Qatar Democracy, “Dual-sided” Mixed Messages

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DOHA, Qatar — The position of Qatar democracy can be interpreted as being “dual-sided.”

During the democratic movements in Libya in 2010, Qatar was the first to acknowledge the rebel government in its transition phases and even backed the fledgling regime’s efforts to market its oil.

In solidarity, as part of the political and economic union, the Cooperation Council of Gulf States, Qatar worked to oust Yemeni dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Lastly, Qatar, in cooperation with its neighbors, promotes democratic movements in its attempts to build a Middle East Development Bank. Despite being a western ally with a stationed United States air base, Qatar is not without its criticism. As the home base of news media, Al-Jazeera, Qatar owns the news outlet and attests to its autonomy.

However, during the 2011 Bahraini protests, Al-Jazeera was criticized of minimizing exposure of the movement for social, political and economic rights.

Qatar itself is an absolute monarchy, with the newly crowned emir Tamim Sandhurt succeeding his father, who stepped down earlier in the year. Whether reports of the former Sheikh’s ailing kidneys or a desire to inject new blood into the fore, Sheikh Tamim inherits a state with strong trade ties to the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

As the youngest emir of the Gulf States, at age 33, Sheikh Tamim was met with a coronation of over 200,000 attendants.

The expressed hope is that progressive changes will be forthcoming. A revision to the Constitution could lead to a constitutional monarchy with elections for its Parliament, the advisory council.

Previous statements of an election to the advisory council made by the sovereignty are still pending. To date, only local municipal elections are allowed as political parties and the general right to vote are prohibited.

There are talks of the possibility of a woman in the cabinet, a first among the Persian Gulf states. But if any changes are to be made, it is to come from the emir itself.

Still, with an unemployment rate of near nil, a high standard of living and the promise of food self-sufficiency, Qatar is far short of providing for its people.

The average income of the Qatari citizen nears $100,000.

Nevertheless, scores of human rights abuses regarding its poorly paid foreign labor force, steeped in stereotypes and racial overtones, hinders Qatar from claiming to be a bastion of progressivity. The Kafala system that guidelines the relationship between employer and employee largely leaves the migrant labor force without rights.

Moreover, there is only one political prisoner, poet Mohammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, sentenced to life imprisonment for indirectly criticizing the emir. This sentence was later reduced to 15 years by the emir.

As it sets the stage for its World Cup hosting duties 2022, Qatar will be pushed to further foreign recognition. However, the openness of Qatar projects abroad is inverse to the limited rights within.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: The Economist, The Christian Monitor, Middle East Online, New York Times, Open Democracy
Photo: YouTube

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