coinciding with the first-ever elections to the board of the Qatar Chamber of Commerce & Industry, is being matched by a new openness in Qatar's press.

The November deal with four British defence groups to supply Qatar with armoured personnel carriers, patrol boats, missiles and Hawk training aircraft worth $835 million illustrates the new security consciousness of the Gulf states. These deals point to a growing optimism palpable in Qatar. As one commentator says: 'Many Qataris feel the country is in for a big boom phase and Milipol 96 is a sign of that optimism. No-one would have come if that credibility and confidence wasn't there.'

Man of the moment: the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani

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