Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, the former emir of the tiny Gulf nation of Qatar who was deposed by his son in a bloodless palace coup, died on Sunday.
The emiri diwan, or royal court, announced the death of the 84-year-old former ruler. State TV quickly cut from its regular programming, airing Quranic recitations late into the night.
The current emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the deceased ruler’s grandson, declared three days of mourning in the energy-rich nation, which juts into the Persian Gulf off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia and will host the 2022 soccer World Cup.
Sheikh Khalifa had not held power since 1995, when he was deposed by his son, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, while vacationing in Switzerland. Sheikh Hamad, then defense minister, said at the time that seizing power was necessary because of unspecified “difficult circumstances” and internal issues facing the country.
Sheikh Khalifa’s son had long been seen as the real power in the OPEC member nation in the years before he was overthrown, making the surprise move in many ways little more than a formality.
Sheikh Khalifa oversaw a rapid modernization of his country, which accelerated after it began to exploit vast reserves of natural gas that have turned it into one of the world’s richest nation’s per capita.
Qatar banded together with five of its neighbors to form the Gulf Cooperation Council during his rule, though his tenure was marked by a continuation of territorial disputes with neighboring countries dating from Qatar’s time as a British protectorate until 1971. The other members of the GCC are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
After Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded nearby Kuwait in 1990, Sheikh Khalifa joined other Arab leaders in making his country’s military facilities available to the U.S.-led coalition assembled to liberate the small Gulf nation. U.S., Canadian and French fighter planes flew missions from Qatar during the conflict.
His country reached a security pact with the United States shortly after the Gulf War, and today hosts the forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command along with aircraft involved in airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.
The ousted ruler himself had come to power by dethroning his cousin 23 years earlier.
Although Khalifa vowed to return to power after his ouster “whatever the cost,” he spent the next several years living in Europe and would not return to his homeland until 2004. He kept a low profile until his death.