Sheikh Tamim, and the UK's dwindling power in Qatar

The new Emir of Qatar is the latest Middle Eastern monarch from Sandhurst or Oxbridge.

The name "Doha", scholars believe comes from the Arabic ad-dawha, "the big tree". The capital of Qatar was so called, as the idea goes, because "the big tree" was the most significant aspect of the then fishing and pearling village on in the Persian Gulf. It was not all that long ago – perhaps 100 years – when Al Thani built the next significant feature: the Al Koot Fort.

 Today "Doha" means something entirely different. It means Al Jazeera, Qatar Airways, the 2022 World Cup, Museum of Islamic Art, Doha Cultural Festival, Qatar Investment Authority and capital of the nation with the world’s highest GDP per capita. But it also means arms for Syria, headquarters of the Taliban, ally of the Muslim Brotherhood and banker to the Arab Spring. 

 In other words, this tiny country, mostly sounded by sea and ruled by a monarchy, has turned financial might into world dominance, notwithstanding a touch of controversy. Familiar? Sounds perhaps a little like the UK a few hundred years ago?

But this is possibly not a coincidence. Today’s announcement by The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to abdicate in favour of his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is of surprising relevance to Britain. Aside from being ruled by Britain until 1971, both Tamim and his father were educated at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and through the Qatar Investment Authority, they own quite a few chunks of the UK: most notably Harrods, The Shard, much of Sainsbury’s, Canary Wharf Group and much of Barclays.

Of all the diplomats trying to win an audience with Qatar’s young new ruler, Tamim, the British will be racing to be among the first. Assuringly, they may find much in common, aside from their thoroughly British educations. The new ruler is thought to have a clear liberalising agenda as chair of the 2030 Vision project. He is also interested in sport, having backed the World Cup in 2022, the failed bid to host the Olympic Games and the purchase of a Paris St Germain football club.

So those questioning the UK’s influence in the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring should see Tamim as one of many Middle Eastern rulers inheriting a very British doctrine. He will join Sultan Qaboos of Oman, King Abdullah II of Jordan and King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain as one of the remaining monarchs educated at either Sandhurst or Oxbridge. Only this time – less than 50 years later – the tables have turned and Qatar now rules more of the UK, than the UK of it.

Qatari Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani. Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

Getty
Show Hide image

Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

0800 7318496