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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Saudi Arabia’s praise for obscure Qatari sheikh raises eyebrows


Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani with King Salman. Credit: SPA

The rising popularity in Saudi Arabia of an unfamiliar member of Qatar’s ruling family has sparked concerns among many following the Gulf dispute.

Amid ongoing tensions, Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani held two visits with Saudi’s king this week, both of which were widely publicized in Gulf media.

The first resulted in the temporary reopening of KSA’s land border with Qatar so that pilgrims could travel to perform Hajj.

Photo for illustrative purposes only. Credit: Laststubborn/Flickr

The second involved a meeting at the King’s residence in Morocco.

In both instances, the Saudi Press Agency highlighted “the deep ties of brotherhood between the Saudi and Qatari people and between the leadership in the Kingdom and the royal family in Qatar.”

Not official

Notably however, Al Thani was not conducting these visits in any official capacity and did not attend on behalf of the Qatari government.

This has prompted some to wonder whether the recent attention and praise heaped upon him is an effort to undermine Qatar’s current leadership.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani with King Salman in Morocco. Credit: Saudi Press Agency

Speaking to Doha News, Andrew Bowen, a Visiting Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said:

“Certainly, (this) strikes me as an opportunity in their media campaign against Qatar to portray to the Qatari and international public that Abdullah represents an alternative to Emir Tamim.”

However, this move will likely not succeed, he added. In the past few months, Qatar has rallied around Sheikh Tamim with such enthusiasm that some have said every day is now National Day.

According to Bowen, Saudi’s strategy “clearly illustrates their neighbors’ lack of understanding of Qatari politics and society.”

Who is Sheikh Abdullah?

Al Thani is the son of former Qatar Emir Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah. He is also the brother of the Emir who followed him, Sheikh Ahmed bin Ali.

That leader was later deposed by Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad, the recently deceased grandfather of the current Emir Sheikh Tamim.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani. Credit: SPA

Sheikh Abdullah has kept a low profile for decades, analysts say. He lives and owns property in Saudi Arabia, and is married to a Saudi woman.

But just this week, following his visits with the king, a Twitter account was started in his name.

Questions about its authenticity are rampant. Some of Sheikh Abdullah’s relatives have denied that he started the account.

Additionally, his Twitter handle was verified almost instantly — causing some to suspect Saudi government intervention. It also gained 224,000 followers in a day.

Online reaction

In Qatar, many are expressing concern about Sheikh Abdullah’s sudden rise to prominence.

Meanwhile, some of the Emir’s most ardent supporters — his siblings — have reacted by reaffirming their allegiance to Sheikh Tamim:


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