The Abraham Lincoln Presidential
Library and Museum already has attracted visitors young
and old from across the country and around the globe.
Few of them, however, flew thousands of miles in
their own jumbo jet just to take a peek at Springfield’s
Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, emir of the Persian
Gulf state of Qatar, on Tuesday became the first head of
a foreign country to visit the museum. He is, in fact,
one of the few foreign leaders ever to travel to
As such, he received a red-carpet welcome at Abraham
Lincoln Capital Airport as an Air National Guard band
played “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Washington Post
The emir’s Alpha 340 Airbus touched down from New
York shortly after 6:15 p.m., about 45 minutes late. A
delegation of 12 accompanied him, including Qatar’s
first deputy prime minister and minister of foreign
affairs, Sheik Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, greeted the
contingent on the tarmac along with a 20-vehicle
motorcade that included Springfield police, Illinois
State Police and Secret Service vehicles.
The emir made no public comments while in
Springfield. His interest in seeing the museum was
described only as a “cultural visit.”
Security was tight as the motorcade traveled to the
museum for a private tour. An evening reception was held
at the presidential library, followed by dinner in the
museum’s rotunda hosted by the Blagojeviches and the
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation.
The museum was closed at 3 p.m. to prepare for the
emir’s visit. He and his delegation left for Chicago
after the dinner.
During the visit, Blagojevich and the emir signed an
agreement to establish a shared understanding and
friendship between Illinois and Qatar and to develop
mutual economic and cultural cooperation, according to a
press release from the governor’s office.
The release also provided a quote from the deputy
prime minister: “We’re pleased to visit such an
impressive museum for a great man. This museum
demonstrates that America does not forget a president
united the country.”
An Arab state of more than 860,000 people, Qatar is a
little smaller than Connecticut. It borders Saudi Arabia
to the south and is surrounded mostly by water.
Qatar, a U.S. ally in the region and home of the
Al-Jazeera television news station, has been ruled by
the al-Thani family since the mid-19th century,
according to the CIA World Factbook. Once a poor British
protectorate, Qatar’s oil and natural gas revenues give
it one of the world’s highest per-capita incomes.
The current emir, who was born in the early 1950s,
overthrew his father in a bloodless coup in 1995 after
the former emir siphoned off petroleum revenues and
crippled the country’s economy in the late 1980s and
early ’90s, according to the World Factbook Web site.
In his press release, Blagojevich said he anticipates
that the Lincoln museum will attract other heads of
state and international leaders.
About 60 officers from local law enforcement agencies
assisted in providing security for the emir.
“With any VIP state visit, we collaborate with the
state police, the secretary of state’s police, the
Sangamon County Sheriff’s Department and the Secret
Service,” said Springfield police Lt. Stephen Swetland.
“... We make sure the visit happens and they accomplish
everything they wanted to accomplish and nothing else
Airport police and the Springfield Fire Department
also assisted, Swetlund said. The block around the
museum was closed to vehicles Tuesday evening, and
officers provided traffic control for the motorcade.
City police assigned several detectives to work with
the Secret Service as intelligence and
counter-surveillance officers. Several plainclothes
officers worked inside the library and museum complex.
Swetland said the emir’s trip involved many of the
same security measures called for during President
Bush’s visit to the museum on April 19 but on a smaller
He said Tuesday’s measures will cost the city at
least $1,800 for overtime.
Capt. Bryan Miller, commander of the Air National
Guard Band of the Midwest, said he was honored to help
welcome the emir because of the positive implications
for the United States and relations with others.
He said his band provides support and appropriate
military honors for the governor’s office and the state
public affairs department.
“The music lends the appropriate decorum and dignity
to the event. Music is a universal language,” he said.
Amanda Reavy can be reached through the metro desk at
788-1517 or firstname.lastname@example.org.