The World Today for October 01, 2021


Baby Steps


For the first time in history, Qatari voters will go to the polls to pick two-thirds of the Shura Council, the legislative body that advises the Persian Gulf nation’s leader, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The emir will appoint the other third, Reuters reported.

“The principle in these elections (on Oct. 2) is the complete conviction that Qataris are equal in rights and duties,” Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdul Aziz Al Thani told Al Jazeera, an international news agency that the Qatari government funds.

The natural gas-rich emirate is hardly engaging in actual democracy, however. The Shura Council can propose laws, fire ministers and approve the annual budget but the emir can veto its decisions. Analysts told Deutsche Welle that the council could improve policy on economic and social issues but foreign policy and defense issues would likely be unaffected.

Freedom House rated Qatar as “not free” last year, noting that while Qataris are among the wealthiest in the world, many residents of the emirate are impoverished.

As the Kuwait Times explained, political parties are banned, stirring up strife between groups is illegal, the Interior Ministry reserves the right to strike candidates off the ballot and voters have to be the descendants of Qataris who were citizens before 1930. Anyone naturalized after then or their descendants are ineligible to vote.

As a result, while Qatar should be celebrating the elections as a milestone, the strict, bizarre rules will tarnish them, argued Human Rights Watch.

Members of the Al-Murra tribe, a Bedouin group excluded from voting, have staged protests demanding the franchise. A global network of non-governmental organizations, Ifex, wrote that security forces broke up the protests, “stormed” the homes of tribe members and arrested dozens.

Activists have called for the international community to punish Qatar for its human rights violations by threatening to ban their athletes from participating in the 2022 FIFA World Cup scheduled to take place in the country, according to the Jerusalem Post.

At present, Qatar is flush with revenue due to skyrocketing gas prices, wrote Reuters. As Llewellyn King argued in Forbes, the emirate has used its carbon riches to expand its diplomatic heft worldwide. The US and Taliban conducted peace negotiations in Qatar. The country has accepted many Afghan refugees while the emir has advocated for engagement with the Taliban.

The Shura Council election is a baby step toward giving ordinary Qataris a sense of the rights they enjoy and the duties they’re expected to discharge. Many more steps are necessary.

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