took power from his father, Sheikh Khalifa ibn Hamad al-Thani, who had become Qatar’s leader just months after the country won independence from Great Britain in 1972. In 2013, Ḥamad abdicated in favor of his son Sheikh Tamim.
Ḥamad was born into a family that at the time had ruled the country for a century. He was educated in Qatar and in England at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and became a lieutenant colonel in Qatar’s military after graduating in 1971. He was promoted in 1975 to major general and commander in chief of the armed forces, and in 1977 he became minister of defense as well as heir apparent to the throne. Following the Persian Gulf War (1990–91), Ḥamad was, for most purposes, leading the country, and in 1995 he staged a coup and ousted his father while the latter was traveling outside Qatar. Ḥamad himself survived a number of subsequent coup attempts and succeeded in returning to the government a portion of the estimated $3 billion–$7 billion in gas and oil profits his father had held in personal bank accounts.
By 2000, Ḥamad had instituted a number of policies that transformed the country. He moved to allow Qataris to participate more actively in the government and to promote greater equality for women. After becoming ruler he announced plans to establish an elected parliament, appointed a committee to draft a permanent constitution, largely abolished censorship of the press, and in 1999 held the country’s first open general elections for a municipal council. For the first time, women not only were allowed to vote but, even more revolutionary, were also allowed to run for office.
In June 2013, Ḥamad announced his abdication in favour of his 33-year-old son Tamim, the crown prince, citing the need to make way for a new generation of Qatari leaders. The transfer of power was seen as unusual for the Gulf Arab region, where rulers typically occupied their positions for life.