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Qatar - Politics

Sheikh Mohammed bin Thani 18501878
Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani 18781913
Sheikh Mohammed bin Jassim Al Thani 19131914
Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani 19141949
Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah Al Thani 19491960
Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani 19601972
Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani 19721995
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani 19952013
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani 2013present

Citizens lack the right to change the leadership of their government by election. There were prolonged detentions in overcrowded and harsh facilities, often ending in deportation. The government placed restrictions on civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press (including the Internet), assembly, association, and religion. Foreign laborers face restrictions on foreign travel. The unresolved legal status of "Bidoons" (stateless persons with residency ties) resulted in discrimination against these noncitizens. Authorities severely restrict worker rights, especially for foreign laborers and domestic servants.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press in accordance with the law, but the government limited these rights in practice. Journalists and publishers continued to self-censor due to political and economic pressures when reporting on government policies or material deemed hostile to Islam, the ruling family, and relations with neighboring states.

There has been no serious recent challenge to Al Thani rule. Those who followed the history of Qatar since its independence in the 1970s are well aware of the coup scenario and rifts within the countrys rulers. The story of the coup dtat against the Ahmad bin Ali Al Thanis family goes back to Khalifa bin Hamad, who mounted a coup in 1972, and the Ahmad bin Ali family has not assumed power in the country ever since. Amir Hamad bin Khalifa overthrew his father in 1995 and appeared to be in no danger of being overthrown himself by some rival member or faction of the Al Thani family. After Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani ousted his father in a bloodless coup in 1995, he went about monetising the countrys natural gas reserves and transforming it into one of the worlds richest countries.

Various websites and blogs, relying largely on information from Ilaf.com, reported that the Qatari leadership had foiled a coup attempt on 30 July 2009. The reports said that 16 senior military commanders had been placed under house arrest. As many as 30 officers overall, among them 5 from the Amiri Guard, were reported to have been arrested. Among those officers allegedly involved was Chief of Staff Major General Hamad bin Ali Al-Attiyah.

The websites claimed that the coup attempt was the culmination of rising tensions within the ruling Al Thani family, with veiled references to the increasing power of Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabor Al Thani. Others attributed Al-Attiyah's alleged involvement to his disagreement over the course of Qatar's policy toward Iran. One possible explanation for the reports is a garble, intentional or otherwise, stemming from a tribal dispute in May that involved several senior members of the Qatari armed forces.

Tension was rising between the Prime Minister and the three other Al Thanis at the pinnacle of power: the Amir; his wife, Shaykha Moza; and his son, the Crown Prince. But the Prime Minister was poorly positioned to organize a coup against the Amir. The security forces and Qatari intelligence report to the Crown Prince, not the Prime Minister. Were the Prime Minister tempted to establish himself as Amir, he would probably wait until the death of the current Amir, who is known to be in poor health, then move against Crown Prince Tamim. Even then, he would be poorly positioned. With each passing month, the Crown Prince continued to gradually accumulate power, with his father's apparently active support.

As the most visible sign of the move toward openness, the Al Jazeera satellite television station based in Qatar is considered the most free and unfettered broadcast source in the Arab world. In practice, however, Al Jazeera rarely criticizes the ruling Al Thani family. The Doha-based, Arabic-language Al Jazeera satellite television network focused coverage and commentary on international news. Al Jazeera and the government claimed that the channel was independent and free of government influence, but the government exercised editorial and programmatic control of the channel through funding and selection of the station's management. Al Jazeera covered local news when there was an international component.

Citizens discuss sensitive political and religious issues. Members of the much larger foreign population do not express themselves on sensitive topics. The government did not prosecute anyone for expression of views. The government-supported Qatar Foundation funds the "Doha Debates," a series of public debates broadcast by the BBC featuring citizens and noncitizens speaking about internationally controversial topics. Although the seven daily newspapers are not state owned, owners are members of the ruling family or have close ties to government officials. The government reviewed and censored foreign newspapers and magazines for objectionable sexual, religious, and political content.

The 29th of April, 2003 was the date set for a public referendum whereby citizens have their say on this Constitution freely. The result of the referendum in which the percentage of popular turnout was high showed a general consent to the Constitution mounting to 96.6%, equal to 68987 voters as opposed to 2145 who cast a negative vote. The invalid votes counted as 274.

There are no elections for national leadership, and the law forbids political parties. The opinions of the people are institutionalized in the Advisory Council, an appointed body that assists the Amir in formulating policy. The council advises the minister of municipal affairs and agriculture on local public services. Elections in 1999, in which both men and women participated, resulted in the formation of a municipal council. One woman candidate was elected to the municipal council in 2003. Municipal elections were held for the third time in April 2007. In 2007 citizens elected the 29 members of the Central Municipal Council.Diplomatic missions noted no apparent irregularities in the elections. Nearly 50 percent of the fewer than 50,000 eligible voters participated. Reports based on monitoring by the government-appointed National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) and informal observations by diplomatic missions noted no apparent irregularities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of security forces.

Approximately 75 percent of citizens could not vote in the 2007 municipal elections, as this right was limited to families who were in the country prior to 1930. All citizens older than 21 were eligible to run for seats on the council. The law limits political participation by persons whose citizenship was withdrawn but subsequently restored. These persons are denied the right to candidacy or nomination in any legislative body for 10 years from the date of restoration of their citizenship.

The law forbids formation of and membership in political parties. In July 2008 the emir postponed elections for an expanded 45-member Advisory Council and extended the term of the current council until 2010. In February the Permanent Elections Commission conducted a training program on campaign planning and communications with the foreign NGO National Democratic Institute in anticipation of 2010 elections.

Although the influence of traditional attitudes and roles continued to limit women's participation in politics, women served in public office as president of the Permanent Election Committee, head of the General Authority for Health, vice president of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs (SCFA) with ministerial rank, head of the General Authority for Museums, and president of Qatar University. One woman served on the Central Municipal Council.

The law provides the right to form private independent societies and associations, including NGOs, but since the law's enactment in 2004, the government approved only one application (for establishment of the Qatar Society for Rehabilitation and Special Needs, a nongovernmental human rights organization supporting persons with disabilities). One foreign NGO also successfully registered in 2007.

The government distinguished between citizens and noncitizens in employment, education, housing, and health services. Noncitizens were required to pay for health care, electricity, water, and education (services provided without charge to citizens). Noncitizens were eligible for medical coverage at a nominal fee. Noncitizens generally could not own property, but the law provides for property ownership in three designated areas.

Although the amirate has experienced little internal unrest, the large number of foreigners -- forming 60 to 80 percent of the work force -- are regarded as possible sources of instability. Qatar is determined to maintain control over their activities and limit their influence. A significant number of resident Palestinians, some of whom included prominent businessmen and civil servants, were expelled after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Iranian Shia have not been the source of problems but are nevertheless looked on as potential subversives. Foreigners are liable to face arbitrary police action and harassment and often complain of mistreatment after their arrest.



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