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Qatar
Opposition groups

 




Polity: Traditional monarchy
Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 6
Status: Not Free
Economy: Mixed capitalist-statist
Population: 600,000
PPP: $18,789
Life Expectancy: 72
Religious Groups: Muslim (95 percent), other (5 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Arab (40 percent), Pakistani (18 percent), Indian (18 percent), Iranian (10 percent), other (14 percent)
Capital: Doha
Ten Year Ratings Timeline (Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Status):
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
7,6,NF
7,6,NF
7,6,NF
7,6,NF
7,6,NF
7,6,NF
7,6,NF
6,6,NF
6,6,NF
6,6,NF
6,6,NF

Brief Overview

The gradual expansion of political and civil liberties in this tiny oil-and gas-rich emirate continued in 2002, though the reform process has yet to be institutionalized and appears to be driven primarily by the government’s desire to upgrade its military and strategic partnership with the United States. A draft constitution commissioned by the emir four years ago was completed in July, but remained “under review” at the end of the year.

In 1995, the emir was overthrown by his son, Hamad, who proceeded to launch a progression of economic and social reforms that have thoroughly transformed the emirate. Hamad broke with the country’s tradition of consulting closely with neighboring Gulf of Cooperation Council (GCC) states, several of which he accused of plotting a counter-coup to restore his father to the throne. His $150 million investment in the 1996 creation of Al-Jazeera, an all-news satellite station now watched by more than 30 million viewers in the Arab world, enormously bolstered Qatar’s international prestige.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Qataris cannot change their government democratically. Chosen by law from among the adult male members of the al-Thani family, the emir holds absolute power, though he consults informally with leading members of society on major policy issues. Although the 1970 basic law provided for a partially elected consultative council, no legislative elections have ever been held. An elected municipal council in Doha reports to the minister of municipal affairs, who is not required to heed its advice and may dissolve it at will.

While arbitrary arrests and detentions are prohibited by law, citizens and foreign nationals arrested in security cases have been subjected to prolonged pretrial detention in the past. Detainees generally receive access to legal counsel, and there have been no cases of alleged torture in recent years. The judiciary is not independent, as most judges are foreign nationals whose tenure may be revoked at any time. A separate system of Sharia (Islamic law) courts handle most civil cases. Corporal punishment is practiced in accordance with Sharia. Trials are public, though a presiding judge may close proceedings to the public if they are deemed sensitive, and defendants have the right to appeal.

In October 2002, a Qatari court sentenced a Jordanian journalist, Firas Majali, to death on charges of espionage. Majali’s family claimed that defense lawyers were not permitted to present a defense of their client, whose conviction appeared timed as retaliation for Jordan’s closure of the Amman bureau of Al-Jazeera.

Freedom of expression is limited. State-owned broadcast media generally reflect official views. Independent media outlets encounter little direct governmental interference, but exercise self-censorship on matters concerning the royal family and Qatari foreign relations. Al-Jazeera, which has gained international attention for airing the views of political dissidents from around the Arab world, virtually ignores domestic Qatari politics.

Freedom of association is limited to social, cultural, and professional groups registered with the government. Political parties do not exist, and the government has refused to sanction a number of activist groups concerned with issues such as consumer protection, the environment, and Palestinian rights. Public demonstrations are generally prohibited, though some anti-Israel protests have been tolerated.

Workers may not form independent unions or bargain collectively, though they may belong to joint consultative committees of worker and management representatives that discuss issues such as working conditions and schedules, but not wages. The government’s Labor Conciliation Board mediates disputes, and private sector workers may strike if mediation fails. Foreign nationals, who comprise three-quarters of the workforce, are less inclined to assert their rights for fear of losing their residency permits, though strikes by foreign workers in response to employer abuse and nonpayment of wages have become frequent.

Islam is the official religion in Qatar, and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs controls most formal Islamic institutions. The country’s small Shiite Muslim minority is allowed to practice openly, but not to organize traditional ceremonies and rituals, such as self-flagellation. While public worship by non-Muslims remains officially prohibited, they are allowed to conduct services privately. In 2000, the government authorized the first-ever construction of three churches to accommodate growing numbers of resident Westerners. Non-Muslims cannot bring suit in Sharia courts, which handle most civil claims.