Although an absolute Monarch, the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani has been slowly moving Qatar towards democracy since he deposed his father in 1995. He is both politically astute and a liberal reformer – perhaps more so than the general populace. Women have been able to vote and stand for political office since 1999 and the first national legislative elections will be held in 2013.
Surrounded by large and powerful countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia the main aim of his Foreign Policy is to keep Qatar safe. Despite the small size of Qatar, the Emir is a major and respected political player in the Middle East. He has successfully maintained good relations with Iran and the USA, as well as Hezbollah, Hamas and Israel. He has also brokered peace agreements throughout the region.
Soon after he came to power the Emir set up Al-Jezeera, the Qatar’s satellite TV News Network. Government owned but essentially free from censorship, unlike most TV networks in the region, it is outspoken on sensitive issues. It has played a major role in the Arab Spring, to the dismay of neighbouring countries! When the Arab League asked the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, Qatar, alone in the region, sent warplanes as support and arms to the anti-Gaddaffi forces.
The wealth oil and gas has given Qatar is reinvested in its indigenous population. There is a comprehensive welfare state with free education, health care, guaranteed employment and no income tax. His long-term domestic policy is based on building a sustainable future for his country, after the Oil and Gas has run out. The vision is to make Qatar the Cultural and Educational Capital of the Region.