Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Qatar underwent a peaceful transition of power in June when Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani abdicated in favor of his 33-year old son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Maintaining an assertive foreign policy in the region, Qatar provided financial and material support to factions of the Syrian rebels attempting to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. Qatar also provided financial support to the Muslim Brotherhood–led government of Egypt until it was overthrown in June.
Large numbers of migrant workers have reportedly been subjected to slave-like conditions, which have received increased attention in the run-up to the 2022 football World Cup being held in Doha.
Political Rights: 10 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 2 / 12
The head of state is the emir, whose family holds a monopoly on political power. The emir appoints the prime minister and cabinet, as well as an heir-apparent after consulting with the ruling family and other notables. In June 2013, Hamad abdicated, handing over power to his fourth-born son, 33-year old Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani, the former head of state security, became prime minister as well as interior minister.
The constitution stipulates that 30 of the 45 seats of the parliament, the Advisory Council (Majlis Al-Shura), be filled through elections every four years; the emir appoints the other 15 members. However, elections for the Advisory Council have yet to take place, so all members are currently appointed. Elections scheduled to take place in 2013 were postponed due to the transfer of power to Tamim. The Advisory Council does not currently have the power to propose legislation, only to propose changes.
The country held its first elections in 1999 for a 29-member Central Municipal Council, a body designed to advise the minister on municipal affairs and agriculture. Its members serve four-year terms. In the most recent Municipal Council elections, held in May 2011, 4 of the 101 candidates were women; only one, who was running for reelection, won a seat. Voter turnout was 43 percent, with just 13,606 registered voters participating. In addition, Qataris voted in a 2003 referendum that overwhelmingly approved the country’s first constitution, which came into force in 2005. The new constitution slightly broadened the scope of political participation without eliminating the ruling family’s monopoly on power. Only a small percentage of the country’s population is permitted to vote in those elections that do take place, or to hold office.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 2 / 16
The government does not permit the existence of political parties. The system is dominated by the ruling family.
C. Functioning of Government: 3 / 12
Critics continue to complain of a lack of transparency in government procurement, which favors personal connections. Official information is very tightly controlled. However, Qatar was ranked 28 out of 177 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Discretionary Political Rights Question A: 3 / 4
Citizens can petition elected local government representatives with limited powers over municipal services; these representatives report to the appointed minister of municipal affairs and agriculture.
Civil Liberties: 18 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 8 / 16
Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, both print and broadcast media content are influenced by leading families. The top five daily newspapers are privately owned, but their owners and boards include members of the ruling family. In 1996, Hamad permitted the creation of Al-Jazeera, which has achieved global reach. Although it is privately held, the government has reportedly paid for the channel’s operating costs since its inception. As a result, Al-Jazeera generally does not cover Qatari politics. All journalists in Qatar practice a high degree of self-censorship and face possible jail sentences for slander. In October 2013, a 15-year prison sentence was upheld for poet Mohamed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, who was convicted in 2012 for insulting the emir through his poetry. Local news outlets were reportedly ordered by a Qatari court to refrain from covering the 2013 trial of two members of the royal family convicted for 19 deaths in a 2012 shopping mall fire.
In 2012, the Advisory Council approved a draft media law that would prevent journalists from being detained by authorities without a court order, and would allow them to protect their sources unless required to reveal them by a court. However, it also would impose fines of up to $275,000 for publishing or broadcasting material that criticizes the Qatari regime or its allies, insults the ruling family, or damages national interests. While state censorship is supposedly forbidden under the law, journalists would be required to obtain licenses and would be monitored by the Ministry of Arts, Heritage, and Culture. The draft law was still under consideration in 2013. In May, Qatar’s government endorsed a new cyber law that would place greater restrictions on content posted on social media and news websites. Under the proposed law, any content spreading “false news” or undermining “general order” would be prohibited and the poster subject to arrest and prosecution. The law was still awaiting the emir’s approval at year’s end. Qataris currently have access to the internet, but the government censors content and blocks access to sites that are deemed pornographic or politically sensitive.
Islam is Qatar’s official religion, though the constitution explicitly provides for freedom of worship. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs regulates clerical matters and the construction of mosques. Several churches have been built for Qatar’s Christian community. The constitution guarantees freedom of opinion and academic research, but scholars often practice self-censorship on politically sensitive topics. Several foreign universities have established branches in Qatar under a program to strengthen Qatar’s educational institutions.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 2 / 12
While the constitution grants freedoms of assembly and association, these rights are limited in practice. Protests are rare, with the government restricting the public’s ability to organize demonstrations. However, in December 2012, the government permitted a 300-person demonstration calling for Arab leadership on climate change and for improved migrant worker rights. All nongovernmental organizations need state permission to operate, and the government closely monitors their activities. There are no independent human rights organizations, but a government-appointed National Human Rights Committee, which includes members of civil society and government ministries, investigates alleged abuses.
A 2005 labor law expanded some worker protections, but it restricts the right to form unions and to strike. The only trade union allowed to operate is the General Union of Workers of Qatar, which prohibits the membership of noncitizens or government-sector employees.
F. Rule of Law: 4 / 16
Despite constitutional guarantees, the judiciary is not independent in practice. The majority of Qatar’s judges are foreign nationals who are appointed and removed by the emir. The judicial system consists of Sharia (Islamic law) courts, which have jurisdiction over a narrow range of issues including family law, and civil law courts, which have jurisdiction over criminal, commercial, and civil cases. Although the constitution protects individuals from arbitrary arrest and detention and bans torture, a 2002 law allows the suspension of these guarantees for the “protection of society.” The law empowers the minister of the interior to detain a defendant for crimes related to national security on the recommendation of the director-general of public security.
In June 2013, two members of the ruling family—Sheikh Ali bin Jassim al-Thani and his wife, Iman al-Kuwari—along with three others were found guilty of negligence and faced prison sentences of up to six years in connection with a 2012 fire in a Doha shopping mall that killed 19 people, including 13 children in a daycare center they owned. The daycare center lacked proper safety features such as emergency exits.
The Penal Code punishes homosexual acts with imprisonment, and Sharia law, which applies only to Muslims, prohibits any sexual acts outside of marriage. Same-sex relationships must be hidden in public.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 4 / 16
The constitution treats women as full and equal persons, and discrimination based on gender is banned. The new emir appointed one female minister, for communication and information technology; she is the third-ever female minister. In 2006, Qatar implemented a codified family law, which regulates issues such as inheritance, child custody, marriage, and divorce. While this law offers more protections for women than they previously enjoyed, women continue to face disadvantages, including societal discrimination, and few effective legal mechanisms are available for them to contest incidents of bias.
Domestic violence is not criminalized and is prevalent. The Qatar Foundation for Child and Woman Protection (QFCWP) has noted a significant increase in cases of violence since 2004. The 2011–2016 National Development Strategy includes measures to better protect victims of abuse, including laws against domestic violence, increased legal protections for victims, and robust social support services. In July, the government reorganized a handful of social services organizations, including the QFPWC putting them under the purview of the Qatar Foundation for Social Work. The QFPWC operated a shelter for abused women and worked to coordinate with the public prosecutor’s office to better facilitate charges against those suspected of domestic abuse. However, it is unclear if any domestic abuse charges were ever filed. Qatar is a destination for the trafficking of men and women, particularly for forced labor and prostitution.
While the constitution prohibits discrimination based on nationality, the government discriminates against noncitizens in the areas of education, housing, healthcare, and other services that are offered free of charge to citizens. Foreign nationals comprise 88 percent of the country’s population and over 90 percent of the workforce, and most rights do not apply to noncitizen residents. Many foreign workers face economic abuses, including the withholding of salaries or contract manipulation, while others endure poor living conditions and excessive work hours. However, fear of job loss and deportation often prevents them from exercising their limited rights. Female domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. In order to support infrastructure projects in preparation for the 2022 World Cup, Qatar is expected to import over 1.5 million migrant laborers. Human rights groups have documented unbearable working conditions, including withholding of wages, lack of food, water, and sanitation, and deaths.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year