Qatar: It’s A Family Business

Thursday June 27th 2013
Old Emir/new Emir

The little kingdom of Qatar, which sticks out like a thumb into the Arabian Gulf, is a fiefdom belonging to the Al Thani family. Happily for them, it’s a thumb that’s stuck in a magic pudding, which just goes on and on giving – at current estimates more than $200 billion a year in oil and gas revenues.

Just to put that in perspective. A Qatari newborn’s annual income is a around $100,000 a year. That’s for being born. There aren’t very many actual Qataris, you see, around a quarter of a million. For every one Qatari, There are about seven or even eight foreign workers.

Altogether that means there are fewer than 2 million people living on the thumb. To put that in perspective, central London alone has a population four times that.

The world listens when money talks, especially if that money happens to be invested in important assets in your country. Just to give you a British example, the Qatari sovereign fund – that is the state’s investment arm with around $2O billion to spend a year – has decisive stakes in Heathrow Airport (Europe’s busiest), Barclays Bank (the country’s biggest, I think), Sainsbury’s (the second biggest supermarket chain), Harrods, and owns huge swathes of top London real estate including its tallest building, the Shard. That’s just the stuff we know about.

All that money and all those assets mean little Qatar wields a huge amount of influence. For example, right now, Qatari money is pouring into Syria.

This week the Emir, Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, aged 61, handed over the running of Qatar to his 33-year-old son Tamim. Capricorn Sheikh Hamad is an interesting character.

After ousting his playboy father as Emir in 1995, Sheikh Hamad has made some interesting decisions. Most notably he bankrolled the satellite TV station Al Jazeera, which has become the alternative voice to the western news media. This was a niche waiting to be grabbed, and he or his advisers made the wise decision to copy the model of the BBC, allowing the station almost total editorial freedom, so long as it doesn’t say anything about his dynasty.

He put a rocket under the sovereign wealth fund, built up, rumour has it, one of the best art collections in the world and certainly set up a fine network of museums. His policies put the desert kingdom on the road to becoming self-sufficient in food. He’s been politically active in the region, leading efforts to resolve conflicts in Libya and Israel/Palestine. Weirdly for an absolute monarch, he’s also been a supporter of the Arab Spring – a movement which generally has sought to bring democracy to the Middle East.

Sheikha Mozah, mother of the new Emir, is only 53.

He’s also married to arguably the most high profile woman in the Arab world. Sheikha Mozah actually manages to make being the middle wife in a three-wife household look quite cool. Any reader of Hello magazine will be familiar with her chic re-interpretations of  the hijab, but may be less familiar with her powerful practical advocacy for women’s education. Thanks largely – we are told – to her efforts young women in the region can now get a world class education. Education City, outside Doha, hosts branches of Cornell, UCL, Georgetown and Northwestern.

This emphasis on culture and education is in stark contrast to the floating brothel-cum-shopping mall that Dubai’s leaders have chosen to spend their wealth creating. So is Qatar’s interest in foreign affairs. The Qatari royal family seems to be taking the responsibility that comes with great wealth seriously.

But democracy was not one of the Emir’s choices. In fact, criticising the Al Thani family can get you thrown in jail, although there does seem to be only one political prisoner in Qatar right now, the poet Mohammad Al Ajami thrown in jail for writing this poem, Tunisian Jasmine. As for the foreign workers, they have very few rights. Qatar had slavery right up until the 196Os.

I have two charts for Qatar. Since 2OO7, Qatari National Day has been celebrated on December 18, to commemorate the creation of the state back in 1878, so it’s a date that affirms national identity. The other is for September 3, 1971 when Qatar became completely independent from Britain.

Both show North Node in Aquarius, which puts the South Node in regal Leo. There could be no stronger indication of a movement from monarchy to rule by the people. However, this has not been evident at all so far in the history of the country. Still, there’s time.

It’s reasonable to suppose that the 1971 chart begins on the stroke of midnight, as this was often the case with the peaceful hand over of power from the UK to a sovereign state, and it makes sense for Qatar too. That puts Gemini, the sign of communications, commerce and teaching, all areas which the country is famous for, rising. Mercury, the chart ruler, is on the IC, the basis of the country.

(I also like this chart for the simple reason that when I cast it, the Midheaven of now conjuncted the Qatari ascendant.)

It looks as if Qatar is about to get a whole lot richer, if such a thing is possible. Jupiter will be going through the second house of income for the coming 12 months or so. But what’s really interesting is the position of transiting Pluto, right on the cusp of the 8th house of debt – and other people’s money. Has Qatar been lending to the US and Europe? I think that’s a yes. How much do we owe them? Is it dangerous to be a tiny country with a lot of other people’s money as well as your own?

The handover of power took place as Mars crossed the Ascendant. The god of change, Uranus is right on the Qatari Chiron, which is very curious. This change of leadership could be a healing or a reopening of an old wound. Although on reflection, I think it has more to do with the cause of the change which could well be the father’s ill health.

Generally though, it looks more like a name change than a shift in power or real direction. This is a case of steady as she goes. When Sheikh Hamad wrested power from his father in 1995, Saturn was going over the MC, a much stronger shift.)

The vast quantities of oil and gas show right there with the natal Jupiter-Neptune conjunction across Scorpio-Sag. Neptune is associated with oil and gas, and Jupiter expands that, as does Jupiter’s sign Sagittarius. This is in the 6th house of everyday stuff, so I guess the oil just keeps pumping. Sixth house also rules servants, of course, and the country is actually run by the vast army of servants – from economists to road sweepers.

Right now, Neptune has moved up to the MC, where it seems to be more about Qatar’s growing influence in the world. The country has a very high profile – with a glamourous woman as its face Sheikha Moza – but its influence is not all that it seems. Neptune is the great deceiver.

The Sun represents the ruler, closely buttressed by Venus on one side and Mercury on the other all on the IC: it’s a family business. The Al Thani family keeps its secrets but it’s clear that harem politics are what run the country. Sheikh Tamim is not the eldest son: he is the second son of the second wife, and he was not the first official crown prince. Sheikh Jasim was kicked out of that position in 2OO3.

But what about the new national day chart? That moves the Sun from cautious, calculated Virgo to visionary Sagittarius. That seems appropriate for a country determined to play a big part on the global stage.

The Neptune on the MC of the national chart though acts like a distorting mirror, vastly expanding the influence of a very tiny coterie of people. 


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  1. Isy Aweigh says:

    Thought I’d commented, but Google ate it.

    I love how the history and politics and culture and popular tone all weave together seamlessly in your hands. I have a better sense of Qatar than I ever thought I would.

    • Christina says:

      I’ve been having some serious problems with comments for ages. That’s why so many people just comment as anon. Renee could’t even comment on the piece she wrote!