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Qatar - Government

Qatar is a small country dominated by the Persian Gulf's largest ruling family, the Al Thani. The family had 20,000 members, according to one estimate, which would constitute about one tenth the citizenry of the entire country. In the early 1990s, the Al Thani ruling family comprised three main branches: the Bani Hamad, headed by Khalifa ibn Hamad (r. 1972-1995); the Bani Ali, headed by Ahmad ibn Ali; and the Bani Khalid, headed by Nasir ibn Khalid (minister of economy and commerce in 1984).

The Qatari emir confirmed to members of the ruling family on 24 June 2013 that he would step down and transfer power to his heir apparent. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani met royals and prominent members of Qatari society, and announced plans for a transition to his the emir's fourth son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Sheikh Hamad had been in power since 1995, during which Qatar evolved into an important player on the regional and international political scenes. Sheikh Hamad, then the crown prince and defence minister, took power in 1995 while his father was on an overseas trip. Sheikh Hamad also pushed several prestige projects, including Al Jazeera, the Arab world's first satellite news channel, and Qatar Airways, which was relaunched in 1997. Observers did not expect to see a change in policy after the succession.

Today Qatar is a constitutional monarchy which tolerates no political opposition. The social mores of the country are shaped by a somewhat milder version of Wahhabi Islam than is found in neighboring Saudi Arabia. Women are permitted to drive if they obtain permits, for example, and non-Qatari women need not veil in public.

The population is approximately 1.8 million, of whom approximately 225,000 are citizens. The emir exercises full executive power. There is little or no movement away from personality-based, authoritarian rule in Qatar. Seminal and wide-ranging education reforms may have planted the seeds that will move this the country towards rationalized, decentralized government, but these effects are still many years away. The 2005 constitution provides for continued hereditary rule by the emir's male branch of the Al-Thani family. Shari'a (Islamic law) is the main source of legislation. The emir approves or rejects legislation after consultation with the appointed 35-member Advisory Council and cabinet.

The ruling Al Thani family continued to hold power following the declaration of independence in 1971. The head of state is the Amir, and the right to rule Qatar is passed on within the Al Thani family. Politically, Qatar is evolving from a traditional society to one based on more formal and democratic institutions to meet the requirements of social and economic progress. The country's constitution formalizes the hereditary rule of the Al Thani family, but it also establishes an elected legislative body and makes government ministers accountable to the legislature. In current practice, the Amir's role is influenced by continuing traditions of consultation, rule by consensus, and the citizen's right to appeal personally to the Amir. The Amir, while directly accountable to no one, cannot violate the Shari'a (Islamic law) and, in practice, must consider the opinions of leading families and the religious establishment.

Qatar's constitution has passed through transitional stages starting in 1970 when the first provisional system of governance was enacted. This system was revised in 1972 after the national independence and amended to address the requirements and responsibilities of the new stage. Thereafter, the features and objectives of the State's policies and affiliations were defined at the regional, Arabic and Islamic levels. The government and its organs drew much benefit from the actual performance of authority at the domestic and international levels.

The legislative amendments tackled some articles of the basic modified provisional system pertaining to the executive authority and the articles pertaining to the inheritance of the Emir's post as an integral part of the constitutional situation in the country. In the same manner, the issuance of the judicial authority law and other basic laws that regulate civil and commercial transactions were complementary steps towards the establishment of the State's organs and laying down the foundations of the State of law and institutional governance.

On the 13th of July, 1999, Qatar transferred into a new era of its modern history when HH the Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani issued decree no (11) in 1999 stipulating the formation of a drafting committee of the permanent constitution in a historic speech he delivered on this occasion. In his speech, HH the Emir maintained that the Constitution is the basic document that contains the substantial principles relative to the country's sovereignty in different domains, regulates its authorities and its ruling system and defines public rights and duties. HH stressed the importance of expanding the base of communal participation in governance vis-a-vis the election of a parliament. He also defined the basic features of Qatar's prospective permanent constitution as being based on affiliation to the Gulf region and the Arabic and Islamic worlds and observing the Arabic traditions and teachings of Islam.

Qatar's first constitution took effect 09 June 2005, replacing a temporary law in place since 1971. The event passed without any attention from the media or other official recognition. When the constitution was approved by popular referendum in 2003, there was much fanfare to highlight the occasion. Because the constitution represents a step toward more democratic institutions and more well-defined roles for the branches of government, the lack of attention to its coming into force is noteworthy. The constitution calls for a two-thirds elected national legislature. These elections were expected to take place sometime in early 2007. Qatari women would have the right to vote and will be encouraged by the government to run for office.

Some observers expressed reservations over some of the constitution's articles. One, number 17, gives financial power to the Amir. It reads, "The financial remuneration of the Amir, as well as the gifts and assistance shall be defined as per a decision to be taken by the Amir annually." Article number 62 states: "The executive authority shall be handled by the Amir to be assisted by the Cabinet as stipulated in this Constitution." The Amir is not accountable to any institution. Some raised questions about article number 75, which could by used as a tool to pass any law without the Advisory Council's review. In general, it would be impossible for the Advisory Council to pass any law that contradicts the government's interests. This is because articles 105 and 106 state that any draft shall require a two-thirds vote of the council, while one-third of the council will be appointed by the Amir. Thus, the executive authority (the Amir's ministers) will need to obtain only one vote from an elected member to block any legislation. The Amir has powers to dissolve the parliament, suspend and veto laws, and conduct referenda.

The constitution does not provide citizens the right to peacefully change their government through elections. The constitution provides for hereditary rule by the emir's branch of the Al-Thani family. The Advisory Council, whose members the emir appointed, exercised significant influence over ministries. The constitutional provision for initiation of legislation by the Advisory Council has not been implemented. The influence of family and tribal traditions was strong, and the government did not permit political parties or opposition groups.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the military and internal police forces. Police, under the authority of the Ministry of Interior (MOI), were responsible for general security, combating crime, and protecting public facilities, and the population generally regarded police as effective. The government had mechanisms to investigate abuse and corruption. During 2009 the government instituted training to prevent corruption and torture by police, and reports of official impunity decreased.

The Ministry of Interior has controlled the police force of about 2,500 members since 1990. The local police enforces laws and arrests violators. The General Administration of Public Security, which in 1991 replaced the Criminal Investigation Department, is a separate unit of the ministry charged with investigation of crimes. The Mubahathat (secret police office), a nearly independent branch of the Ministry of Interior, deals with sedition and espionage. The army's mission does not include internal security, although the army can be called on in the event of serious civil disturbances. Nevertheless, a separate agency, the Mukhabarat (intelligence service), is under armed forces jurisdiction. Its function is to intercept and arrest terrorists and to keep surveillance over political dissidents.

Qatar has both civil and sharia courts, but only sharia courts have jurisdiction in criminal matters. Lacking permanent security courts, security cases are tried by specially established military courts, but such cases have been rare. In sharia criminal cases, the proceedings are closed, and lawyers play no formal role except to prepare the accused for trial. After the parties state their cases and after witnesses are examined by the judge, the verdict is usually delivered with little delay. No bail is set, but in minor cases, charged persons may be released to a Qatari sponsor. Most of the floggings prescribed by sharia law are administered, but physical mutilation is not allowed, and no executions have occurred since the 1980s.

The police routinely monitor the communications of suspects and security risks. Although warrants are usually required for searches, this does not apply in cases involving national security. The security forces reportedly have applied severe force and torture in investigating political and security-related cases. Suspects can be incarcerated without charge, although this is infrequent. The United States Department of State noted that standards of police conduct have improved in spite of a 1991 incident in which a group of Qataris were detained without charge for two months in connection with the unauthorized publication of tracts and letters critical of the government; at least one member of the group, which included several members of the ruling family, is said to have been beaten.

On 25 June 2013, in a televised address to the nation, Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani announced that he was stepping down and transferring power to his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani made no direct mention of Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who served at the time as the prime minister and foreign minister and was widely expected to also step down. A major cabinet reshuffle was also expected to bring in a considerable number of younger ministers. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani had said the transfer was part of a ushering in a new era of young leadership for the country.




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