Death of emirate ruler sparks succession struggle
Exiled crown prince Sheikh Khalid bin Saqr al-Qasimi returns to Ras al-Khaimah to reclaim ‘birthright’ from half-brother
One of the most bizarre international coup attempts of recent times, whose key players include a family solicitor from Buckinghamshire and an exiled Arab crown prince, entered its endgame today with the death of Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammad al-Qasimi, the world’s longest-serving ruler, who led the Gulf emirate of Ras al-Khaimah (RAK) for 62 years.
Immediately after the 92-year-old sheikh died at dawn, his eldest son, the exiled crown prince, Sheikh Khalid bin Saqr al-Qasimi, re-entered the kingdom and went to the presidential palace in a bid to reclaim what he believes is his birthright from his younger half-brother, who has claimed the crown. It follows an extraordinary two-year public relations and lobbying campaign by the exiled sheikh who employed Peter Cathcart, a partner in a Middlesex family law firm, to co-ordinate a multi-million pound public relations and lobbying budget aimed at returning him to power. Cathcart is better known locally for his enthusiasm for driving miniature steam railway engines and his chairmanship of the parish council.
RAK is the smallest of the seven emirates, but Sheikh Khalid, who has been living in exile in London and Oman, has used Californian PR firms, Washington lobbyists and American ex-special forces officers to claim it has fallen under Iranian influence and that the kingdom was used as a port for smuggling parts for weapons into Iran and had become a “centre of gravity” for “potential terrorist funding for al-Qaida, Taliban, al-Shabaab”. The campaign, costing at least £2.6m according to documents seen by the Guardian, also involved lobbying Hillary Clinton and the Israeli ambassador to London and publishing critical reports on the military and political direction of the current regime.
The government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) issued a statement of condolence through the state news agency WAM, which stated that Sheikh Khalid’s younger half-brother, the crown prince Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al-Qasimi, has succeeded as ruler. Sheikh Khalid did not accept the statement and issued a video message asserting his claim to the throne, and shortly afterwards described the UAE report of Sheikh Saud’s succession as unacceptable.
“In honour of my father, I want the constitution on the succession in Ras al-Khaimah to be honoured where the whole family and tribes decide the succession,” he said. “I will accept the outcome of a constitutional vote, not a decision taken by others for their own economic benefit … In the coming hours and days, I look forward to meeting with family, friends, members of the supreme council and rulers of the emirates to discuss our shared vision for Ras al-Khaimah and its great people. Until then, we will mourn together as a family, a community and a nation.”
Cathcart, who was working at his office in Ickenham, Middlesex, today , did not return calls.
Sheikh Saud announced 40 days of mourning during which flags in the emirate will be flown at half mast and radio stations across the UAE switched to playing recitations of the Qur’an and classical music.
The outcome of the tussle for power will provide a barometer of the direction of the UAE, according to Dr Christopher Davidson of Durham University, an expert in the region. He said the most powerful emirates are the broadly pro-western Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and they should in principle be sympathetic to Sheikh Khalid’s argument about the danger of Iranian influence in RAK. However, they must be careful not to alienate the emirate’s poorer and more Islamist population. For this reason, many observers believe that Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al-Qasimi will prevail.