Update: Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, told members of the royal family on Monday of his decision to hand over power to his son, Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim, Al-Jazeera television reported.
The emir "has ended his meeting with the royal family and prominent members of Qatari society," the satellite broadcaster announced. "He has informed the meeting of his decision to hand power over to his crown prince."
Original: The emir of gas-rich Qatar, a major player on the world's diplomatic scene, is poised to announce his abdication in favor of his son or name him prime minister, officials and diplomats said Monday.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who used the tiny Gulf Arab state's immense gas wealth to drive its modernization, came to power in a coup when he overthrew his own father Sheikh Khalifa in June 1995.
The ruler is expected to announce his decision during a meeting later Monday with members of the royal family, Al-Jazeera television reported.
"Trusted sources have confirmed to Al-Jazeera that the Qatari emir ... is due to meet members of the ruling family and prominent members of Qatari society on Monday," said the report.
"The planned meeting comes amid news about the intentions of the emir to transfer power to his heir apparent, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani," said the Qatar-based news channel.
A diplomat said that by stepping down of his free accord the 61-year-old emir would "score a first in the Arab world" where autocratic rulers have held power uncontested for decades until the Arab Spring revolutions that toppled regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
"The emir is expected to address the ruling family and announce important changes in the leadership," of the country, a source close to Qatari ruling circles said.
He will either give the reigns of power to Sheikh Tamim--the second son of the emir and his second wife Sheikha Mozah--or appoint him prime minister in the place of powerful premier Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani.
The current prime minister has been at the job since 2007 and is also the foreign minister of Qatar, a role that has given the Gulf state a strong voice in the regional and international political arenas.
The crown prince is joint commander of the armed forces and head of the country's Olympic committee, which is also in charge of organizing the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Diplomats said that over the past three years the emir has increasingly handed over military and security responsibilities to Tamim, who like his father was educated at the British military academy Sandhurst.
"The emir is convinced that he should encourage the new generation. He plans to transfer power to the crown prince, Sheikh Tamim, and to carry out a ministerial reshuffle to bring a large number of young people into the cabinet," a Qatari official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"The emir could take a step back, that is to say not retire completely but play a more honorary role, so that his son can better assume the responsibilities and become the man in charge," a French diplomat said.
A Qatari official said that in any case the emir "will continue to play a backstage influential role and keep an eye of Qatar's investment abroad."
Hamad has developed Qatar into a political powerhouse and an economic giant with multi-billion investments scattered across the world.
The tiny Gulf peninsula holds the world's third largest gas reserves and produces roughly 77 million tons of liquefied natural gas per year, making it the world's largest supplier
Analyst Neil Partrick, an expert on the Gulf, ruled out major changes in Qatar if Tamim, who was born in 1980, succeeds his father or takes over as prime minister.
"Tamim already has responsibilities for sensitive foreign portfolios among other matters, and the emir is at least testing the domestic, regional and international waters about the idea of him jumping straight to the position of emir or at least shortly becoming a powerful premier," said Partrick.
"For Qatari foreign policy, none of this seems likely to produce major change. The young heir apparent Tamim is unlikely to effect major changes without consulting his father," he added.
Qatar took part in the armed intervention in Libya and is actively supporting rebel forces who are trying to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
It has major investments around the world, including in the French football club Paris Saint-Germain, in hotels, in a resort on the Italian island of Sardinia, as well as stakes in automobile company Volkswagen and energy giant Total.
The Gulf state also controls a powerful media empire through Al-Jazeera, the first pan-Arab satellite channel which has branched out into English, and earlier this year bought Current TV, a struggling U.S. cable channel, in preparation for the launch of Al-Jazeera America.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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