Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani, who as the emir of Qatar for 23 years oversaw its independence from Britain and the rapid modernization of its economy, died on Sunday. He was 84.
His death was announced by the government of Qatar, which did not specify the cause or where he died.
His grandson Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the current emir, declared three days of public mourning.
Sheikh Khalifa took power from his cousin in a bloodless coup in 1972 and was ousted by his son in another bloodless coup, in 1995.
During Sheikh Khalifa’s reign, Qatar — a country on a peninsula jutting out of the much larger Arabian Peninsula into the Persian Gulf — experienced rapid economic growth, helped by its vast oil reserves. In 1981, it joined five neighboring countries — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to form the Gulf Cooperation Council, although historical disputes over territory persisted.
After Iraq, under President Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait in 1990, Sheikh Khalifa joined other Arab leaders in making his country’s military bases available to the American-led coalition that liberated Kuwait. United States, Canadian and French fighter planes flew missions from Qatar during the conflict.
After the war, Qatar signed a security pact with the United States, and today it hosts the forward headquarters of the United States Central Command and aircraft involved in airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.
“Sheikh Khalifa’s legacy is decidedly mixed,” said Mehran Kamrava, a professor at the Qatar campus of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. “His assumption of power was greeted with much enthusiasm and excitement over many promised changes to come. But as the years wore on, popular expectations were frustrated, especially among the young.”
Sheikh Khalifa was born in Al Rayyan, Qatar, in 1932, into the House of Thani, the country’s royal family since the early 19th century.
He rose through the ranks of the ruling family, commanding its security forces and overseeing its civilian courts. He became the country’s deputy ruler on Oct. 24, 1960, and its finance minister two weeks later.
Sheikh Khalifa became the first prime minister of Qatar — then a British protectorate — on May 29, 1970, after the job was created by the emir at the time, his cousin Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali al-Thani. Sheikh Khalifa also served as finance minister and oil minister.
From that point on, he was effectively the ruler. When Qatar declared independence on Sept. 3, 1971, Sheikh Ahmad was on vacation in Switzerland, and it was left to Sheikh Khalifa to issue the proclamation.
Sheikh Khalifa deposed Sheikh Ahmad on Feb. 22, 1972. He announced an immediate increase in salaries for civil servants and the 15,000 members of the police and armed forces, as well as plans to modernize government administration and cut consumer prices.
The new ruler aimed to consolidate control over oil production. In February 1974, he reached an accord with foreign oil companies that gave the Qatari government control over 60 percent of revenues, and by the end of that year he announced plans to take over the remaining 40 percent.
Oil exports boomed, making Qatar one of the world’s wealthiest nations per capita. (Qatar today has about 2.2 million residents, but most are workers from countries like India, Pakistan and Iran, and not citizens.)
“Sheikh Khalifa boldly brought Qatar onto the stage of world affairs, even defying his new ally the United States — largely seen as Britain’s successor in guaranteeing the security of the gulf — by reaching out to the Soviets,” said Allen J. Fromherz, an associate professor at Georgia State University and a historian of Qatar. “It may have been this act, in fact, that prevented the U.S. from intervening when Sheikh Hamad, a hero of the Iraq war against Saddam, took power in 1995.”
On June 27, 1995, the crown prince, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who had already assumed a substantial amount of power, ousted his fatherand drove him into exile.
Sheikh Khalifa had already begun to step back from governing in the late 1980s, while power and influence accrued to a younger generation of royals who “wanted to accelerate the modernization of Qatar’s economy and develop its gas reserves,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a political scientist at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
After several years in Europe, Sheikh Khalifa returned to Qatar in 2004 and led a low-profile life until his death. The country’s prominence continued to rise in recent years: Doha, its capital, has become a center of the arts world, and Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup in 2022.
Sheikh Hamad announced his abdication in 2013, turning power over to his son Sheikh Tamim, who remains emir.
Khalifa bin Hamad bin Abdullah bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani GCB GCMG (17 September 1932 – 23 October 2016; Arabic: خليفة بن حمد آل ثاني) was the Emir of Qatar from 27 February 1972 until he was deposed by his sonHamad bin Khalifa on 27 June 1995. He was the grandfather of the current Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Sheikh Khalifa was born in Rayyan in 1932. He was the son of Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani and grandson ofAbdullah bin Jassim Al Thani.
In 1957, Khalifa was appointed as Minister of Education. Then he was appointed as Deputy Emir. He was named as the heir apparent on 24 October 1960. In the 1960s he also served as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.
On 22 February 1972, Sheikh Khalifa became the Emir of Qatar, seizing power from his cousin, Emir Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani. While many Western news outlets referred to it as an overthrow, the Qatari population merely considered it to be a succession of power. His initial activity was the process of the reorganization of the government. He also limited the financial privileges of members of the ruling family. Next, he appointed a foreign minister and an adviser to himself regarding the day-to-day affairs. On 19 April 1972, he amended the Constitution and expanded the Cabinet by appointing more ministers. Diplomatic relations were also established with a number of foreign countries at the ambassadorial level.
Khalifa's reorganization of the system of government saw a dramatic shift in the hierarchy of authority. He immensely reduced the traditional powers afforded to the heir-apparent while projecting all of the power onto himself.
On 18 July 1989, the cabinet was reshuffled for the first time, replacing most of the previous ministers and making it consist of 15 ministers. The Cabinet was again reshuffled under his premiership on 1 September 1992, expanding it to 17 members.
The state revenue from the oil sector had increased as the result of the rising of a number of production sharing agreements with foreign oil companies. Two production-sharing agreements were signed with the Standard Oil Company of Ohio in January 1985 and Amoco in February 1986. In January 1989, another production sharing agreement was signed between Qatar and the French state-owned oil company Elf Aquitaine. In the middle of 1991, production of gas in the Qatar North Field, the world's largest single field of non-associated gas (proven gas reserves of around 250 trillion cubic feet and probable reserves of 500 trillion cubic feet), commenced. While the search for finding more oil deposits in Qatar continued, Qatar built an industrial base in order to reduce dependence on the oil sector.
While Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani was staying in Geneva, Switzerland, in June 1995, his son Hamad bin Khalifa seized power. Khalifa lived in France until he returned to Qatar in 2004. He died on 23 October 2016, a week after entering the hospital.