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

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How to think about the EU result if you voted Remain

A belief in democracy means accepting the crowd is wiser than you are as an individual. 

I voted Remain, I feel sick about this result and its implications for what’s to come. But I’m a believer in democracy. This post is about how to reconcile those two things (it’s a bit unstructured because I’m working it out as I go, and I’m not sure I agree with all of it).

Democracy isn’t just fairer than other systems of governance, it’s smarter. It leads to better decisions and better outcomes, on average and over the long run, than countries that are run by autocrats or councils of wise men with jobs for life. It is simply the best way we have yet devised of solving complex problems involving many people. On that topic, if you’re not averse to some rather dense and technical prose, read this post or seek out this book. But the central argument is that democracy is the best way of harnessing ‘cognitive diversity’ — bringing to bear many different perspectives on a problem, each of which are very partial in themselves, but add up to something more than any one wise person.

I don’t think you can truly be a believer in democracy unless you accept that the people, collectively, are smarter than you are. That’s hard. It’s easy to say you believe in the popular will, right up until the popular will does something REALLY STUPID. The hard thing is not just to ‘accept the result’ but to accept that the majority who voted for that result know or understand something better than you. But they do. You are just one person, after all, and try as you might to expand your perspective with reading (and some try harder than others) you can’t see everything. So if a vote goes against you, you need to reflect on the possibility you got it wrong in some way. If I look at the results of past general elections and referendums, for instance, I now see they were all pretty much the right calls, including those where I voted the other way.

One way to think about the vote is that it has forced a slightly more equitable distribution of anxiety and alienation upon the country. After Thursday, I feel more insecure about my future, and that of my family. I also feel like a foreigner in my own country — that there’s this whole massive swathe of people out there who don’t think like me at all and probably don’t like me. I feel like a big decision about my life has been imposed on me by nameless people out there. But of course, this is exactly how many of those very people have been feeling for years, and at a much higher level of intensity. Democracy forces us to try on each other’s clothes. I could have carried on quite happily ignoring the unhappiness of much of the country but I can’t ignore this.

I’m seeing a lot of people on Twitter and in the press bemoaning how ill-informed people were, talking about a ‘post-factual democracy’. Well, maybe, though I think that requires further investigation - democracy has always been a dirty dishonest business. But surely the great thing about Thursday that so many people voted — including many, many people who might have felt disenfranchised from a system that hasn’t been serving them well. I’m not sure you’re truly a democrat if you don’t take at least a tiny bit of delight in seeing people so far from the centres of power tipping the polity upside down and giving it a shake. Would it have been better or worse for the country if Remain had won because only informed middle-class people voted? It might have felt better for people like me, it might actually have been better, economically, for everyone. But it would have indicated a deeper rot in our democracy than do the problems with our national information environment (which I accept are real).

I’m not quite saying ‘the people are always right’ — at least, I don’t think it was wrong to vote to stay in the EU. I still believe we should have Remained and I’m worried about what we’ve got ourselves into by getting out. But I am saying they may have been right to use this opportunity — the only one they were given — to send an unignorable signal to the powers-that-be that things aren’t working. You might say general elections are the place for that, but our particular system isn’t suited to change things on which there is a broad consensus between the two main parties.

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.