Young emir finds cash cannot solve Qatar’s mounting woes

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Doha - A year into his reign, Qatar’s emir is finding it takes more than a cheque book to win friends.

The stock index in Doha sank by the most in the world on Tuesday, while a panel looks into alleged corruption in Qatar’s selection to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup. Since Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani took power in June last year, three neighbouring countries have withdrawn ambassadors over Qatar’s foreign policy, a hostile Egyptian government accused the emirate of giving sanctuary to the opposition and Syrian rebels backed by the emirate faltered in a three-year civil war.

“There seems to be some disarray in Doha about how to exactly deal with all these mounting problems,” Theodore Karasik, the director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said on Wednesday. “It’s apparent that these are issues from the previous government and the current emir is trying to weather these events.”

Under the 34-year-old emir’s father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatar used the third-largest gas reserves to buy stakes in Barclays and Volkswagen and purchased London’s Harrods department store. It supported Libyan and Syrian uprisings, doled out billions to Egypt’s first Islamist government and won the right to host the most-watched sporting event.

Now, some of the $200 billion (R2 trillion) of pre-World Cup spending is threatened, while projects such as a rapid rail system are behind schedule. Doha’s new airport opened in April, six years later than planned.

“It has been a rough introduction to geopolitics for the young new emir,” Jim Krane, a Gulf and energy research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, said this week. “He has had to assume his father’s mantle and has had to expand or cope with some controversial policies.”

The Qatar Exchange’s QE index dropped 2.4 percent on Tuesday, the most among more than 90 benchmarks tracked globally, as a panel set up by soccer governing body Fifa prepared a report on possible corruption in the awarding of the tournament to the Gulf state in 2010. The index rose 0.4 percent by 11.40am in Doha yesterday, trimming this week’s losses to 3.7 percent.

The UK’s Sunday Times reported at the weekend that payments were made to soccer officials in return for support for Qatar’s bid to stage the tournament. The newspaper said it had been passed millions of documents by what it described as a senior Fifa official. It alleged they showed former Fifa vice-president Mohamed bin Hammam, a Qatari, paid more than $5 million to soccer officials mainly in Africa.

Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organisers denied the allegations and said in a statement Qatar won because its bid for the event was the best.

Sheikh Tamim assumed power after his father abdicated and is the youngest leader in the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council. He acquired influence over a decade as crown prince. A graduate of the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1998, he heads a country of 2 million people with the highest per capita gross domestic product in the world, thanks to its vast reserves of natural gas, according to the International Monetary Fund.

An official at the emir’s office said nobody was available to comment on his year leading the country. – Bloomberg


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