The emir of Qatar has abdicated and will hand the reins to his 33-year-old son, who in turn becomes the youngest monarch in the region. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, 61, announced the news on national TV yesterday, though he didn't say when Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani would take over. The younger Sheikh, however, is set to give a speech tomorrow and select a government afterward, the New York Times reports. "I am fully certain that he is up to the responsibility, deserving the confidence, capable of shouldering the responsibility and fulfilling the mission," Sheikh Hamad said. He took over from his own father in 1995, though in a decidedly less friendly manner: He launched a bloodless coup.
Indeed, this kind of willing handover of power is extremely unusual in Gulf Arab dynasties, the AP notes. There are unconfirmed murmurs that it's related to Sheikh Hamad's health, but he's likely to continue to play a role in government. Though the country's prime minister is also likely to depart, politics in Qatar—whose influence is growing—aren't likely to change much. Sheikh Tamim "has been involved very closely with Qatari policy, both domestic and foreign ... for some considerable time," says an al Jazeera editor. Qatar has a sovereign wealth fund of some $100 billion, one of the biggest in the world, and it's been building its political resume as a mediator of international conflicts, including Darfur; the Taliban also recently opened a political office in the country.