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A year ago, in March 2023, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, appointed his Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman bin Jassim al-Thani, as Prime Minister. There is very little information available about this political figure on the internet and in open sources. We will attempt to paint his portrait.

The war in Gaza brought Qatar’s useful role as an intermediary to the forefront. It should be noted that this emirate has always had the flexibility to “engage” with both Hamas and the United States (Qatar is home to Al Udeid, the largest American military base in the Middle East).

Similarly, Qatar’s Prime Minister was the first Arab official to condemn the October 7 attacks, earning him Israel’s explicit trust. Currently, Qatar is faced with the challenge of negotiating a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, having been the primary interlocutor between the two over the past ten years.

A Driving Force

What do we know of the driving force behind these negotiations? Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassem al-Thani, Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister since 2016, is no stranger to crises.

According to Jean-Sebastien Guillaume, expert and consultant in economic and strategic intelligence and founder of Celtic Intelligence, “In 2019-2020, Sheikh Mohammed had the backing of the Americans to carry out negotiations in Afghanistan. To contextualize, it is important to remember that during President Obama’s term, the United States preferred to play the Saudi card when dealing with the Iranians. But when Donald Trump decided to withdraw from Afghanistan, the CIA started discussions with Sheikh Mohammed.” In September 2020, it was in Doha that the United States and the Taliban negotiated the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In September 2023, Qatar contributed to the release of five American hostages from Iran, acting as banker in the transfer of Iranian money that had been frozen in Korea. In early October of the same year, the country was at the center of negotiations for the release of Ukrainian prisoners from Russia.

“Sheikh Mohammed is also changing the game in regards to his country’s financing of certain armed groups in northern Syria and Iraq,” Jean-Sebastien Guillaume tells This is Beirut. “He has a strong personality and wants to change the West’s challenging perception of Qatar as a financier of terrorism,” he asserts.

However, one of the key elements in Sheikh Mohammed’s steady ascent is the blockade levied, in 2017, by Saudi Arabia, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, which lasted until 2020.

“In this instance, Sheikh Mohammed stood out by forging the emergence of true Qatari nationalism,” says Karim Sader, political analyst and consultant, specialist of Gulf countries, in a conversation with This is Beirut. “A reassessment of the relationships that Qatar had established with Turkey and Iran was one of the 13 conditions to end the blockade. On this, Sheikh Mohammed did not give in nor back down. In doing so, the ‘small’ emirate grew nationalist wings. The Minister of Foreign Affairs thus became the architect of a feeling of national pride centered around the leader (Sheikh Tamim, the Emir of Qatar),” Sader goes on.

Regional Juncture and Sheikh Mohammed’s Policy

According to Karim Sader, after the embargo, Sheikh Mohammed committed to scaling down his ambitions while emerging victorious from this showdown. “Firstly, the MBS/MBZ tandem was splitting, and Sheikh Mohammed skillfully played on these divisions by reconciling with both. Secondly, due to the war in Ukraine, Qatar once again played a key role in the energy sector thanks to its liquefied natural gas (LNG), which has become a coveted alternative to Russian gas. And finally, the war in Gaza has brought Qatar’s useful role as intermediary back into the spotlight,” says Sader.

“Since the conflict, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia are in a delicate position. The UAE does not want to showcase the Abraham Acords signed with Israel, and Saudi Arabia was getting ready to do so. The only player still on the field with all parties happens to be Qatar, with Sheikh Mohammed at the helm of its diplomacy,” continues Sader.

“Making the most” of the blockade, Sheikh Mohammed succeeded in making his country more independent vis-à-vis Gulf countries. He strengthened economic and political ties with Turkey. Out of necessity, he also established closer trade relations with Iran since its airspace had become a crucial corridor for access to the rest of the world. He rapidly developed new supply routes and expanded the Hamad seaport. Although this incurred significant short-term economic costs for Qatar, it boosted the country’s economic diversification.

Internal Politics and Enhancement

Qatar’s Prime Minister was appointed by the current Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and the al-Thani family council. Previously head of the Sovereign Fund and Deputy Prime Minister and also Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Mohammed is part of Sheikh Tamim’s inner circle, as stated by Guillaume.

Cheikh Mohammed’s predecessor, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani (HBJ), was a powerful figure who formed a political and economic trio with the former Emir, Sheik Hamad and the latter’s wife, Sheikha Moza. HBJ was the last representative of the old guard and still held influence within the diwan, “but with Sheikh Mohammed’s appointment, a new chapter was written in regards to the former Emir’s sphere of influence,” according to Karim Sader.

Emir Tamim and his Prime Minister hail from the same generation and are both endowed with strong personalities. They aim to transform Qatar into what Tamim’s father had envisioned, namely a state through which diplomatic and economic events flow.

According to Guillaume, Qatar is a small country populated by clans and relies on gas revenues. In order to survive, it must have a strong parallel diplomacy, real “soft power,” and development with an eye to the post-gas era. The two leaders strived to turn their country into a state “that counts,” emphasizing the World Cup in 2022 and a sports focused strategy. Additionally, industrial and cultural diplomacy, the establishment of universities and Qatari investments abroad are contributing factors.

“France welcomed Sheikh Tamim in February 2024 with great ceremony, and the emirate leveraged its role as an intermediary in exchange for significant and strategic investments abroad,” recalls Sader.

Although a member of the ruling family, Sheikh Mohammed is less inclined towards power struggles. He keeps a low profile and does not overshadow his ruler (unlike his predecessor). He is a reformer, in tune with Emir Tamim’s policies and part of the same generation. His acumen makes him an effective lever in high-level diplomacy.

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