Qatar’s Crown Prince, Long Seen As Its Power, Deposes Father
DOHA, Qatar (AP) _ Qatar’s crown prince, for years the real power in this wealthy Persian Gulf emirate, seized power from his father unexpectedly Tuesday while the sheik was vacationing in Switzerland.
The dethroning was largely a formality, since Prince Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, 45, already effectively runs the country. But Qatar sealed its 38-mile border with Saudi Arabia and placed two border brigades on alert, diplomats said.
The deposed emir, Sheik Khalifa Bin Hamad al-Thani, 65, who himself grabbed power from a cousin 23 years ago, called the coup unacceptable. He said he would return to his country ``whatever the cost.″
``I am still their legitimate emir _ whether it be for the royal family, the people or for the army,″ he said from Geneva’s Hotel du Rhone.
State-run media proclaimed the peaceful takeover and referred to the son, a longtime defense minister, as ``the new emir.″
Later Tuesday, Prince Hamad told an emergency Cabinet session that the ouster was necessitated by the nation’s ``difficult circumstances.″ He did not elaborate.
The conditions ``led me forcefully and with all regret to make up my mind ... and assume the rule of the country as successor to my father, who will remain the cherished father of all,″ he said.
He indicated the coup would bring no major policy shift. Qatar’s new interior and foreign ministers were quickly sent to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with King Fahd.
The Clinton administration recognized the new ruler. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns described the change in government as a ``private decision″ by members of the ruling family.
Oman, an important ally, and Jordan both sent messages to the new emir that amounted to recognition. Abu Dhabi’s crown prince also congratulated Prince Hamad, Qatar’s news agency said.
Qatar’s population is about 513,000, of which more than two-thirds are Indian, Pakistani, Iranian and Palestinian expatriates. Most indigenous Qataris adhere to the strict Wahhabite school of Islam, which keeps women cloistered and bans alcohol.
Exports of 378,000 barrels of oil a day sustain its per capita income at $13,600, one of the world’s highest. Qatar also sits atop one of the world’s largest gas reserves.
Arab diplomats said the father and his son disputed how strong a stance Qatar should take in long-running territorial disputes with neighboring Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Leadership changes are rare in the Persian Gulf, ruled almost exclusively by royal families that have used a mix of clout, oil revenues and repression retain power for decades.
But it was the second political shake-up in a week. Bahrain’s Cabinet was reshuffled Monday for the first time in 20 years. In both cases, the ruling clique stayed in place.
Life on the streets of Doha, capital of this barren, sandy peninsula jutting off the coast of Saudi Arabia, appeared normal Tuesday, except for the deployment of police at major intersection in Doha, the capital. Residents learned about the coup on television.
The deposed emir left Qatar earlier this month. Swiss officials would not comment on whether he was seeking asylum in Switzerland.
The coup follows a history of internal ruling family struggles that date to Qatar’s days as a British protectorate before 1971.
Prince Hamad was promoted to general and appointed commander in chief of the armed forces shortly after his father seized power from his cousin Ahmed in 1972. In 1977, he was also named crown prince and defense minister.
The British-educated Prince Hamad is said to be the man behind Qatar’s independent stances, which have included relatively cordial relations with Iraq and Iran and going further than its neighbors in developing economic links with Israel.
As a member of the Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council, Qatar offered the United States military facilities after the Saudis balked. The United States is building a base near the oil town of Dukhan, on the western shore.