PAST RULERS OF QATAR By Josephine Justin - December 10, 2023


How much do you know about the history of Qatar? 
There have been eight rulers of Qatar, all members of the Al Thani family. Sheikh Mohammed bin Thani is recognised as the first ruler from 1851 when he achieved union of the country's tribes under his leadership.

Read our article to learn about each of Qatar's leaders over the decades, and the way they shaped the future of Qatar.

1. HH The Father Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani

Former Amir of the State of Qatar, one of its iconic leaders, and the architect of its modern revival.


Sheikh Hamad played a pivotal role in transforming the nation during his reign. Under his leadership, Qatar achieved significant economic, social, and cultural development, elevating its status internationally.

During his tenure, Qatar's GDP increased 24-fold, per capita GDP rose six-fold, and the hydrocarbon sector's gross value added surged from 11 billion to 403 billion Qatari Riyals. Notable accomplishments include the promulgation of the permanent constitution and the formulation of "Qatar National Vision 2030" aimed at fostering a knowledge-based economy.

Born in Doha in January 1952, Sheikh Hamad joined the Qatar Armed Forces after graduating from the British Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. His contributions to the armed forces were instrumental, leading to his promotion to the rank of Major General.

Appointed Heir Apparent and Minister of Defence in 1977, Sheikh Hamad later chaired the Supreme Council for Planning in 1989. Upon assuming leadership in 1995, he implemented comprehensive development and reform plans, triggering progress in education, health, sports, culture, media, and infrastructure.

Significant achievements during his rule include Qatar becoming the world's largest LNG exporter in 2006, and in 2010, reaching a production capacity of 77 million tons per annum. Economic diversification efforts led to the establishment of the Supreme Council for Economic Affairs and Investment in 2001.

In the realm of media, Sheikh Hamad promoted freedom of expression by scrapping press censorship in 1995 and abolishing the Ministry of Information in 1998. The establishment of Al Jazeera TV Channel in 1996 marked a significant milestone in global media.

Sheikh Hamad initiated democratic steps, such as the first elections for the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 1996 and the central municipal council in 1999, where women gained the right to vote and run for office. The first permanent constitution was promulgated in 2004, emphasizing democratic governance and citizen participation.

Qatar, under Sheikh Hamad's leadership, became an economic, cultural, and diplomatic hub, hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. His efforts were internationally recognized with numerous decorations.

On June 25, 2013, Sheikh Hamad peacefully handed over leadership to his Heir Apparent, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad.


2. Sheikh Khalifa Bin Hamad Al Thani

Sixth Ruler of the State of Qatar.


Sheikh Khalifa achieved significant milestones during his reign. Notable accomplishments include the reorganization of the government, amendments to the Interim Basic Law, and the establishment of agreements for oil extraction and marketing. Under his leadership, schools, colleges, and the country's first university were established.

Born in Al-Rayyan in 1932, Sheikh Khalifa demonstrated leadership skills early in life. In 1949, he became the Chairman of Security Affairs and later, in 1957, the first Minister of Education. Appointed Heir Apparent and Deputy Ruler on October 24, 1960, he assumed roles such as the Minister of Finance and the first Chairman of Qatar National Bank.

In 1971, Sheikh Khalifa declared the abrogation of the Anglo-Qatari Treaty of 1916 and played a pivotal role in establishing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Qatar adopted critical measures, including Arabization and government power promotion, during this period.

Becoming the Amir of Qatar on February 22, 1972, Sheikh Khalifa initiated government reorganization, expanded the cabinet, and established diplomatic relations with foreign countries. The education system underwent reforms, with the inauguration of schools, educational institutions, and the University of Qatar in 1973.

Key achievements included the issuance of the Amended Interim Basic Law in April 1972, identifying Qatar as "part of the Arab nation" and organizing authorities. The constitution laid the foundation for the Advisory Council, budget approval, and the State Audit Bureau.

Under his rule, Qatar's oil sector revenue increased through production sharing agreements. In 1991, gas production commenced in the Qatari North Field, making Qatar an energy superpower with vast reserves.

Sheikh Khalifa remained the Ruler until June 26, 1995, and passed away on October 23, 2016, laid to rest in Al Rayyan cemetery.


3. Sheikh Ahmad Bin Ali Al Thani

Fifth Ruler of Qatar and the first Ruler to bear the title "Amir". 


Sheikh Ahmad - the first to bear the title "Amir," was known for his solemnity, wisdom, and careful discretion in addressing issues. During his reign, he pursued conciliation and unity, leading to the formation of the Shura (advisory) Council and the promulgation of the first interim basic law.

Born around 1920 in Doha, Sheikh Ahmad assumed the role of Ruler on October 24, 1960, following his father's abdication. His reign witnessed rapid economic growth due to the discovery of oil fields, including the Idd al-Sharqi field (1960) and Maydan Mahzam field (1963). This transformation led to the establishment of key departments, such as Oil Affairs, Legal Affairs, and Labor and Social Affairs.

In 1965, an oil storage facility was set up in Halul Island, and exploration operations began in the Abu Al Haneen field, marking Qatar's shift from a regional economy based on traditional activities to a global contributor through oil production.

The British withdrawal from the East of the Suez in January 1968 prompted negotiations for a Gulf Emirates confederation, but when unsuccessful, Qatar moved toward independence. On April 2, 1970, the interim Basic Law was promulgated, and the Council of Ministers convened on May 28 under the chairmanship of Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad.

On September 3, 1971, Sheikh Ahmad declared the abrogation of the Anglo-Qatari Treaty of 1916, marking Qatar's allegiance to him as the Amir. He passed away on November 25, 1977, in London, and his body was laid to rest in Al-Rayyan cemetery in Doha.


4. Sheikh Ali Bin Abdullah Al Thani

Fourth Ruler of the State of Qatar.


Sheikh Ali was renowned for his solemnity, wisdom, and commitment to conciliation and unity. Born around 1896, he assumed leadership on August 20, 1949, following his father's abdication.

Under Sheikh Ali's leadership, Qatar exported its first onshore oil shipment on December 29, 1949, marking the country's entry into the oil age and a new era of social and economic development. He established close relations with Arab and foreign nations, appointing the first British political official in 1950.

Key agreements with the Iraq Petroleum Company and Shell Overseas Exploration Company in 1952 paved the way for Qatar to acquire 50% of oil export profits. Sheikh Ali implemented an effective administrative system to manage the oil economy and oversee social and economic development.

His patronage extended to arts, literature, education, and culture, and he prioritized the well-being of intellectuals, writers, and poets. The health sector saw significant development, with the launch of Rumailah Hospital in 1957.

In the last decade of his rule, Sheikh Ali oversaw landmark achievements, including the Clock Tower, ship harbor, National Library (Dar al-Kutub), airport, and water supply networks providing free water to households. Infrastructure improvements continued with the launch of the first telephone exchange in 1953, the first water desalination station in 1954, and a power generation station offering free electricity.

Sheikh Ali's commitment to knowledge was evident in his support for education and intellectual pursuits. He also contributed to the construction and restoration of mosques in Qatar and other countries he visited.

He passed away on August 31, 1974, in Beirut, and was laid to rest in Qatar's Al-Rayyan area.


5. Sheikh Abdullah Bin Jassim Al Thani

Third Ruler of the State of Qatar.


Sheikh Abdullah was revered for his piety, righteousness, and extensive knowledge. Born in Al-Bida in 1871, he was appointed Governor of Doha in 1906 by his father, Sheikh Jassim, in preparation for his future rule.

Assuming leadership on July 17, 1913, Sheikh Abdullah played a crucial role in Qatar's history. The Anglo-Ottoman Convention in 1913 relinquished Ottoman rights to Qatar, marking the end of Ottoman military presence in 1915. The Anglo-Qatari Treaty of 1916 solidified Qatar's relationship with Britain, and in 1935, Sheikh Abdullah renewed the treaty, securing both sea and land protection.

Recognizing his significance, Britain awarded Sheikh Abdullah the Order of the Indian Empire Great Commander (CIE) in 1919. In 1935, the first Oil Concession Agreement with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company was signed, and oil was discovered in Dukhan in 1940, with drilling interrupted by World War II developments.

In 1948, Sheikh Abdullah appointed his son Sheikh Ali as Deputy Ruler after the passing of his heir apparent, Sheikh Hamad. Sheikh Abdullah signed a seabed concession with the American company "Superior Oil" and the British Mining and Investment Corporation Ltd in 1949.

Sheikh Abdullah passed away on April 25, 1957, leaving behind a legacy of leadership, vision, and contributions to Qatar's development.


6. Sheikh Jassim Bin Mohammed Bin Thani

The Founder of the State of Qatar. 


Sheikh Jassim was a multifaceted leader known for his military prowess, wisdom, and poetic talents. Born around 1827 in Al-Bida, he learned the Quran, Islamic law, and equestrian skills in his youth.

Taking on leadership responsibilities in 1876 alongside his aging father, Sheikh Jassim succeeded him on December 18, 1878, consolidating national rule under the Al Thani dynasty. During his rule, he focused on uniting the Qatari people, promoting education, adjudicating disputes, and enhancing the pearl trade to boost the economy.

Internationally, Sheikh Jassim defended the Islamic Caliphate, earning titles such as "kaimakam" and "Kapuji-bashi" from the Ottoman Empire. Despite conflicts with the Ottomans, he achieved a decisive victory in the Battle of Wajbah in 1893, reinforcing his regional influence and solidifying Qatar's independence.

A skilled poet, Sheikh Jassim composed Nabati poetry chronicling his exploits, and his famous poem "Ka’bat Almdh’yom" reflected his commitment to justice and protecting the oppressed.

Sheikh Jassim was not only a military leader but also a keen follower of events in the Arab world, maintaining ties with enlightened thinkers and scholars. Described as courageous, eloquent, and knowledgeable, he left a lasting impact on Qatar's history.

He passed away on July 17, 1913, and his succession date, December 18, 1878, is celebrated as Qatar's National Day.


7. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Thani


First Ruler of Qatar and one of its most eminent leaders. 


Sheikh Mohammed was a remarkable leader born around 1776 in Fuweirat in the northeast of Qatar. Known for his wisdom, far-sightedness, and love of literature and poetry, he played a pivotal role in uniting the Qatari tribes during a challenging period.

After becoming the Chief of his tribe in 1839, Sheikh Mohammed moved to Doha (Al Bida) in 1848, extending his dominance across all parts of Qatar. In 1851, he became the Ruler of Qatar and achieved a significant milestone by uniting all leading tribes under the purple-red banner, which later became the national flag. His brave character and strong will strengthened Qatar's sovereignty, and he developed political relations with major powers.

On September 12, 1868, Sheikh Mohammed signed an agreement with British Political Resident Col. Lewis Pelly, marking the first international recognition of Qatar's sovereignty under his leadership.

In 1871, when the Ottoman army landed in Qatar, Sheikh Mohammed maintained control over internal affairs despite the country's nominal dependence on the Ottoman Empire. His alliance with Imam Faisal Bin Turki, the Amir of the second Saudi Arabia State, further solidified his regional position.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Thani passed away on December 18, 1878, leaving behind a legacy as one of Qatar's most eminent leaders and the architect of its early unity and sovereignty.

By Josephine Justin - December 10, 2023

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