What`s next for Qatar (and for the Arab region)?

As announced yesterday, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, Emir of the state of Qatar, has handed power to one of his sons, the 33 years old Tamim bin Hamad al Thani.

Today, in a 7 minutes televised speech (English transcript available here) the Emir made the formal announcement, although speculations about the succession of power in the tiny but rich and powerful Gulf state have been ongoing for a while. Last year, Sheikh Hamad declared to the Financial Times that Tamim was in charge of ruling the country for 80%. Tamim has been officially the Heir Apparent since 2003; being the son of the Emir`s favorite wife, the influential and glamorous Sheikha Mozah, he was already believed to have the greatest chance among Hamad`s children to become the next Emir.

But maybe not everybody was expecting this to happen right now, when Hamad was still pretty much in control of a country whose profile — financially, politically, culturally speaking — he has widely contributed to raise in his 18 yrs of rule. As speculated in this thoughtful piece by French scholar Nabil Ennasri, author of a book about Qatar, one of the reason for stepping down in favor of his son — besides the Emir`s deteriorating health — could be to stop the criticism that the country has received in these past two years for the aggressive role played in the Arab Spring, particularly in the case of Libya and Syria. By handing power to his son, Sheikh Hamad would prove that he is not preaching democracy and reforms in the Region while being attached to absolute power in his own country. Stepping down would provide the other Arab countries with a “model” (this is the word that Al Jazeera Arabic`s analysts have extensively used today in their coverage of the event) for the succession of power, in a peaceful and bloodless way. Yet, what Al Jazeera didn`t — and cannot — notice is that power still stays strongly in the hands of the same family, while an impression is given of an open-minded ruler who gives up to his privileges in favors of new generations, as Sheikh Hamad said today in his speech.

Yet maybe the most important question to answer revolves around the fate of Hamad bin Jassem, the powerful –and extremely wealthy, as The Independent reports here –– Prime Minister who also occupies the strategic position of Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nothing has been said about the government that the new Emir will head. Everybody at the Palace knows that Sheikha Mozah, the mother of the new Emir, and her son, have manifested open hostility vis-a-vis Hamad bin Jassem and his politics. Hamad bin Jassem is deemed a strong man, and very much in charge of Qatar`s strategic choices in terms of foreign policy (and in its investments` deals, too) –which, lately, have been so much criticized –.

Rumors have been circulating, more than one time, that Hamad bin Jassem would likely orchestrate a coup against Sheikh Hamad sooner or later; looking at Qatar`s history this would not have been unlikely, since the succession of power in the country has always happened through coups (including when Sheikh Hamad took over his father, in 1995here there is a rare TV excerpt of his speech at the time–).

Sheikh Hamad has reiterated that Qatar`s policy wont change; and this is also what Al Jazeera`s analysts were stressing today during the speech`s coverage. However, the next days or weeks will tell us what would likely happen to Qatar`s foreign policy and to its masterminder, Hamad bin Jassem.