Qatar Gives Top Jobs to Executives, Younger Royals in Revamp

(Bloomberg) -- Qatar’s ruler elevated younger royals and prominent business executives to top leadership positions on Sunday in the biggest shake-up since the gas exporter retooled its economy and political alliances to resist a Saudi-led boycott imposed in 2017.

The changes, which include the top jobs at Qatar Petroleum and Qatar Investment Authority, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, could put the economy on a stronger footing as regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia faces increasing pressure to end the rift following last month’s killing of prominent Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

“The Qatari leadership is most certainly exploiting the geopolitical context to highlight its commitment to fixing the bureaucracy and longstanding systemic challenges in government,” said Ayham Kamel, head of the Eurasia Group’s Middle East and North Africa research team in New York.

Qatar, the world’s richest country in per capita income, leaned on its wealth to blunt the effects of the embargo imposed by Saudi Arabia and its allies in June 2017. The emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s, introduced measures that relax foreign ownership rules of businesses and property to help the economy grow even if its regional isolation persists.

Faster Reforms?

Analysts said the changes announced on Sunday could help accelerate these reforms.

“Since the emir came to power, ministries became more technocratic and more meritocratic. People have been appointed for their expertise on a particular portfolio,” said Andreas Krieg, a lecturer in the department of defense studies at King’s College in London and a former adviser to the Qatari military. “This is all part of the government becoming more solutions-oriented and less political.”

The emir appointed his brother, the country’s deputy ruler, Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamad Al Thani, to oversee Qatar Petroleum, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas. Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani was named chairman of the $320 billion sovereign wealth fund, with stakes in companies including Rosneft PJSC, Barclays Plc, and Volkswagen AG.

Business Leaders

While royals were named to some of the top posts, long-serving business leaders in energy and finance were also given senior roles.

Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari, the chief executive officer of Qatar National Bank, the Middle East’s biggest lender by assets, was named minister of trade and industry, and also got a seat on the sovereign wealth fund’s board.

The QIA appointments “can be read as a sign of consolidation, as well as an effort to take the sovereign wealth fund to new levels of professionalism,” said Eurasia’s Kamel.

In addition, Qatar Petroleum’s chief executive officer, Saad Sherida Al Kaabi, received a ministerial title and is now the vice chairman of the oil company.

Despite the lingering embargo, Qatar’s economy is growing, the stock index recouped losses, and its $200 billion infrastructure upgrade to prepare for the 2022 World Cup hasn’t been interrupted.

Credit Risk

Instead, the international outcry over Khashoggi’s murder has put a spotlight on the unpredictable foreign policy of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and sent the kingdom’s credit risk soaring by the most in the world.

Prince Mohammed is now facing more pressure to mend the Qatar rift and end a war in Yemen that has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The personnel changes send a positive signal to investors, said Joice Mathew, the head of equity research at United Securities in Muscat, Oman.

“Business leaders are being brought to the policy making front,” Mathew said. “This might result in an enhanced coordination between the private and public sector, help in creating an investor friendly business environment in the country.”

Qatar’s benchmark stock index gained 0.5 percent on Sunday. Most of the changes were announced after the market closed.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.