the crowning soft power of the Al Thani dynasty

The Emir of Qatar, Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani (right), and his father, Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, in Doha in 2019.

It’s anything but a coincidence of the calendar: the World Cup final is scheduled for December 18, Qatar’s national holiday. A date chosen in honor of Sheikh Jassim Ben Mohamed Al Thani, the founding father of the emirate, who came to power on December 18, 1878. Artisan of the unification of the tribes of the small peninsula and winner of the Ottoman invaders in the battle of Al-Wajbah, in 1893, this wealthy merchant from Doha created a dynasty and a country simultaneously. By making the celebration of this historic moment coincide with the apotheosis of the tournament, the city-state intends to magnify the journey of the Al Thani family, who in a century and a half reached the roof of the world.

Read also: Qatar 2022: the World Cup of excesses

This triumph, if all goes as planned, will officially be that of the emir, Tamim Ben Hamad Al Thani, 42 years old. In power since 2013, he emerged victorious from the obstacle course that the preparation for the Cup constituted, in particular the “blockade” of the years 2017-2020, when Doha was banned from the Gulf. But those laurels the son will likely share with his father and predecessor, 70-year-old Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, who ruled for 18 years. Its role was crucial in the Qatari gas miracle, the country’s economic takeoff and the thunderbolt that was its designation by FIFA, in 2010, as organizer of the 2022 World Cup. Barring a major accident, this sporting event will crown the work of this strange duo: an iconoclastic and bubbling patriarch, a tidy and calculating heir.

On the tightrope

In the beginning was AlZubarah, 297 meters long, 45 meters wide. In December 1996, this behemoth of the seas left the port of Ras Laffan, at the northern tip of Qatar. In its tanks, 135,000 cubic meters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) destined for Japan. This is the first shipment of Qatari blue gold exported overseas. An armada of LNG tankers will set off in its wake and propel this desert peninsula, barely larger than Corsica, at the forefront of globalization.

But, at the end of the 1990s, Qatar was on a tightrope. To build the Ras Laffan gas terminal, the micromonarchy went into debt. Emir Hamad Al Thani, who came to power in 1995 by overthrowing his father, Sheikh Khalifa, invested 20 billion dollars in this mega-construction site, five times the country’s annual income. The Qatari crown may have the third largest gas reserves on the planet – the offshore North Field, discovered twenty-five years earlier off the northern coast of Qatar – the marketing of this manna is a headache: the major energy consumption areas (Europe, United States, China) are too far away to be connected by gas pipeline. Saudi Arabia, which has a border dispute between Doha and which considers its tiny neighbor an accident of history, would never accept that a Qatari pipeline crosses its desert. Ditto for Iran, the other big neighbor, which owns 40% of North Field – it is called “South Pars” on this side of the Gulf – and fears that Qatar will siphon off its share of the treasure.

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