The al-Thani family, a member of the Tamimi tribe, is the ruling family of Qatar. Unlike other Arab rulers, the family is neither a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad nor of long-standing tenure in their kingdom; rather, their rise to power was the result of British and Ottoman imperial politics. As their rise parallels the creation of an independent Qatar, the two entities are inextricably linked.
The British designation of the al-Thanis as monarchs of Qatar was by no means assured as there were other families with greater connections, power, and/or longevity in the region. Muhammad bin Thani was able to politically maneuver himself in relation to the British in order to achieve a position as a first among equals, a position which his descendants continuously asserted.
Today, members of the al-Thani family dominate key government ministries and receive a significant share of state revenue. Both appointment and distribution are a key means of preventing internal factionalism and strife as the family, which at times has numbered almost half the citizenry, is the primary source of political opposition to any ruling emir. More importantly, the former emir Sheikh Hamad amended the constitution in 1996 to allow a sitting emir to name his successor. This legal change limits one important source of family leverage.
The family became Wahhabi in the early 20th century as a diplomatic courtesy in Shaikh Jassim bin Muhammad Al-Thani’s courtship of Saudi friendship and protection. However, the family’s political authority has remained independent of their religious identity.
Allen Fromherz, Qatar: A Modern History (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2012).
Mehran Kamrava. "Royal Factionalism and Political Liberalization in Qatar." The Middle East Journal 63(2009): 401-420.
Rosemarie Said Zahlan. The Making of the Modern Gulf States: Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Revised edition. Reading: Ithaca Press, 1998.