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Qatar’s UK-educated, sports-loving new leader

Sheikh Tamim, Qatar’s newly crowned 33-year-old emir, comes to his role with an impressive pedigree, a passion for sports and pressure to maintain his country’s standing as the Arab world’s new heavyweight.

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After 18 years at the helm of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani handed power to his 33-year-old son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, in an unprecedented move announced as a way to inject “innovative ideas” into the small, gas-rich Gulf state.

“The time has come to open a new page in the journey of our nation that would have a new generation carry the responsibilities,” Sheikh Hamad said in a televised speech on Tuesday.

But Sheikh Tamim is less likely to “open a new page” than to try to smoothly take over a role he has long been groomed for, pursuing the projects initiated by his father and protecting the role Qatar has carved out for itself both in the region and on the world stage.

Current minister of state for interior affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani, has been chosen to be the next prime minister of Qatar as part of the formation of a cabinet following the accession of a new emir Sheikh Tamim in the US-allied Gulf Arab state.

Nasser al-Thani succeeds powerful Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who is also the foreign minister. The appointment was reported by Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera.

The British-educated prince is no stranger to high-level responsibilities in his native country, having already held top security and economic positions. Over the last three years, Sheikh Tamim has acted as deputy commander of the armed forces as well as deputy emir. He is also chairman of the board of Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the Arab state’s sovereign wealth fund.

The QIA has billion-dollar investments in several of Britain’s most prominent landmarks and businesses: Barclays Bank, supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, department story Harrod’s and London skyscraper the Shard (the EU’s tallest building). Qatar has also bought several luxury hotels in Paris, and is in the process of acquiring famous Parisian department store Printemps.

He is further known for having spearheaded efforts to use sports as a way to boost the international reputation of the desert nation. A tennis and football enthusiast, the prince is head of the National Olympic Committee, oversaw Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and was the key player in the purchase of French football club Paris Saint-Germain.

A reputed history and culture buff, Sheikh Tamim supervised the restoration of Souq Waqef, a working class market in Doha, which has become a much-visited tourist attraction in the Qatari capital, Doha.

A sports fan and promising diplomat

Though Sheikh Tamim was not the first choice to take his father’s place (his older brother, Jassem, abdicated in 2003), he comes to his new job with a list of prestigious credentials.

Born to Sheikha Moza, Sheikh Hamad’s influential second wife (a high-profile public advocate for social and education issues), the prince attended prestigious British private school Sherborne before graduating from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 1998.

Sheikh Tamim also speaks French, having spent several childhood summers in France enrolled in intensive language courses.

He is known to have warm ties to diplomatic leaders in the West, notably in France and the US. The prince has also improved relations with Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s main rival for leadership of the Arab world and former adversary in a longstanding border dispute.

Under Sheikh Hamad, Qatar played an important role – relative to its size – in Middle East affairs, backing Arab Spring uprisings in both Libya and Syria.

With Hamad at the head of the country, Qatar also invested billions of dollars in businesses like Germany's Volkswagen and French energy giant Total, developed an Arab media empire with Al-Jazeera, and is readying the launch of Al-Jazeera America.

Tamim will be expected to defend and further nurture Qatar’s global political and economic clout.

Sheikh Tamim has two wives and six children.

His marriage in 2005 to his first wife, Sheikha Jawaher, the daughter of ruling family member Sheikh Hamad bin Sehim al-Thani, was celebrated by the country’s tribes. They have four children.

The prince also had two children with his second wife Al-Anud Al-Hajri, who hails from a prominent Qatari family.

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