* Royal court says emir due to make address at 0500 GMT
* Emir notified family members of his intention to abdicate
* Succession not seen changing foreign, domestic policy
By Regan Doherty
DOHA, June 25 (Reuters) - Qatar’s ruler is expected to inform his people on Tuesday of his decision to step down and hand over to his son Sheikh Tamim, taking the rare step for a Gulf Arab ruler of voluntarily ceding power to try to ensure a smooth succession.
Diplomats have said the 61-year-old emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who overthrew his father in a bloodless coup in 1995, had long planned to abdicate in favour of 33-year-old Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim.
The royal court said the emir was scheduled to make his address at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and Tuesday would be a national holiday in the country the one-family absolute monarchy has ruled over for more than 130 years.
Qatar is geographically small, with 2 million people, but is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, a global investment powerhouse and a financial backer of Arab Spring revolts.
The emir has also elevated Qatar’s international profile through the launch and development of the Al Jazeera television network, as well as its successful bid to host the 2022 soccer World Cup tournament.
Qatari state media said Sheikh Hamad had formally informed family members and top decision makers in the U.S.-allied state of his decision at a meeting in the capital Doha on Monday.
Qatari political analyst Mohammed al-Misfer said he did not expect major changes to foreign policy or domestic plans after the handover, adding that Sheikh Tamim was already involved in running the country under his father’s direction.
Diplomats said earlier this month the emir was considering an orderly transfer of power.
Arab and Western diplomats said they understood the motive was the emir’s desire to have a smooth transition to a younger generation. Such a transition would be unusual for Gulf Arab states, where leaders usually die in office.
“This precedent will not be easily received in the region,” Misfer told Al Jazeera.
Abdullah al-Athbah, editor-in-chief of the Qatari Al Arab newspaper, told the station the emir was expected to clarify the reasons for abdicating in his speech. He said Sheikh Tamim was expected to address the nation afterwards.
The station said the royal court had invited Qataris to go to swear allegiance to Sheikh Tamim on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Qataris appeared to take the news in their stride.
“We are not surprised. The emir has been introducing his son for a long time. Hopefully, it’s a good step,” said Khalid Mohammed, 21, a Qatari student.
Diplomats say the transition is also expected to herald a wider change that will include the departure of the powerful prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, a cousin of the emir who has served as foreign minister since 1992 and helped turn Qatar into a regional power broker.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim is also vice-chairman of the board of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), a position he is expected to retain. QIA has estimated assets of $100 billion to $200 billion.
Widely seen as a shrewd negotiator, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim has clinched some of the QIA’s top investments, and held talks with Glencore’s chief last year when the fund demanded better terms for backing Glencore’s acquisition of Xstrata. The companies eventually merged to create Glencore Xstrata.
Qatar has played a big role in promoting Arab Spring protests, lending significant support to rebels who toppled and killed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and to a continuing uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
It has forged strong links with moderate Islamists especially Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood group.
It has also played host to a delegation of the Afghan Taliban, which opened an office in Doha last week in preparation for expected talks with the United States about how to end a 12-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.
Other political crises and wars that Qatar has tackled include Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, Darfur and the Palestinian territories, often arranging for peace talks on its own soil to show it can punch above its weight in international diplomacy. (Additional reporting by Mahmoud Habboush; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by William Maclean and Alison Williams)