Executive Summary: In October 2021 the first legislative election will be held in Qatar. This is an appointment that has been postponed since 2013. The Qataris will be able to choose two-thirds of the Parliament, representing a milestone for democracy in the Gulf Region.
At the end of August 2021, the Qatari Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani signed a decree that set the first parliamentary elections for Qatar to be held on the 2nd of October 2021. Qatari citizens will be able to appoint two-third – 30 over 45 – members of the Shura Council, the structure that ultimately acts as the main legislative body of the country. The first elections for the country were first scheduled to be held in 2013, but have been postponed since then.
Notwithstanding the fact that the constitutional changes that theoretically transformed Qatar into a constitutional monarchy have been in force since 2003, until this moment the 45 members of the Council have always been appointed by the Emir. Under the new electoral rule, the Emir will only appoint the remaining 15 members of the Council that will not be chosen in the electoral pools.
The Shura Council was established in Qatar in 1972, when the country became independent from the British mandate. This body has traditionally acted as the main support for the Emirs in their political duties. Under the new laws, the Council will instead act as a legislative body that not only has the possibility to draft new laws but will also have the power to oversee different aspects of the executive. It must be highlighted, however, that pivotal national issues such as defense, security and the economy remain under the direct control of the Emir.
According to the electoral law, the country will be divided into 30 different areas, one for each elected member of the Council. Any citizen of the Emirate of at least 18 years and one grandfather of Qatari origin will be accounted to vote and any citizen older than 30 years old with Qatari origin dating from at least 1930 can run as a candidate.
At the end of August, the Supervisory Committee of the Shura Council has stated that 294 people have signed as a candidate, 29 of which are women. It is worth remembering that in the country political parties are formally banned so they run as independents. On the 15th of September, the final list of candidates has been released by the Committee, accepting 284 of the 294 candidacies.
The conditions imposed to run as a candidate have however sparked the anger of an important section of the Qatari people, namely the Al Murrah tribe, whose members cannot participate under the current procedures.
The Al Murrah tribe is an ancient nomadic tribe of the Arabian Peninsula, whose members live today mostly between Saudi Arabia and Qatar and in a lesser number also in the other Gulf Monarchies. The relationship between the Qatari monarchy and the Al Murrah tribe has alternated different phases. In 1996 many Murrah tribesmen were accused of supporting an allegedly Saudi-backed counter-coup against the former Emir Hamad al Thani, who seized the power from hist father in 1995. As a result, 2,000 among them lost their Qatari citizenship.
In the subsequent years, most of them were eventually reintegrated, except for some important members. As a matter of facts, until 2017, good relationships with the crown seemed restored with Murrah tribesmen nominated in key political positions. In 2015 the Al Murrah tribe was also the tribe that won the highest number of seats in the Doha Municipal elections.
In 2017, however, many important members of this tribe have seen their Qatari citizenship stripped away once again by the government, as denounced by their leader Sheikh Talib bin Lahoom bin Shuraim, hosted in Saudi Arabia. This was probably a consequence of the last years’ crisis between Qatar and his neighbors, as the tribe could again be perceived as a Saudi proxy by the government.
The elections in Qatar, however, will undoubtedly represent a turning point not only for the small Gulf emirate, but for the entire area. This first step of Qatar’s transformation into a constitutional monarchy can breathe new life in the movements that call for democratization of the institutions in the wider region. As a matter of fact, in the Gulf region Kuwait is the only country, which has had a similar democratic system until this moment.
Given also the fact that many countries in the Arab Peninsula are pushing towards a changing of their economic and socio-political system – in the so-called “Vision” plans (national and structural plans) – it may be possible to witness some crucial changes that were unthinkable just some years ago.
Doha News. (2011, November 1). Emir: Qatar to hold first legislative elections in 2013. Retrieved from Doha News: https://www.dohanews.co/emir-qatar-to-hold-first-legislative-elections-in-2013/
Reuters. (2021, August 22). Qatar sets Oct. 2 for first legislative elections. Retrieved from Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/qatar-sets-oct-2-first-legislative-elections-2021-08-22/
Reuters. (2021, August 12). Qatar’s new electoral law stirs up tribal sensitivities. Retrieved from Reuters: https://www.mofa.gov.qa/en/qatar/political-system/general-information
The Economist Intelligence. (2017, September 25). 55 members of Al Murrah tribe stripped of citizenship. Retrieved from Qatar: http://country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=1165924500&Country=Qatar&topic=Politics&subtopic=Fo_5
The Levant. (2021, August 10). Qatari Al-Murra tribe protests against the election law. Retrieved from The Levant: https://thelevantnews.com/en/2021/08/qatari-al-murra-tribe-protests-against-the-election-law/
The Peninsula. (2021, September 15). Final list of Shura Council candidates announced. Retrieved from The Peninsula: https://thepeninsulaqatar.com/article/15/09/2021/Final-list-of-Shura-Council-candidates-announced
Yousef, A. (2021, August 31). 294 candidates register for Qatar’s Shura Council elections. Retrieved from AA: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/294-candidates-register-for-qatar-s-shura-council-elections/2351565
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About the author:
Alessandro RICCI is Associated Junior Researcher at MEPEI. He holds a MA in Sciences of Languages, History, and Cultures of Mediterranean and Islamic Countries at the University of Naples “l’Orientale”. His primary academic interests are Middle East and Mediterranean politics, political Islam, and international relations. Currently, he is enrolled in a Second Level Master’s Degree in Geopolitics and Global Security at the “Sapienza” University of Rome.