Qatar remains one of the monarchial states in the world. The head of state in the GCC country is the emir of Qatar who also doubles up as the head of government. The constitution passed in 2003 affirms the state of the country as a constitutional monarchy. With its capital city ion Doha, this country is government in accordance with the set down Sharia Law, which is the main source of the countrys constitutional provisions. The Sharia Law is applied in matters related to inheritance, family law as well as most of the critical acts including robbery, adultery and murder. Of immense interest is the fact that women in this country are treated as of half the worth of men. This is why in a family court; the testimony of a woman is taken to be half of that of a man in terms of its credibility. In some instances, women are not even allowed to testify. There are interesting aspects about Qatars political developments since the country got independence from the British protectorate in 1972. These relate to the political and civil rights, political pluralism and participation, the functioning of the government, as well as various political liberties. This paper explores how the country has developed politically over the years.
In terms of political rights, since 1972, an emir heads Qatar with the political power being monopolistic and being concentrated on one family. The emir, under the 2003 constitution, is required to appoint the prime ministers as well as a cabinet of ministers. Additionally, he is allowed to select an heir to the throne after making various consultations with the ruling family as well as other notable members of the powerful classes of people. In terms of the developments, the current emir is Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani who deposed his father in 2013. Previously, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani used to be the emir and had deposed his successor Sheikh Tamim. Before the 2003 constitution, that was overwhelmingly voted for, Qatar had only conducted one municipal election in 1999. However, after the passage of the constitution, there were municipal elections where women and men voted in 2007 as well as 2011. Universal suffrage is only limited to the municipal elections whereby voters should be aged eighteen and above. However, there are many people who are locked out considering that there are various expatriates as well as other people who have been denied citizenship. Specifically, over 80% of the Qatari population is not allowed to vote, as they happen to be foreign nationals. Despite the declaration by emir that elections will be conducted, there has not been any as they have postponed them from 2013 to 2016 and then to 2019. As such, the political rights of the citizens of Qatar have not changed largely as elections are still a dream in the country. The following are the emirs of Qatar since independence.
Figure 1: The Various Members of the Ruling Family of Qatar Since 1972
Pertaining political pluralism as well as participation, the country still lives in the early ages, as it does not allow people to have multiple politicians to choose. Specifically, the constitution of the country does not allowed for the existence of any political party. This is the same scenario from when the country gained its independence in 1972. Notably, most of the people living the country are foreign nationals (80%). The implication of this is that; only a few people make political decisions concerning the rest of the populations. Political power is bestowed on the ruling family with a complete ban on the existence of any political parties and federations. There is a leeway for some of the people to work in government in positions such as those of the judges and other prominent people in the interior ministry. However, these do not have any political rights. Specifically, they are not even allowed to vote let alone participate in any political processes. Political participation is limited as the government of the day keeps postponing elections making the countrys democracy to be questions. Indeed, just as in 1972 when, the country gained independence, the political processes and participation has not improved as in other countries where political pluralism and participation has been allowed.
On the functioning of the government, the authority to make decisions is bequeathed to the emir as well as his family. Although the emir is required to follow Sharia Law, he is not accountable to any citizen. As such, the body politic cannot use their democratic rights to remove the emir in case he does not dispense his mandates appropriately. This has been the practice since 1972. Various critics have made complaints on the lack of transparency in the areas of state procurement as the ruling family awards contracts based on personal connections as opposed to merit. One such incidence of corruption happened in the bidding of 2022 World Cup, which although awarded to Qatar, there were claims of various bribery and corruption issues. The lack of transparency and accountability in the political leadership of the country led Qatar to be ranked at position 22 in terms of the most corrupt countries out of the 168 countries studied. Notably, the emir is very much respected and rarely will the citizens rise up to protest against his decisions. This makes their political rights, therefore, limited, as there are no avenues for making any demands on accountability and transparency. In the over 40 years that the country has had independence, there has been very little if any progress in terms of enlightening people to be aware of their political rights. The following is an image of the current emir of Qatar.
Figure 2: The Current Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al ThaniIt is critical to state that Qatar was the first country in the GCC region to enfranchise its men and women. Specifically, the first elections ever were held in 199 on the same day when the International Womens Day was being celebrated. As such, the country allows women to run and be elected in municipal elections. However, in terms of gender parity in participation in political processes, women are behind. This is because; most of the political appointments are given to men. The registration of people to participate in the political processes of the country is very low. Although only municipal and legislative elections take place, the record of registration in 2015 was very low. This has been the case since the passage of the 2003 constitution. In the municipal elections, which were held in1999, 2007 and 2011, the turnout was very low. This could be attributed to a variety of factors. One of those is lack of civic education on the importance of registering as voters. The failure of the country in 2015 to hold advisory council elections was one of the proofs that the country is still very immature in terms of political democracy. Indeed, although the 2003 constitution allows for the freedoms of assembly as well as participation, this is not possible as the public authorities restrict the opportunities for any political meetings. Notably, in Qatar, all the non-governmental organizations in the country are required to obtain permission from the government and their activities are closely monitored. This makes it hard for the Qatar population to agitate for their political rights.
In conclusion, Qatar remains a monarchial state just as some other GCC countries. Since 1972, there have been various political developments. However, compared to other countries in the world, Qatar has premature and non-vibrant political processes. The political rights of the people are limited when it comes to the emir as he is not elected but chosen from the ruling family. The first elections in Qatar were held in 1999 and subsequent municipal elections have been held in 2007 and 2011. However, the participation of the people in such elections is very limited as 80% of Qatars population is made of foreigners who are not allowed to vote. The immense power that the emir has makes it impossible for increased participation of people in the elections and other processes. Although some political rights were allowed by the 2003 constitution, the country remains to be a very conservative one politically.
Bahry, Louay. "Elections in Qatar: A window of democracy opens in the Gulf." Middle East Policy 6, no. 4 (1999): 118.
Gray, Matthew. Qatar: Politics and the challenges of development. Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc, 2013.
Lambert, Jennifer. "Political reform in Qatar: Participation, legitimacy and security." Middle East Policy 18, no. 1 (2011): 89-101.
Nakhleh, Emile A. "10 Political Participation and the Constitutional Experiments in the Arab Gulf: Bahrain and Qatar." Social and Economic Development in the Arab Gulf (RLE Economy of Middle East) (2015): 161.
Paxton, Pamela, Melanie M. Hughes, and Matthew A. Painter. "Growth in women's political representation: A longitudinal exploration of democracy, electoral system and gender quotas." European Journal of Political Research 49, no. 1 (2010): 25-52.
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