Nearly a year after leaving his post as prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani has broken his silence about the departure.
In an interview with American journalist Charlie Rose this week, Al Thani discussed the government transition, Qatar’s foreign policy and the Gulf country’s recently strained relationship with its neighbors. (The abbreviated non-Hulu link to the interview is here).
In response to questions from Rose, the former Qatar Investment Authority chairman acknowledged that he had “healthy” differences with other senior officials in Qatar. But he said rumors that he and Sheikha Moza (the former first lady and the Emir’s mother) had conflict were unfounded.
He also expressed full support for Qatar’s new Emir, and said he only left because it was time to step away from power. Asked about what Sheikh Tamim was like, he said:
“First of all he’s a serious guy. He’s clever -not a playboy. Third thing – he’s been trained by his father.”
He added that the Emir had been tested over the past four years and done extremely well, and as a citizen he believed he was the right choice as a leader.
Al Thani did not say what he has been up to over the past year, though he has been widely believed to be living outside of the country. He implied, however, that he may return to life as a businessman here.
“Yes, I am not poor,” he told Rose. “I’m rich.” But he added that his wealth did not come from his former political position, and instead his family and profession as a merchant.
The former politician also fielded questions about Qatar’s much-decried labor laws, saying:
“There is maybe some mistakes – but I can tell you during our time, and now, especially, the government is working hard to do what is needed to be done to have a good standard.”
He also denied that abuses such as late salary payments could be going on, as laws protect workers from such violations. Finally, Al Thani mused whether the intense international focus on Qatar was political, due to its hosting of the 2022 World Cup.
In terms of Qatar’s role in the international arena, Al Thani addressed a question about the country “punching above its weight” by saying “you can punch as much as you think you weigh.”
He insisted that Qatar played no favorites in countries that saw revolutions over the past few years, and instead backed whoever the people of those nations supported. For example, in Egypt, Al Thani said he was not fond of the Muslim Brotherhood, and added:
“We did not bring the Islamic Brotherhood to power in Egypt. They’ve been elected by the Egyptian people.”
In terms of Qatar, he said the local population numbers less than 300,000, and is content for now with its monarchy – though this may change in the coming decades, he added.
Moving on to the recent Gulf-wide dispute, Al Thani called for the acceptance of healthy disagreement in the region. But he also sought to reassure Rose that Qatar’s priority was maintaining good ties with its neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia. “I always tell them they are the main bone in our body,” he said.
Al Thani also talked about Syria, Palestine and Qatar’s relationship with the US, saying it was not in Doha’s interest to see Washington in trouble.
He added that the majority of Qataris have no problem with the US military base here, the largest such American installation in the region.
Finally, he said Qatar and other resource rich Gulf nations need to plan for a future in which its revenues do not depend so much on oil and gas, especially as countries like the US are moving to become energy independent.