A senior US military official summarily dismissed rumors of a coup in Qatar on Wednesday, Aug. 5, saying: “We have no evidence to corroborate this.”
The question was put to him after various Arab news websites reported that senior Qatari military officers had been sacked after failing to overthrow the ruler, Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.
According to the liberal Saudi Alssiyasi, Qatar's chief of staff Hamad bin Ali Al-Attiya may have been involved in the coup attempt.
The Jordanian online daily Al-Haqiqa Al-Douliya claimed that after the failed putsch, the Emir of Qatar was considering curtailing the powers of senior regime officials, including prime minister and foreign minister Hamad bin Jasem Aal Thani.
The London-based Elaph website reported disagreements on foreign policy among top Qatari officials after its chief of staff's visit to Tehran a month ago.
(Elaph was launched in 2001 by Saudi journalist and businessman Osman el-Omeir, former editor-in-chief of the moderate, pan-Arab, London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily)
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and Gulf sources are able to confirm that an attempt to oust the Qatari ruler did in fact take place in the past two weeks during which mass arrests were staged under his personal supervision. The chief of staff was indeed taken into custody along with about 40 officers loyal to him who took part in the plot. Also arrested were five members of the Emir's personal guard, a measure of how deeply the conspirators had infiltrated his closest circles.
At least 20 princes of the al-Thani family are under house arrest, suspected of involvement to one degree or another in the plot.
Washington: Stop cozying up to Tehran
According to our information, the plotters planned to take advantage of one of the Emir's frequent trips to Switzerland to seize the royal palace in Doha when his plane took off and announce his deposition.
There is nothing new for Qatar in this method of usurping power; in 1995, the incumbent ruler, then Crown Prince, ascended the throne himself by deposing his father.
He has since become notable for introducing some liberal reforms.
Why the tiny principality of no more than 800,000 souls was beset by an attempted coup at this time is not clear. Motives range from a succession struggle to a contest for influence in this strategically important emirate among pro-US, pro-Saudi and pro-Iranian elements.
The emirate's three dominant clans are traditional rivals.
The al-Thani clan has produced the Emir and prime minister. The Emir's influential wife Sheikha Moza bint Nasser belongs to the al-Misnad clan. She is considered one of the most beautiful women in the Gulf region. The al-Attiya family holds senior positions in the Qatari military and security services.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Gulf sources say that several motives may have combined to create the conditions for a putsch.
Our military and Washington sources report that in early May, the Obama administration warned Qatar's rulers that if they don't stopping building up their ties with Iran, the US would evacuate its big military headquarters at Al Udeid near the capital.
(A separate article in this issue reveals the transfer has begun of some US military facilities from al-Udeid to Talil in Iraq.)
Court intrigue masquerading as foreign policy
Heeding the US warning, the Emir took Qatar's foreign relations out of the hands of prime minister Hamad bin Jasem al-Thani and passed the portfolio to his son, Misnad, who embarked on steps for placating the Americans, the Saudis and the Egyptians. They were informed that Doha would chill its relations with Tehran and withdraw its cooperation with the Islamic Republic on Lebanese and Palestinian affairs.
Prince Misnad is the son of the beautiful Moza. The concentration of great power in his hands caused the other al-Thani princes to suspect that the pro-Western/Arab shift in the Emir's policy was intended to pave the way for strengthening Prince Misnad's position as heir.
This would account for the house arrests imposed on a large group of princes accused of involvement in the coup attempt.
Despite the Qatari ruler's bid to placate the US, his army chief visited Iran early July, which would indicate that the ruling families of Doha are still in the throes of a power struggle.
None of this stops the heads of this tiny, albeit vastly wealthy, monarchy from behaving like a big power.
In mid-July, the Qatar Investment Authority took control of a 17% stake in Volkswagen AG.
This week, on August 4, Qatar announced plans to build a huge indoor stadium to advance its bid to host the 2022 FIFA Football World Cup.