In a televised speech on Al Jazeera Satellite Channel on Tuesday, the Emir of Qatar announced that he has transferred power to his 33 year old son, Shaikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. The Crown Prince became next in line to the throne in 2003 after his older brother stepped aside.
The Emir, Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, said that he has decided to step down following weeks of speculation. "I did not seek authority as an end, but as a means to achieve the in the best interests of the country and the nation," he told viewers.
The 61 year old Shaikh Hamad is suffering from health problems which are believed widely to be the prime reason for handing over power to his son. Observers have pointed out that such a peaceful transition of power, which is usually triggered by deaths or palace coups, sends a strong message to the wider Middle East's hereditary rulers.
In what could be an indirect and very cleverly-timed response to the spirit of the Arab Spring, as calls to give more power to youth are increasing and supported by Qatar, the Emir said, "The time has come to open a new page of the country's progress led by a new generation." He noted that the younger generation has recognised the necessities of the age. "Today, I am addressing you while handing over power to Shaikh Tamim; I am sure that he is a credible man and able to bear the responsibility."
He added that he is certain that the people of Qatar will support the new Emir in the same way that they supported him. "There is a covenant of loyalty between us built upon love and harmony."
Qatar has become a powerful player in the Middle East, providing key support for rebels in Libya last year and in Syria now. It also has been standing beside the Muslim Brotherhood, which rose to political dominance in Egypt's 2011 "January 25 Revolution" which ousted Hosni Mubarak.
Shaikh Hamad took power in a bloodless coup in 1995. Under his rule, Qatar has been transformed into a political broker and a centre for global investment with a sovereign fund estimated to be worth more than $100 billion. It has also played a significant role in resolving many conflicts in the region, mediating, for example, in Sudan between Khartoum and Juba. It has also tried to bring the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah together in national reconciliation. The retiring Emir became the only serving head of state to have visited the besieged Gaza Strip with his visit in October last year.