In the 1950s and 1960s, Sheikh Khalīfa held numerous governmental posts, including chief of security forces, director of education, and minister of finance and petroleum affairs. He became amīr in February 1972 by deposing his cousin Sheikh Aḥmad, whose profligate spending habits had aroused popular opposition. Khalīfa’s family, including his sons and brothers, virtually controlled the government, holding 10 of 15 ministries in 1975.
As amīr, Khalīfa tried to direct and control the process of modernization stimulated by the boom in oil production. His economic policy was to diversify the economy by vastly expanding the agricultural sector and by building fertilizer plants and other new industries. Although political parties and labor unions were banned in 1976, Khalīfa ruled by decree within the framework of a written constitution and Islāmic law (sharia).
Following the Persian Gulf War (1990–91), in which Qatari troops participated, Khalīfa left daily governing to his sons, one of whom, Sheikh Hạmad ibn Khalīfa al-Thāni, installed himself as amīr by staging a peaceful coup in June 1995, while Khalīfa was traveling abroad.
Khalifa lived in France until he returned to Qatar in 2004 and led a low profile life. He died on October 23, 2016, a week after entering the hospital.