(Bloomberg Markets) -- On a promontory jutting into the Persian Gulf, the Sheraton Grand Doha Resort & Convention Hotel is an outlier among the skinny skyscrapers that dominate the skyline of Doha, Qatar’s capital. In 1982 the country’s ruling Al Thani family ordered the construction of the five-star hotel, with its private beach and opulent marble lobby. Today the site functions as both luxury resort and nerve center of crisis diplomacy. Here warring factions from the Taliban and African militias have convened, and diplomats from Russia, the US and Iran have crossed paths in hallways.

The only-in-Qatar milieu embodies how the royal family parlays its wealth into geopolitical influence, most recently as a key mediator for the Israel-Hamas war. The rulers have turned Qatar into a vital energy supplier, prominent investor, World Cup host, university funder and conflict intermediary—­occasionally tinged with controversy involving corruption allegations or human-rights concerns. Yet their strategic spending ultimately comes back to one thing: building Qatar into an international brand that can underpin its existence and the family’s longevity.

To finance these ambitions, the Al Thanis have tapped Qatar’s state resources, along with their personal wealth. The royal family’s holdings alone amount to at least $150 billion, according to an estimate by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That figure excludes government money, such as the Qatar Investment Authority’s (QIA) $450 billion in assets, including the Sheraton Grand.

Vulnerable amid powerful neighbors, the Al Thanis are leveraging that wealth and the relationships it fosters to become an indispensable broker among rivals. “They are constantly on the lookout for what their neighbors might do,” says Baraa Shiban, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London. The royal family stands out in the Middle East for its willingness, often at US behest, to reach out to countries and groups that America and the rest of the West consider pariahs, Shiban says. “The Al Thanis are different—they are very dynamic, and that’s important,” Shiban says. A host to exiled leaders of Hamas, Qatar has helped facilitate the release of more than 100 Israelis and other hostages seized by the group, considered terrorists by the US and European Union, after it killed some 1,200 people in the brutal Oct. 7 rampage in southern Israel.

Through personal holdings and government entities they oversee, the Qatari royals have assembled a collection of properties worldwide that project and magnify their influence. While royals in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are taking a similar approach, Qatar, with a population of 3.1 million, is far smaller. Its rulers’ private assets include African oil fields, thoroughbred horse racing, $7.8 billion worth of stocks listed on the Qatari exchange, grand town houses on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, French retail chain Printemps and 70% of Italian luxury brand Valentino.

Seven people familiar with the royal family shared information about their views, strategy and finances, requesting anonymity to discuss sensitive information. Bloomberg examined public records and private asset databases, and interviewed people close to their holdings, to come up with the conservative $150 billion estimate of the family’s wealth. By Bloomberg’s calculations, it surpasses the value of the holdings of Saudi Arabia’s royal Al Sauds ($112 billion) while lagging those of the UAE’s Al Nahyans ($305 billion) and Walmart Inc.’s Waltons ($281 billion). The Al Thanis’ wealth is poised to grow further after Qatar set out plans in late February to expand production of liquefied natural gas, which has transformed the country’s economy over the past 30 years.

The Al Thanis also have immense political power. The country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, essentially is the state. The role of emir is “inviolable,” according to Qatar’s constitution, with power to dissolve its legislative body. “It’s a completely different sense of what’s public and private,” says Allen Fromherz, a professor at Georgia State University and author of Qatar: A Modern History. “To what extent can you really say the wealth of the emir is separate from the wealth of the sovereign wealth fund and the entire Qatari economy?”

People familiar with the family provided a rare look at the way it handles its personal finances. Every Al Thani above the age of 6 receives a monthly stipend from the government, one of these people say; most start at about 6,000 Qatari riyals ($1,645) per month. The family has different branches across which responsibilities are split. Some members engage in foreign affairs; others, financial. One person describes Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, the ex-prime minister and cousin of the former emir, as the “family broker.”

It’s challenging to give an accurate estimate of the family’s holdings because of a complicated network of ownership, these people say, adding that Bloomberg’s estimate is too low. In a written statement, an unnamed Qatari official says the family doesn’t make decisions for the country unilaterally. Qatar’s legislature, the Consultative Assembly, determines the state budget and funding. The government’s assets are “strategically invested through sovereign entities, such as the Qatar Investment Authority for the benefit of future generations,” according to the statement. “The investment policies and practices of these entities are subject to several layers of independent governance.” The official also questioned Bloomberg’s methodology in arriving at its estimate of the family’s private wealth, calling it “highly speculative, based on guesswork and flawed extrapolation.”

In a Peninsula surrounded by domineering neighbors, Qatar’s very existence was never a given. A little more than a century ago, it was an impoverished British protectorate. The Al Thanis turned to the UK after fending off advances from Bahrain and the Ottoman Empire. Oil was first discovered there around 1940, and its 25.2 billion barrels of proved reserves rank only sixth in the region, behind Kuwait, according to US government data. In 1971, Qatar discovered vast reserves of natural gas, its real treasure. The country tapped them in earnest in the 1990s after it built the infrastructure needed to export the gas in its superchilled form. Demand for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, has soared in recent years as it’s become an increasingly common replacement for coal. Qatar draws gas from an offshore field it shares with Iran. That connection has promoted a cordial relationship between the two nations while rankling the US, which considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism, and, at times, Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional rival.

As recently as 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt embargoed Qatar as punishment for its relationship with Iran and its alleged funding of terrorist groups—a claim it denies. It was an existential threat, and few could’ve predicted the nation’s resolve. The government backed businesses that airlifted cows for milk. The QIA repatriated $20 billion to stabilize the banking system, and new trade routes were forged through Turkey and Iran.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, known as Qatar’s father emir, pioneered the strategy of using burgeoning wealth to elevate his tiny country’s profile on the global stage. Sandhurst-educated Hamad ruled for 18 years before abdicating to his son, Tamim, who became ruler in 2013. Hamad backed the founding of broadcaster Al Jazeera in Doha, positioning the country as a Middle East media powerhouse. He also established the QIA and hosted the COP 18 climate change conference. Hamad harnessed Qatar’s gusher of LNG money to bankroll a soft-power machine whose traces are everywhere: the art world, vaunted universities, think tanks, Hollywood and elite sport clubs such as French soccer champion Paris Saint-Germain.

Through state vehicles like the QIA, the family bought London icons such as department store Harrods and stakes in the Shard skyscraper and Heathrow Airport. The Al Thanis have also exerted influence through personal capital: A Qatari royal owns Dudley House, a historic 44,000-square-foot Park Lane mansion, where he once hosted Queen Elizabeth. The royals’ Quipco investment company sponsors Royal Ascot, the annual race that’s the quintessence of Britain’s aristocracy. Wealthy Qataris acquired so many properties in the UK capital that one area earned the nickname “Little Doha.”

Qatar’s objectives are more than financial. Trophies such as Claridge’s hotel in London and an art collection including a $250 million Cézanne and a $179 million Picasso have raised their international profile. Qatar has had its share of investment flops. The QIA owned a 6.8% stake in Credit Suisse Group AG and lost roughly hundreds of millions last year when the financial giant collapsed. The fund also has an interest in London’s struggling Canary Wharf, which required a £400 million ($506.2 million) cash injection last year.

The Royal family also projects its soft power as a benefactor of education. Qatar has given American universities almost $6 billion, vastly more than any other country, according to a Bloomberg analysis of US Department of Education data. Cornell University, which opened an outpost of its medical school in Doha, was the biggest recipient, disclosing almost $2 billion in gifts.

Sheikha Moza bint Nasser Al Misnad, mother of the current emir, chairs the family’s education-focused philanthropy, the Qatar Foundation. Qatar has also donated to primary schools, high-profile think tanks and humanitarian projects in places as far-flung as Brazil, Cambodia and Niger.

On a 250-acre campus on the outskirts of Doha called Education City, the foundation has built local branches of seven elite foreign universities including Cornell, Georgetown and Northwestern. (Texas A&M announced in February that it wasn’t renewing its Qatar Foundation partnership, citing regional instability.) The partnerships and other donations have ­provided welcome revenue for colleges but also sparked concern about academic freedom and the influence of a foreign agenda. Cornell and Northwestern say they’re benefiting the region; other schools declined to answer questions or respond. The Qatari official statement calls those criticisms part of a “disinformation campaign” about its partnerships with prestigious colleges. “Education should always be focused on the best interests of students and their pursuit of knowledge, and above vested interests and harmful influences,” the statement said.

As the absolute rulers of a state with fewer than 400,000 citizens—the rest of the population comprises expatriates and guest workers—the Al Thanis have to keep an eye on their position at home by minding their relations with influential local business families and other Qatari tribal clans, according to the people who know the leadership. Projects are evenly distributed among these factions, and the deputy emir is responsible for keeping the tribes happy, the people say. It’s a way of warding off threats in a family that’s seen its share of coups, most recently in 1995, when Hamad deposed his father while he was abroad in Switzerland. The family, despite numbering in the thousands, can amply provide for each member, thus cementing the position of the main ruling branch.

The latest increase in LNG capacity marks the next phase of Qatar’s development. The goal is to make the country more of a tourist destination, as well as increase the Qatari population to 1 million. Progress is slow, derailed by the war in Gaza and an economic slowdown following the frenzy of soccer’s World Cup, which Qatar hosted in 2022. The country overbuilt before the big event, and real estate prices have flatlined.

The process leading to its winning World Cup bid in 2010 tarnished Qatar’s reputation, kicking off years of scrutiny over human rights and corruption investigations. In a 2020 indictment, the US accused three executives at the sport’s governing body, FIFA, of taking bribes from Qatar. By then two had died, and the third, who denied the charges, couldn’t be extradited from Brazil. FIFA cleared Qatar of wrongdoing in 2014.

The vibe in Doha these days is subdued, a city waiting to find out where it goes next. Many foreign companies and law firms are shrinking their local offices, and expats are leaving. Once-hot restaurants are luring diners with cut-rate deals. “Suddenly there’s no new horizon to look forward to,” Cinzia Bianco, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, says about the mood in Doha. “There’s a sense, like after you’re drunk on enthusiasm, you’re a little bit down.”

The Al Thanis’ wealth will go a long way toward cushioning the country from any slump. As the massive expansion of Qatar’s LNG plant accelerates and turmoil from the Qatari embargo fades, the family is looking more powerful than ever.

“If the Saudis and Emiratis hoped to split the family, it had the opposite effect,” says Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. “Qatar and the Al Thanis are probably more cohesive than they’ve ever been.” —With Simone Foxman and Ann Choi

Pendleton reports on wealth from New York.

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