Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani inherited virtually empty state coffers but he had a vision to turn the emirate into an economic powerhouse by developing its then untapped gas reserves, the third largest in the world, AFP reported.
By 2010, annual production capacity of liquefied natural gas had reached 77 million tonnes, helping to give Qatar the largest per capital income in the world, according to AFP.
To his admirers, Hamad is a champion of the common man's struggle against tyranny, and a visionary who turned billions of dollars in energy revenues into strategic international investments.
To his critics, the 61-year-old ruler only pretends to be a friend of the masses, for while he backed Arab Spring revolts against autocracy, he clamped down on freedoms at home, according to CPI Financial.
What both groups tend to agree on is that Sheikh Hamad has managed to turn the tiny Gulf state into a regional powerhouse that punches above its weight in international diplomacy and high-rolling finance.
His vision is expected to continue after he announced on Tuesday that he was stepping down and handing power to his son, Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, CPI reported.
The dramatic step is unheard of in a region where, until Arab Spring revolts two years ago, authoritarian rulers usually remained in power for life. The handover cements Qatar's standing as "the great regional maverick", said Kristian Ulrichsen, a Gulf expert at The Baker Institute for Public Policy.
The impetus behind Sheikh Hamad's pursuit of the limelight for his country over the past decade, analysts say, was a wish to differentiate Qatar from regional neighbours, especially Sunni powerhouse and rival Saudi Arabia.
"He dexterously fostered a unique place for Qatar as a relatively neutral country in a volatile region," said David Roberts, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute in Doha.
"This not only improved his status domestically, but furthered Qatar economically by encouraging a modern, attractive and liberalising image."
Under Hamad's tenure, along with his influential wife Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, Qatar garnered much attention in the past decade through the launch of the Al Jazeera television network, as well as its successful bid to host the 2022 soccer World Cup.
Sheikh Hamad mediated conflicts in Darfur, Somalia and Lebanon, often by hosting lavish multi-day peace talks in five-star hotels until the rival sides agreed to a deal.
But it was Qatar's aggressive intervention in the Arab Spring revolts, especially supplying rebels in Libya with weapons to oust long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi and pushing for Arab agreement on a no-fly zone, that really turned attention to the peninsula state of 1.9 million people.
Sheikh Hamad personally directed that billions be spent on supplying weapons as well as fuel and supplies to the Libyan rebels.
As one of the world's richest countries with a cradle-to-grave welfare system for its 250,000 native population, Qatar has largely escaped the unrest seen in other Arab countries. It is perhaps that fact that has pushed Sheikh Hamad to throw his weight behind popular revolts abroad without worrying about any backlash at home.
BIG GAS RESERVES
He has also shored up Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood which rose to power after Hosni Mubarak was deposed, depositing millions of dollars in Egypt's central bank as the country struggled economically under the Islamist leadership of Mohamed Mursi.
In Syria, Qatar was at the forefront of Arab countries calling for the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad, as well as official recognition of the Syrian opposition at the Arab League. The first embassy for the Syrian opposition opened in Doha in March.
A close U.S. ally that hosts a large American military base, its copious natural gas reserves have made Qatar one of the world's richest countries.
The tiny country whose economy once centred on pearl fishing now has a sovereign wealth fund that controls an estimated $100 billion in assets. Its high-profile purchases, such as the acquisition of London department store Harrods, have highlighted the country's immense wealth.
"It would not be a stretch to say that in some ways, Qatar today is more influential than Egypt on the regional stage, even though Egypt has more than 240 times the number of citizens," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at Brookings Center Doha, the Qatar branch of the Washington-based think-tank.
That boldness helped Qatar cultivate remarkable success as a regional mediator. During Sheikh Hamad's reign, Doha displayed an ability to engage almost everyone from the United States to Hezbollah, and even Iran.
The transformation of Qatar from a backwater into a global powerhouse began in June 1995 when Hamad, then aged 45, ousted his father in a bloodless coup.
"I am not happy with what has happened but it had to be done and I had to do it," he said in brief televised speech at the time.
"God knows that I was not seeking power by this method for the love of power. It is rather a heavy responsibility and a great trust, and I beseech Almighty God to guide us."
As Hamad handed over power to his son, the Qatari Twitter-sphere was awash with supportive tweets for the outgoing ruler, with a "thank you Hamad" hashtag quickly gaining popularity.
"Today is a new step in the history of the state of Qatar," said one Twitter user.
Another Twitter user from Qatar said:
"Don't want media to analyse today, I just want them to witness the birth of an icon. Seldom do we come across this in MENA."
Here is a translation of the full text of outgoing Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani's abdication speech in which he handed over power to his son.
In the name of God, the most merciful.
My dear people, the sons of this nation,
I speak to you today as we prepare to enter a new era in the history of our nation. I wanted to address you first because you are the owners of this land of the pure as well as its protectors, the builders of its renaissance and the makers of its future.
This was the faith that filled my heart and lived in my soul as I grew up in the land of Qatar and started to hold responsibilities to serve this homeland and its people. God knows that I didn't want power for itself nor did I seek it for personal motivations, but it's the interest of the nation that required us to take us through a new era.
The time has come to open a new page in the journey of our nation that would have a new generation carry the responsibilities (armed) with their innovative ideas and active energies.
Our young people have proved in recent years that they are people of strength and resoluteness who comprehend the spirit of their time and fully understand its necessities while keeping up with what is new. Furthermore, they contribute with their ideas through the process of innovation.
And fit for this occasion is what Ali bin Abi Taleb said: "Teach your children the best of what you have been taught for they have been created for a time different than yours."
You, our sons and daughters, are the treasure of this nation, the builders of its present and bearers of its future. Since the beginning, we have been positive about you and on you we have laid our hope. You have proved with your high ambitions and through the achievements that you have offered to the nation, that you are qualified for leadership and trustworthy.
I hope I have succeeded in bearing responsibility in a way that first pleases God and in a way that lives up to people's expectations. In areas where I have excelled, it is only because of God's guidance and in areas where I have done wrong, it is my own doing, and I hope people who bear responsibility after me learn from that.
I address you today to inform you that I will transfer power to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. I am fully confident that he is qualified for the responsibility and is trustworthy and able to carry the message forward. I am full of faith that you will be the best support for him as you supported me ... I am confident too that Tamim will put the interest of the nation and its people as his priority and that the happiness of the Qatari people will be his main goal at all times.
The future is ahead of you as you move into a new reign where a young leadership holds up the banner. (This leadership) puts the ambition of the coming generation as a priority and works relentlessly to make that happen with the help of God and the sons of this nation and armed with experience which they have gathered in governance, in running the affairs of this country and deep understanding of our area and the Arab world in particular.
Although I am confident that you are qualified for bearing this responsibility, I advise you to be fearful of God, be of knowledge and work hard. Knowledge should be the light the guides your path and assist you in the creating the best future for this nation.
It is knowledge that produces generations that are able to bear responsibility and it is knowledge that helps them take the right path. Hard and faithful work should be your habit in order to serve the nation. Steer away from complacency, lethargy and indolence, for the present and future generations are only built with effort and hard work of their people. (Nations) are only shielded against the ambitions of others and protected from dangers through sweat and sacrifice.
Although I am confident about your loyalty to your Arabic and Islamic heritage, I advise you to preserve our cultural values that stem from our religion as well as our Arab and human heritage. We believe that the Arab world is a single body, its single states are in good condition if they the rest of the state are. I advise you to stick to righteousness despite all changing conditions ... (Religious verses)
I speak to you today to thank the people of Qatar who were with me and supported me throughout this path. They were the best supporters in times of hardship and helped overcome challenges. My goal has always been for them to live in prosperity, stability and security.
My heart will always beat with the love of this land and its nation, for it is the first thing I laid my eye upon and it is where my imagination was triggered.
I also thank and appreciate all of those who worked closely with me. They were the best supporters in times of hardship and prosperity. I thank our armed forces and our army for the honourable role that they have carried out during my leadership. I won't forget as long as I live the loyalty of the Qatari people, praying for God to preserveQatar and maintain its security and stability and lay His grace upon its people.
Peace be upon you
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