The political system of Qatar runs under an authoritarian[1][2] semi-constitutional monarchy with the emir as head of state and chief executive, and the prime minister as the head of government. Under the Constitution of Qatar, the partially elected Consultative Assembly has limited scope for rejecting legislation or dismissing ministers. The second general election was held in 2021. Political parties are banned and all candidates must run as independents.

The current hereditary emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, runs the country in an autocratic manner, holds nearly all executive and legislative authority, and controls the judiciary. He appoints the prime minister and cabinet. According to Freedom House, political rights in Qatar are severely limited.[3] According to the V-Dem Democracy indices in 2023, Qatar is the 6th least electoral democratic country in the world and second least electoral democratic country in the Middle East.[4]

Legal system

Sharia law is a main source of Qatari legislation according to Qatar's constitution.[5][6] Sharia, derived from the Arabic term meaning 'the path to follow,' constitutes a divine revelation conveyed by God to the Prophet Muhammad, the eminent figure in the establishment of Islam, during the year AD 570. Consequently, Sharia embodies a religious framework characterized by its origins and regulations. This legal system, seemingly unidirectional, emanates from God to the individual. The Islamic Sharia is regarded as the primary foundation, necessitating the formulation of legislative and judicial frameworks grounded in Islamic legal principles to govern transactions within Qatari law.[7] Sharia law is applied to laws pertaining to family law, inheritance, and several criminal acts (including adultery, robbery and murder). In some cases in Sharia-based family courts, a female's testimony is worth half a man's and in some cases a female witness is not accepted at all.[8] Codified family law was introduced in 2006. In practice, Qatar's legal system is a mixture of civil law and Islamic law.[9][10]

In 2016, Saudi Instagram star and model King Luxy was arrested in Qatar for allegedly being homosexual. He spent 2 months in custody before he was released. Qatari embassy in turn reported that he was arrested before departing from Qatar's only civilian international airport for various charges having nothing to do with his sexual preference and counter-alleged him for intruding on the privacy of a Qatari citizen.[11]

Stoning is no longer a legal punishment in Qatar, and has never been used.[12] [13]Apostasy is a crime punishable by the death penalty in Qatar.[14] Blasphemy is punishable by up to seven years in prison and proselytizing can be punished by up to 10 years in prison.[15] Homosexuality is a crime punishable in sharia by the death penalty for Muslims, though in Qatar the penalty for consenting males is up to 5 years in prison.[16]

In 2014, Qatar launched a modesty campaign to remind tourists of the modest dress code.[17] Female tourists are advised not to wear leggings, miniskirts, sleeveless dresses and short or tight clothing in public. Men are advised against wearing only shorts and singlets.[18]

As of 2014, certain provisions of the Qatari Criminal Code allow punishments such as flogging and stoning to be imposed as criminal sanctions. The UN Committee Against Torture found that these practices constituted a breach of the obligations imposed by the UN Convention Against Torture.[19][20] Qatar retains the death penalty, mainly for threats against national security.

Commercial relationships are governed by Qatar's Civil Code.[21]

In the report published by the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor on 13 September 2020, it was declared that Article 19 in the International Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that "everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference." Similarly, Article 47 in the Constitution of Qatar stipulates that freedom of expression is guaranteed in accordance with the conditions and circumstances set forth in law.[22]

In January 2024, Qatar explored legal avenues after Fox News claimed Doha spied on American lawmakers.[23]

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption is partially legal in Qatar, some five-star luxury hotels are allowed to sell alcohol to their non-Muslim customers.[24][25] Muslims are not allowed to consume alcohol in Qatar and Muslims caught consuming alcohol are liable to flogging or deportation. Non-Muslim expatriates can obtain a permit to purchase alcohol for personal consumption. The Qatar Distribution Company (a subsidiary of Qatar Airways) is permitted to import alcohol and pork; it operates the one and only liquor store in the country, which also sells pork to holders of liquor licences.[26] Qatari officials have also indicated a willingness to allow alcohol in "fan zones" at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.[27]

Until recently, restaurants on The Pearl Island (a human-made island near Doha) were allowed to serve alcoholic drinks.[24][25] In December 2011, however, restaurants on the Pearl were told to stop selling alcohol.[24][28] No explanation was given for the ban.[24][25] Speculation about the reason includes the government's desire to project a more pious image in advance of the country's first election of a royal advisory body and rumours of a financial dispute between the government and the resort's developers.[28] Despite the economic consequences of the ban, many believe that it has been a necessary measure in order to ensure the safety and enjoyment of fans at the World Cup. The absence of alcohol has helped to create a more positive and enjoyable atmosphere at the event, with a more family-friendly environment being evident. The lack of alcohol had contributed to a less bawdy atmosphere around the games at the World Cup which led to a safer experience female fans at the tournament[29][30]

Workers

In February 2022, The African Regional Organization of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) welcomed the recent announcement by the Qatar government to abolish exit permits for migrant workers. ITUC commended Qatari government for the obvious show of genuine commitment towards meeting their pledge made to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to effectively reform their labour laws so as to bring in conformity with ILO Conventions and other international statutes.[31]

Cases of ill-treatment of immigrant labour have been observed. The Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Maya Kumari Sharma, described the emirate as an "open jail".[32] Qatar does not have national occupational health standards or guidelines, and workplace injuries are the third highest cause of accidental deaths.[33] In May 2012, Qatari officials declared their intention to allow the establishment of an independent trade union.[34] Qatar also announced it will scrap its sponsor system for foreign labour, which requires that all foreign workers be sponsored by local employers, who in some cases hold workers' passports and can deny them permission to change jobs.[34]

In August 2022, 60 Migrant workers were arrested and deported for protesting against the non-payment by their employer, Al Bandary International Group, a major construction and hospitality firm. Some of the demonstrators were from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Egypt and the Philippines had not been paid for seven months.[35] According to a report published by France 24, those protesters were detained for breaching public security laws and minority of protesters were deported by the order of court who failed to remain peaceful and breached Qatar’s public security law. Qatar’s labour ministry said it will pay Al Bandary workers and will take further action against the company which was already under investigation for failing to pay wages.[36]

Executive branch

Qatar is ruled by the House of Thani as a semi-constitutional hereditary monarchy. The head of state and chief executive is the emir. There is a prime minister (who serves as the head of government) and a cabinet appointed by the emir. Under the Constitution, the partially-elected Consultative Assembly can block legislation with a simple majority vote, and can dismiss ministers with a two-thirds vote. Two-thirds of the members are popularly elected, and the remainder are appointed by the emir.[37]

Politically, Qatar is evolving from a traditional society into a modern welfare state. Government departments have been established to meet the requirements of social and economic progress. The Basic Law of Qatar 1970 institutionalized local customs rooted in Qatar's conservative Islamic heritage, granting the Emir preeminent power. The Emir's role is influenced by continuing traditions of consultation, rule by consensus, and the citizen's right to appeal personally to the Emir. The Emir, while directly accountable to no one, cannot violate the Sharia (Islamic law) and, in practice, must consider the opinions of leading notables and the religious establishment. Their position was institutionalized in the Advisory Council, an appointed body that assists the Emir in formulating policy.

In February 1972, the heir apparent and Prime Minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, deposed his cousin, Emir Ahmad, and assumed power. This move was supported by the key members of Al Thani and took place without violence or signs of political unrest.

On 27 June 1995, the heir apparent, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, deposed his father, Emir Khalifa, in a bloodless coup.[38] Emir Hamad and his father reconciled in 1996. Increased freedom of the press followed, and the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television channel (founded late 1996) is widely regarded as an example of an uncensored source of news in Arab countries. However, the network has been met with negative responses by the governments of many Arab states.[39] However in May 2022, Al Jazeera network won the award for the best human rights journalism of the year in the eighth annual Amnesty Media Awards. The network was also claimed to be non-biased network by The Week (Washington DC media house) in November 2022.[40]

On 25 June 2013, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani became the Emir of Qatar after his father Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani handed over power in a televised speech.[41]

Main office-holders
Office Name Party Since
Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani 25 June 2013
Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani 7 March 2023

Ministries

Main article: Cabinet of Qatar

Consultative Assembly

The Consultative Assembly (Majlis ash-Shura) is a 45-member partially-elected legislature made up of 30 elected representatives and 15 appointed by the emir. Majlis ash-shura is the process of gathering community opinions, facilitated by knowledgeable individuals who provide their perspectives and ideas on significant questions, problems, or decisions associated with the social, economic, or political aspects of people's lives.[58] Elections were repeatedly delayed after the 2003 constitutional referendum introduced this framework.[59][60][61] In 2006, Deputy Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani announced that elections would be held in 2007. However, only municipal elections were held.[62] Due to voting laws, those who did not have family in the country pre-1930 were not allowed to vote. This excluded 75% of the population.[63] The first general election was eventually held in October 2021.[37]

Political parties and elections

Election billboards advertising the 2007 municipal elections.

Qatar held a constitutional referendum in 2003, which was overwhelmingly supported. The first municipal elections with voters and candidates were held in 1999 for the Central Municipal Council. The first legislative elections, for two thirds of the legislative council's 45 seats, were planned for 2016 after previously being postponed in 2013.[64] In June 2016 they were effectively postponed to at least 2019.[65] The first general election of members of the Consultative Assembly was held in 2021.[37]

Suffrage is currently limited to municipal elections and two thirds of the seats in the legislative council, with the voting age set at 18. Expatriate residents and stateless residents, who are prevented from applying for citizenship, are excluded. The elected Municipal Council has no executive powers but may offer advice to the Minister.[66][67]

Political parties are banned by law.

Administrative divisions

See also: Municipalities of Qatar

There are eight municipalities (baladiyat (plural), baladiyah (singular)) of Qatar; Ad Dawhah, Al Daayen, Al Khor, Al Wakrah, Al Rayyan, Al-Shahaniya, Al Shamal, and Umm Salal. Each municipality assumes administrative responsibilities over zones (cities and districts) within their boundaries.[68][66]

Foreign relations

Main article: Foreign relations of Qatar

Qatar’s core foreign policy objective according to The Middle East Journal is "state survival" and the "desire for international prestige". Qatar became notable in international politics and a key figure in the Arab affairs within two decades of its independent foreign policy.[69] It has an "open-door" foreign policy where it maintain ties to all parties and regional players in the region,[70] including with organizations such as Taliban and Hamas.[71]

Its position in the Middle East and close links with terrorist groups is seen as a great asset to western intelligence community and diplomatic relations.[72] Qatar has also cultivated close foreign relationships with Western powers, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom. Al Udeid Air Base hosts American and British air forces.[73]

On October 10, 2005, for the first time, Qatar was elected to a two-year term on the UN Security Council for 2006–2007.

According to BBC, in April 2006 Qatar announced that it will give US$50 million (£28 million) to the new Hamas-led Palestinian government.

In May 2006, Qatar pledged more than $100 million to Hurricane Katrina relief to colleges and universities in Louisiana affected by the hurricane. Some of this money was also distributed to families looking to repair damaged homes by Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans, Inc.

There were some allegations on Qatar for supporting rebels group in Syria and association with al- Nusra front also persisted in country’s profile for a long time.[74] However, the Public Policy and Democracy studies research think tank recognized the nation for its execution of current peace against conflicts strategies and policy upgrades. Other discoveries from the research claimed that Qatar supported the US against the Assad government. Additionally, the nation supported efforts to mediate a conflict-ending political transition in Syria. In March 2021, Qatar, Russia, and Turkey also started a different track of talks on the Syrian peace process.[75][76][77]

The government and royal family of Qatar funds the Al Jazeera television network. The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalfia provided a loan of QAR 500 million (USD 137 million) to start the channel.[78] The network has been accused of being biased and taking an active role in the affairs of other countries specifically during the Arab Spring in 2011.[79] Numerous countries have complained about allegedly biased reporting in support of Qatar policy. On 11 January 2015, The Week published a report in which,Al jazeera network was revealed to be non biased and non terrorist network.[80]

Most of the developed countries (plus Brunei and Indonesia) are exempt from visa requirements. Citizens of exempted countries can also request a joint visa that allows them to travel to Oman as well.[81]

Qatar is member of ABEDA, AFESD, AL, AMF, ESCWA, FAO, G-77, GCC, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDB, IFAD, IFRCS, IHO (pending member), ILO, IMF, International Maritime Organization, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, ISO (correspondent), ITU, NAM, OAPEC, OIC, OPCW, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, and WTO.

Qatar may suffer significant geopolitical losses if there is a global transition to renewable energy. It is ranked 152 out of 156 countries in the index of Geopolitical Gains and Losses after energy transition (GeGaLo).[82]

In September, 2014. QFFD contributed in enhancing stability for Syrian refugees. Qatar Charity facilitated access to quality education through the rehabilitation of 6 Formal schools in Turkey, Gaziantep, Urfa, Kilis, targeting a total number of 13,540 beneficiaries and 12,860 girls and boys.[83]

On July 10, 2017, according to documents obtained by Al Arabiya, Qatar agreed to quit supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. In order to avoid undermining relations with the Gulf, it also removed non-citizens from Qatar and refused to provide shelter to anyone from a GCC nation.[84]

Qatar claims that "since 2017, Qatar feels it has been the victim of a media attack orchestrated by Abu Dhabi, with false documents and fake news."[85][86] The Qatari Government stated that they were being "exclusively criticised and attacked" by Belgian authorities and conveyed disappointment that the Belgian government "made no effort to engage with our government to establish the facts".[87]

The award was in recognition of his exemplary diplomatic efforts to strengthen relations between the State of Qatar and the United States, to support and advance peace efforts in Afghanistan (including the signing of the US–Taliban peace deal on February 29, 2020, as well as the launch of the Afghan peace process on September 12, 2020), to promote stability and prosperity in the Middle East North Africa region, and to resolve the Gulf Crisis through diplomacy.[88]

In January 2021 the United States, represented by the United States Department of Defense, awarded Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani with the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, one of the highest honors bestowed by the US to officials. The then US National Security Adviser Robert C. O'Brien gave the medal to the Ambassador of Qatar to the US Sheikh Meshaal bin Hamad Al Thani, on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani.[citation needed]

On 3 December 2021, Sheikh Tamim received president Macron for a working visit in Doha to discuss the regional situations in the Gulf states and Afghanistan[89]; and, Macron thanked Qatar for its diplomacy during the Afghan crisis and the evacuations of hundreds of French nationals and Afghans after the fall of Kabul.[90]

Qatar mediated a deal between the United States and Iran, which in September 2023 saw the release of five prisoners in each country and the unfreezing of US$6 billion of Iranian funds, which had been frozen due to sanctions imposed by the U.S.[91][92] The U.S. citizens were flown to Doha and greeted by U.S. ambassador to Qatar Timmy T. Davis[93] and Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker[94] before boarding a plane to Washington, D.C..[95] U.S. President Biden thanked Sheik Tamim and Qatari officials for their role in the mediation as well as establishing a "Humanitarian channel" for Iran.[96] The US$6 billion were released to banks in Doha [95] under the condition that Iran could use the funds only for humanitarian purposes.[92]

See also

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