Former Arnir of Qatar Sheikh Khalifa Bin Hamad al-Thani, deposed in a bloodless coup in the summer of 1995, ‘will never be ruler again in Qatar,’ Qatar’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr al-Thani said in an interview with MEED on 17 January. Sheikh Hamad also confirmed reports that Sheikh Khalifa had gained control of a substantial portion of Qatar’s reserves, but dismissed the impact this would have on economic development.
The interview follows an escalation in the psychological war between Sheikh Khalifa and the new government of Qatar headed by his son Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani who seized power on 27 June. At the end of December, Sheikh Khalifa was officially received by the governments of Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. On 17 January, Sheikh Khalifa visited Cairo and was met by President Mubarak and was due to travel on to Damascus later in January. Egypt and Syria are signatories with the six states of the GCC to the 1991 Damascus collective security declaration.
In reaction to the diplomatic lobbying by Sheikh Khalifa, Qatar Television broadcast in mid-January an interview with exiled Bahrain Shiite dissidents. The action was condemned by Manama. An unnamed Qatar official was quoted by Reuter as saying on 16 January that more interviews with other Gulf political dissidents would be broadcast.
No return In the interview, the foreign minister provided the most resolute expression of the new government’s determination not to bend to Sheikh Khalifa’s demand to be restored as head of state. ‘This thing is finished for us in Qatar,’ Sheikh Hamad said about the former emir’s restoration call. ‘We are looking forward. This is something of the past.’ ‘He knows and we know that we cannot return back to the past. All the ruling family in Qatar and all the Qatari citizens are with Sheikh Hamad,’ he added. ‘There are two kinds of people who are asking the questions.
One is making a noise and others who don’t know the situation in Qatar. Sheikh Hamad has been ruler in Qatar for years in fact and not a few months. Sheikh Khalifa will never be ruler again in Qatar.’ Sheikh Hamad said the former emir could return to Doha. ‘It is our view that he can come any time to Qatar as a father for all of us. The father of our emir is welcome. We thank all these countries that have received him and welcomed him. For us, we would like to see him pass through Qatar.’
Sheikh Hamad confirmed reports that the former Emir has gained control of some of Qatar’s financial reserves and that this is causing some financial problems. ‘Yes there is cash in the name of the previous emir,’ he said. ‘But this can’t affect our progress and our projects. Our country is a rich country. All the projects we are doing have been studied and are feasible. We are financing these projects from international banks…. (We don’t have any problem about proceeding with these projects. There is a cash problem, but this is not that big a problem. It will not eliminate our movement in the economic sector in Qatar.
‘We will announce $500 million-1,000 million worth of projects in the petrochemical sector with foreign companies. They are coming to invest here and we are putting in our equity. There is no problem for cash for these projects. There may be a problem for other projects and other budget sectors, but we will not let it interfere with the economic situation.’ Turning to regional issues, Sheikh Hamad said he hoped that the negotiations with Saudi Arabia about the joint border ‘can be solved in a brotherly way.’
He dismissed suggestions that Sheikh Hamad’s decision to boycott the final session of the GCC summit in Muscat in December was related to this issue. ‘If the people thought what happened in Muscat (when the emir did not attend the final session) was a result of the border, that is not right at all,’ Sheikh Hamad said.
Sheikh Hamad said Qatar objected to the way the new secretary-general of the GCC was appointed. ‘This is only because of procedure. We don’t mind the secretary-general being a Saudi. All six countries have to agree on this issue. We don’t mind Saudi Arabia coming (with its candidate). The way they brought it was not a way we can accept. It was a way that did not happen before in the GCC.’ Island dispute Sheikh Hamad repeated Qatar’s position on negotiations with Manama about the Hawar Islands, which lie between Bahrain and Qatar.
‘(This) is in the courts and the Saudis are mediating,’ he said. ‘Whenever there is a solution between the two countries, we are ready to pull it from the courts.’ Sheikh Hamad dismissed reports that Sheikh Khalifa had promised to accept Bahraini sovereignty over the islands. ‘Do you believe the Qataris will allow him to do that? This cannot be accepted by anyone in Qatar,’ he said.
Sheikh Hamad called for Iraq to comply with UN resolutions, ‘but it does not mean Qatar will take any initiative outside of the international community’ Sheikh Hamad said the decision to give approval to Enron to sell to Israel liquefied natural gas, produced at a proposed joint venture plant the US company plans to build in Qatar, reflected Doha’s desire to change perceptions in the Jewish state. ‘This will encourage Israel to recognise Arabs can do business with Israel if they return all their land including to Syria and Lebanon. Others are doing things under the table, but we are doing things openly,’ he said.
However, Sheikh Hamad declined to say that Qatar will refuse to sell gas to Israel until there is a comprehensive Arab-Israel peace settlement.
‘We have to monitor the situation,’ he said. ‘The deal right now is with Enron. We have given them authorisation to sell to Israel and to anyone. Of course there will not be complete normalisation unless a comprehensive peace is achieved including with Syria and Lebanon. This deal has been done and we are ready to deliver what we have signed.’
Sheikh Hamad issued a call to investors to consider doing business in Qatar. ‘There is now one decision-maker and that is Sheikh Hamad. There are no longer different decisions as before in this country,’ he said. ‘This is a stable country. We are going to work harder to encourage investors to invest in Qatar.’