x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 December 2017

Exiled Qatari businessman says current emir 'distant from citizenry'

Qatar’s alignment with the Muslim Brotherhood, the management of the North field natural gas deposit and its spending spree on the World Cup are three areas that undermine support for the first family, Khalid Al Hail says

Qatari political activist in exile Khalid Al Hail is organising a one-day conference in London to give voice to Qataris who want a chance of direction
Qatari political activist in exile Khalid Al Hail is organising a one-day conference in London to give voice to Qataris who want a chance of direction

On a windswept terrace of a five-star hotel in London, Khalid Al Hail is plotting a reformation of his homeland.

The exiled Qatari businessman sees the summer crisis over Qatar’s support for terrorism and promotion of extremism as an opportunity to return the country to its constitutional roots.

“Qatar is a constitutional monarchy. It is in there in the constitution but the constitution has never been implemented,” he told The National.

Mr Al Hail spoke as he completes preparations for a convention in London that he hopes will bring the “Qatari perspective” to the crisis. Cloaked in secrecy as he seeks to protect his guest list from rumoured chequebook rivalry, the conference has been slated for September 14.

Mr Al Hail has bitter personal experience of the tight control on internal discussion that pertains in Qatar. As a boy, he attended the same events as Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and grew up knowing the Qatari emir.

“People say they go to Qatar and the people in the street all support Tamim. It’s ridiculous. No one is going to discuss these things openly,” he said. “Look what happened to me. Tamim called me personally and told me I could come back and that everything would be okay. When I got there, I was arrested and spent 22 days in the security. The Qatari regime will never fulfil any of his promises to anyone.”

Pointing to Qatar’s history of deposing its serving emirs, Mr Al Hail says the current leader and his father have grown distant from their citizenry.

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He points to Qatar’s alignment with the Muslim Brotherhood, the management of the North field natural gas deposit and its spending spree on the World Cup as three areas that undermined support for the first family.

“No one in Qatar wants to see the billions of dollars of spending on the World Cup that has been promised. How are they going to do this especially now that there is a boycott of the country?” he said.

Even the central London presence of prominent Qataris, signposted by the distinctively painted Lamborghini supercars that line up outside the Harrods store, has become an oppressive atmosphere for the businessman. “I’m keeping out of central London now to protect my opposition activity."

The conference that Mr Al Hail proposes is due to hear that there are three alternative outcomes of the crisis: a successful conclusion to the mediation by Kuwait supported by US efforts; a move within the ruling family to replace Sheikh Tamim and his father; and lastly, an intervention from outside to resolve the impasse.

Should there be a “bloodless coup”, Mr Al Hail wants to see a new ruler that allows a fledgling parliament and an agreement that demarcates the 900 trillion cubic feet North gas field deposit.

Ahead of the conference, opinion is split on whether the exile's launching pad can rattle the leadership. "These sorts of things have always happened, but they weren't so vocal and publicly displayed," Cinzia Bianco, a London-based analyst for Gulf State Analytics, told Associated Press.

What is different is that opponents of the current rulers, like Mr Al Hail, have been heartened by the engagement between King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani over the Hajj pilgrimages.

Sheikh Abdullah's grandfather, father and brother were rulers of Qatar until a palace coup ousted their branch of the royal family in 1972 and he has been head of the equestrian and camel racing federation.

“He is a good man who has a good reputation for opening his Majlis to help his fellow Qataris,” he said. “None of us want to be cut off from our families. Over 60 per cent of Qataris have relatives across the border [from Saudi]. We don’t want this.”