DOHA/DUBAI (Reuters) - A stickler for discipline with a security background, Qatar’s new prime minister will have a narrower remit than his influential predecessor, who led the Gulf state’s forays into global finance and Arab Spring politics.
Known as a man of few words, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani will also take on the role of interior minister in the wide reshuffle that has followed the accession of the son of the emir who abdicated this week after 18 years in office.
That second role reflects a shift in priorities highlighted by the 33-year-old emir’s first speech in office, which emphasised domestic issues and made no direct reference to Syria, the focus of Qatar’s foreign policy for two years.
Sheikh Abdullah, believed to be in his 50’s, is seen as likely to focus on ensuring the writ of the new emir runs clear throughout an administration largely shaped by outgoing premier Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, whose other role was foreign minister.
“Unlike Hamad Bin Jassim, the new prime minister does not seem interested in being in the public eye. He’s a military man and just gets the job done quietly,” a source close to the ruling family told Reuters.
“But still I think he will have big shoes to fill following HBJ, who was a bold character when it came to delivering Qatar’s messages to the world,” the source said.
The new emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, said the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab state would not “take direction” from anyone, suggesting he would still pursue the assertive, independent-minded foreign policy pioneered by his father.
But analysts say the new prime minister will not be assigned the wide variety of tasks taken on by his predecessor, who used charm, tenacity and economic clout to topple dictators overseas and build an investment nest-egg for future generations at home.
Sheikh Hamad, 53, spent his last two years in office devoting his country’s economic might to sponsor Arab Spring uprisings, leading to allegations, repeatedly denied, that Qatar was promoting the Muslim Brotherhood.
Analysts and sources close to the ruling family said that Sheikh Abdullah has no affiliation with hard line Salafi or Muslim Brotherhood groups and was not known to be “overly religious”.
His position is in line with the new emir, who said in an address to the public on Wednesday that Qatar should not be identified with any particular political trend and respected all religious sects.
“He gets on with the new emir because they are both military men,” said Saad Djebbar, a UK-based Algerian lawyer and friend of the former emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.
Sheikh Abdullah was deputy interior minister for several years following a career in the interior ministry’s special forces and shares the new ruler’s Western education.
“He is a man of few words who is disciplined. He will lead a disciplined cabinet and will coordinate and supervise their work,” Djebbar said.
Former Director General of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite news network, Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim al-Thani, was appointed Minister of Economy and Trade in the cabinet reshuffle. Former Qatar National Bank Chief Executive Ali Sherif al-Emadi was appointed Minister of Finance.
The source close to the ruling family said Sheikh Abdullah had a good track record and reputation. “He’s seen as a technocrat with good experience in the security field,” he said.
A former commander of Qatar’s Interior Security Force and chairman of its National Anti-Terrorism Committee, he heads the security committee for the Qatar World Cup 2022, and also headed the security committee for the Doha Asian Games 2006.
A 2012 report on Qatar by the U.S. Congressional Research Service described Sheikh Abdullah as the interior ministry liaison to foreign governments, including the United States.
He has a degree in Police Science from Britain and a law degree from Lebanon, according to a biography posted on the ministry of interior’s website. He received further training in counter-terrorism and security in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Britain and France.
Additional reporting by Amena Bakr, Sami Aboudi, Mahmoud Habboush and William Maclean; writing by Amena Bakr; editing by William Maclean and Philippa Fletcher