Instead of the Kremlin ruler Putin, the Sheikh of Qatar is the hope of the politicians who are supposed to organize the future gas supply. Germany is entering into a new dependency. How reliable is the new partner?
He inherited his office, like his father before him and like his father before him. He opens up his country just enough so that the situation doesn’t falter. He is a devout Muslim who always wears a mustache and sometimes appears in the flowing robes of an Arab and sometimes in the dark blue suit of a Western businessman.
He has twelve children and three wives. And he is currently one of the most sought-after men in Germany: Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the ruling Emir of Qatar, is welcomed in Berlin with open arms. He signed a contract for the supply of liquid gas with Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens), he was negotiating a long-term energy partnership with Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), and Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier invited him to a reception at Bellevue Palace.
The emir is enjoying the attention he’s getting around here since his country is one that can help alleviate Germany’s dependence on Russian energy supplies. Instead of the Russian ruler, the Qatari sheikh is now supposed to deliver what the Germans so urgently need. Nobody in the federal government knows whether that’s a good idea, but nobody has any other ideas either. Qatar is one of the world’s largest exporters of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
But when the sheikh comes to Germany, he not only talks about gas, but also about further billions in investments in German companies. With investments in Volkswagen, Deutsche Bank, Siemens Energy, the failed vaccine manufacturer Curevac and Hapag-Lloyd, Qatar is already one of the largest Arab investors in the German economy.
So who is this wealthy Middle Eastern man? The sheikh has ruled the very rich Gulf state of Qatar since 2013. He was just 33 years old when he took over. Since then he has greatly expanded the influence of the small peninsula. As a self-confessed football fan, he brought the World Cup to the desert state and accepted that from then on his country was viewed as if under a magnifying glass by all those who could not understand this decision by the opaque football organization FIFA.
The result was what everyone now knows: there are human rights violations and the exploitation of migrant workers who help build the World Cup stadiums. The government in Doha rejects the allegations and refers to numerous reforms that would have improved the situation of foreign workers. When Habeck recently visited Qatar to promote gas supplies, he spoke diplomatically of a “unsteady ground”. They are construction workers mainly from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan – whose difficult working conditions Habeck, in his own words, addressed at his meeting with the sheikh .
The Qatari side said they knew what to do: “It is unacceptable that people here live in poverty and are exploited.” Qatar is the first Arab country to have introduced a minimum wage, workers no longer have to pay the full wage Only around 300,000 locals live in the country – but almost ten times as many foreigners, most of whom come to the desert state for work.
The sheik also takes on other roles than that of the cautious reformer. He is an important mediator for the West in dealing with the Taliban. When they seized power in Afghanistan again last summer, the emirate helped evacuate foreigners and local Afghan workers. Because the emir has to maintain links with Islamist forces, he is rather isolated among his neighbors in the Middle East.
A number of neighboring countries led by Saudi Arabia even imposed a complete blockade on Qatar for several years. Egypt also joined. Among other things, the states had accused the emirate of supporting terrorism and having too close ties with Shiite Iran. The conflict was only settled last year with mediation from the United States.
Sheikh Tamim was educated in Great Britain and attended, among other things, the famous Sandhurst Military Academy. He then held various positions in the emirate, including as President of the National Olympic Committee and Deputy Chief of the Army. A new constitution came into force in Qatar in 2005, while his father was still in power. It provides for a Consultative Assembly, two-thirds of whose members are to be elected and one-third appointed by the Emir. In October 2021, two-thirds of the members were elected for the first time.
Political parties do not exist, trade union activities are subject to strict regulations. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are guaranteed in the constitution, but the Qatari media practice what one would call self-censorship in this country. A word critical of the Emir is very rarely found there.
The original of this article “Twelve children, three women, lots of gas: This is the energy sheikh Habeck relies on” comes from WirtschaftsKurier.