Qatar’s hereditary emir holds all executive and legislative authority and ultimately controls the judiciary. Political parties are not permitted, and the only elections are for an advisory municipal council. While Qatari citizens are among the wealthiest in the world, most of the population consists of noncitizens with no political rights, few civil liberties, and limited access to economic opportunity.
- In October, the first election for 30 of the 45 seats on the Advisory Council (Majlis al-Shura) were held. Though official turnout was 63.5 percent, in July the emir had signed a law restricting the voter franchise to “native” Qataris, whose families had settled in Qatar before 1930. The number of citizens denied voting rights due to the law is unclear.
- In February, a report from The Guardian estimated that more than 6,500 migrant worker deaths had been recorded in the 10 years since Qatar was awarded World Cup hosting rights. Three Norwegian journalists investigating migrant worker conditions in Qatar were arrested and briefly detained by the authorities in November.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
The emir appoints the prime minister and cabinet and selects an heir-apparent after consulting with the ruling family and other notables. In 2013, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani abdicated as emir, handing power to his fourth-born son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. In January 2020, Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa al-Thani succeeded Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani, a fellow member of the ruling family, as both prime minister and interior minister.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
The 2003 constitution stipulates that 30 of the 45 seats on the Advisory Council should be filled through elections every four years, with the emir appointing the other 15 members. After years of delay, the emir announced in November 2020 that elections for two-thirds of the body’s seats would take place in October 2021. Though official turnout for the election was 63.5 percent, in July 2021 Tamim signed a law restricting the voter franchise to “native” Qataris, whose families had settled in Qatar before 1930. The number of citizens denied voting rights due to the law is unclear. After public outcry and some small-scale protests, Emir Tamim supported amending the law to include all citizens for future votes.
Nonpartisan elections have been held since 1999 for the 29-member Central Municipal Council, a body designed to advise the minister for municipal affairs. Members serve four-year terms. Turnout for the April 2019 Central Municipal Council elections fell to 50.1 percent of registered voters.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
Electoral laws currently in force cover the Central Municipal Council and Advisory Council elections. Qatari citizens over the age of 18 who can demonstrate that their male ancestors were settled in Qatar prior to 1930 are eligible to vote, except those in the military or working for the Interior Ministry.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
The government does not permit the existence of political parties or other political groupings. All candidates for elections run as independents.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
The ruling family maintains a monopoly on political power, and the system excludes the possibility of a change in government through elections. Dissident members of the Qatari ruling family living abroad have at times advocated for political change in Qatar, though they have no organized public support.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?
Public participation in the political arena is extremely limited. Voters and candidates who do take part in the municipal and Advisory Council elections are often influenced by tribal and family ties.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
Up to 90 percent of Qatar’s population is composed of noncitizens, including expatriates and migrant workers as well as some stateless residents, who have no political rights or electoral opportunities. Citizenship is inherited exclusively from a Qatari father; residents can apply for citizenship after 25 years in the country, but this is rarely granted. The July 2021 changes to the electoral law distinguished between “native” Qataris, whose family settled in Qatar before 1930, and naturalized citizens, who are unable to vote. In late October, Emir Tamim instructed the cabinet to amend the law to promote “equal citizenship.”
Qatari women enjoy some political rights, though they have little opportunity to organize independently and advocate for their interests. In the 2019 municipal council elections, 5 of the 85 candidates were women, and 2 of them—both incumbents—won seats. None of the 26 women candidates for the 30 open Advisory Council seats won in the 2021 elections. Emir Tamim appointed two women to the additional 15 seats, including Shaikha bint Yousuf Hassan al-Jufairi, who in 2003 became the first woman to win an election in any Gulf State.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
Decision-making authority is concentrated in the hands of the emir and his family, and the Advisory Council has only limited ability to offset executive power in certain areas. However, in July 2021, the emir granted the Advisory Council legislative powers, including the ability to propose laws and approve or reject the national budget.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
The authorities regularly punish lower-level public officials for bribery and embezzlement, but corruption remains a concern. No genuinely independent anticorruption mechanisms hold senior officials and members of the ruling family publicly accountable for the allocation of state resources. In May 2021, the finance minister, Ali Sharif al-Emadi, was removed from office and detained as part of an investigation into allegations of misuse of public funds and abuse of power.
Qatar has also been accused of employing corrupt tactics in its successful bid to host the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) 2022 World Cup.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
Official information is tightly controlled, and critics complain of a lack of transparency in state procurement. Although the State Audit Bureau prepares budgets and accounts for government institutions, it does not share their full details with the public or the Advisory Council. A 2016 law empowered the bureau to make some aspects of its audit findings public, but the security ministries remained exempt from its oversight.
In April 2021, Abdullah Ibhais, a former employee of Qatar’s World Cup organizers who exposed abuses against and mistreatment of migrant workers, was given a prison sentence for alleged bribery and misuse of funds. His sentence was reduced in December to three years.
|Are there free and independent media?
Both print and broadcast media are influenced by leading families and subject to state censorship. The international television network Al Jazeera is privately held, but the government has reportedly paid to support its operating costs since its inception in 1996. All journalists in Qatar practice a degree of self-censorship and face possible jail sentences for defamation and other press offenses. Access to the independent English-language website Doha News was restored in May 2020, having been blocked in late 2016 for operating without a required permit.
In January 2020, an amendment to the penal code made the sharing or publication of “false news” punishable with up to five years in prison or a maximum fine of 100,000 riyals ($27,500).
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
Islam is the official religion, though the constitution explicitly provides for freedom of worship. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs oversees the construction of mosques, the hiring of imams, and guidance for sermons. Churches have been built for Qatar’s growing Christian community, but non-Muslims are not allowed to proselytize or worship in public.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
The constitution guarantees academic freedom, but scholars often self-censor on politically sensitive topics. Foreign universities have established branches in Qatar under a program meant to strengthen the country’s educational institutions.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
While residents enjoy some freedom of private discussion, security forces reportedly monitor personal communications, and noncitizens often self-censor to avoid jeopardizing their work and residency status. Social media users can face criminal penalties for posting politically sensitive content. However, citizens and residents have become more active in debating current affairs and regional developments without apparent retribution in recent years.
Malcolm Bidali, a security guard from Kenya who blogged about labor rights in Qatar, was detained in May 2021, and charged by the Supreme Council of the Judiciary in July for publishing false news. Amid an international outcry, Bidali was deported in August after paying a fine of 25,000 riyals ($6,810).
|Is there freedom of assembly?
The constitutional right to freedom of assembly is limited by restrictive laws and does not apply to noncitizens. Organizers of public events must obtain a permit from the Interior Ministry, and protests are rare. Small-scale protests occurred in September 2021 against discriminatory voting rules implemented in the October elections; several demonstrators were arrested by security forces.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
All nongovernmental organizations need state permission to operate, and the government closely monitors their activities. There are no independent human rights organizations, though a government-appointed National Human Rights Committee investigates alleged abuses. Independent activists are subject to state harassment. Human rights lawyer Najeeb al-Nuaimi remained under a travel ban imposed by the attorney general in 2017.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
A 2005 labor law expanded worker protections, but the rights to form unions and to strike remain restricted. The only trade union allowed to operate is the General Union of Workers of Qatar, and the law prohibits union membership for noncitizens, government employees, and household workers.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
Despite constitutional guarantees, the judiciary is not independent in practice. Many judges are foreign nationals serving under temporary contracts that are renewed annually. The Supreme Council of the Judiciary, composed of senior judges, administers the courts and plays a role in nominating judges for appointment by the emir.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
Certain laws allow lengthy detentions without charge or access to a lawyer for suspects in cases involving national security or terrorism. Even under normal criminal procedure, judges can extend pretrial detention for up to half of the maximum prison term allowed for the alleged crime. Many laws contain ill-defined offenses and other language that gives prosecutors and judges broad discretion to determine guilt.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
Violent crime is rare in Qatar, and prison conditions reportedly meet international standards. Legal bans on torture and other mistreatment of detainees have generally been respected in recent years, though international experts have called for further legislative and other improvements. Corporal punishment in the form of flogging, which can be imposed on Muslim defendants for certain offenses under Sharia (Islamic law), is not commonly implemented in practice. The death penalty is permitted, including for crimes other than murder. In April 2020, a migrant worker from Nepal who had been convicted of murder was reportedly executed, the first since 2003.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
Noncitizens reportedly face discrimination in the courts and from police. Though the constitution bars gender-based discrimination, women are not legally guaranteed equal treatment, and their testimony is worth less than that of men in certain cases. LGBT+ people are subject to legal and societal discrimination; vague wording in the penal code can be interpreted to criminalize same-sex sexual activity, and Sharia prohibits any sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage. Same-sex relationships must be hidden in practice.
Though the government provides them some protections and support, asylum seekers and recognized refugees are barred from engaging in political activity and need government approval to change their place of residence. An asylum committee began receiving applications in 2019, though some asylum seekers reportedly continued to be threatened with deportation, casting doubt on the implementation of the law.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
Qataris face no major restrictions on freedom of movement within the country or on type or place of employment. Such freedoms, however, are not extended to noncitizens and foreign workers, who continue to face a variety of constraints. In 2020, the government expanded migrant workers’ ability to leave the country without the permission of their employers, extending the right to sectors previously excluded. That August, the emir also signed legislation allowing migrant workers to change employers before the end of their contract without their existing employer’s permission, so long as they provide written notice. However, Amnesty International noted that employers would still manage workers’ residence permits and could still file criminal “absconding” charges against workers who leave their jobs without following the proper procedures.
Each year, up to 100 children and foreign spouses of Qatari women, as well as individuals who provide exceptional skills or services to the country, can receive permanent residency, giving them access to state education and health benefits and greater rights to own property and run businesses in Qatar.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
Qataris are permitted to own property and start private businesses, although the process of obtaining necessary commercial permits can be cumbersome. With some exceptions, noncitizens are generally barred from owning property and require Qatari partners to own and operate businesses. Women do not have rights equal to those of men under inheritance laws.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
There are several legal constraints on marriage, and women are typically at a disadvantage to men under laws on personal status matters. Marriage contracts require the consent of the woman’s male guardian, and citizens must obtain government permission to marry foreigners. The foreign wives of Qatari men can obtain citizenship, but foreign husbands of Qatari women are eligible only for residency. Domestic violence and spousal rape are not specifically criminalized. Extramarital sex is illegal.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
Many foreign nationals face economic abuses including the withholding of wages, contract manipulation, poor living conditions, and excessive working hours. However, fear of job loss and deportation often prevents them from asserting their limited rights. Women household workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
International organizations have drawn attention to the harsh working conditions of migrants building the infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. In February 2021, a report from The Guardian estimated that more than 6,500 migrant worker deaths had been recorded in the 10 years since Qatar was awarded World Cup hosting rights. Three Norwegian journalists investigating migrant worker conditions in Qatar were arrested and briefly detained by the authorities in November 2021.
The government has undertaken some reforms to mitigate these problems. A 2017 law guarantees household workers a maximum 10-hour working day, one rest day a week, three weeks of annual leave, and an end-of-service payment, among other provisions. However, the government lacks enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance, and the 2017 law’s standards are weaker than those in the main labor law. A 2020 reform established a monthly minimum wage of 1,000 riyals ($275) for all workers, regardless of sector or nationality. Authorities introduced a nondiscriminatory minimum wage in March 2021 (the first in the region), benefiting an estimated 400,000 workers, equivalent to 20 percent of the private sector workforce. In May 2021, a ministerial decision expanded the hours during which outside work is prohibited between June 1 and September 15 to mitigate the effects of heat stress during the summer months.
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Global Freedom Score25 100 not free