Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani
Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani waves next to members of a security team (Reuters)

The Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani has reportedly abdicated, handing power to his 33-year old son.

Rumours that Sheikh Hamad, 61, was to cede the leadership of the Gulf emirate to Prince Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani have been circulating for days.

The pan-Arab television network al-Jazeera, which was founded by the Qatari government and is headquartered in Doha, reported Sheikh Hamad made the announcement at a high-level meeting with his top advisers.

If confirmed, the power transfer to British-educated Prince Tamim is likely to entail a cabinet reshuffle.

Analysts say influential Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who serves as both prime minister and foreign minister, could step down with the Emir.

Sheikh Hamad rose to power in 1995, as he deposed his father in a bloodless coup. Since then he has worked to turn Qatar in a major player in Gulf politics.

The al-Thani family has ruled over the Gulf emirate for some 150 years. Sheikh Tamim became the next in line to power in 2003 after his older brother stepped aside.