April 20, 2003

Democracy in Qatar

Jonathon, the Head Heeb, tells us that democracy is coming to the gulf, that the citizens of Qatar will vote on a new constitution on April 29th. It is a step forward.

One of my current projects is to try to understand what folks mean when they use the word democracy and to try to establish a working definition that I can use in my writing (stay tuned). So, while this may be a big step for a middle eastern country I will let you be the judge of whether these items are what you think democracy should be about:

Article 8
The Rule of the State shall be hereditary within the Al Thani family and by the male successors....
They have given women the vote but not the opportunity to rule. And never mind if you are not part of the Al Thani family. Oh, and the Emir (the ruler) determines his own take of the wealth:
Article 17
The financial remuneration of the Emir, as well as the gifts and assistance shall be defined as per a decision to be taken by the Emir annually.
Some 'bill of rights' provisions are well written. Others, as Jonathon notes, are qualified:
Article 48
Press freedom, printing and publishing is assured in accordance with the law.
Article 44
The right of assembly is assured to the citizens as per the provisions of the law.

Qatar may currently have the freeest press in the Middle East but that phrase 'in accordance with the law' which pops up repeatedly in this document is a gaping loophole. It seems to me that if a democracy is not going to risk degeneration into statist or majoratarian tyranny it must have absolute protections for individual rights.

Just what is the document is trying to say about freedom to worship? Article 50 says
The freedom to worship is assured to all, in accordance with the law and the requirements of protecting the public system and public behaviour.
And Article 1 says
Islam is the State's religion and the Islamic Shariah is the main source of its legislations.
And articles 19 notes that
The State shall preserve the principles of the society and maintain security, stability and equal opportunities to the citizens.
At least one reading of this suggests that since Islam is the state's religion and the state shall preserve the principles of the society then the state expects Islam to be the religion that is freely worshipped.

This is probably not a problem to a people who believe in the tight integration of religion into the affairs of state and life in general. It is not, though, I think consistent with a euro-US view of what constitutes a working democracy.

Jonathon also notes that the Advisory Council can overrule the Emir with a 2/3 majority. Yep, it does say that. It also says (Article 77) that the Emir appoints 15 of the 45 members of the Advisory Council so in reality it probably takes 100% of the elected members to overrule the Emir. Oh, and Article 104 gives the Emir the right to dissolve the Council and to handle legislative powers until a new Council in seated.

W might like to implement this constitution here in the US.

Posted by Steve on April 20, 2003

I am a citizen of Qatar and I would like to say that this might not necessarily be the ultimate constitution, but it is a major step in Qatar. Twenty years ago, men would be ashamed to put women in the front seat, now women can drive! It may not seem like anything to you,but it is a big deal for us. 98% of Qatari citizens voted for the Constitution. One cannot move into democracy in one big step. Qatar must take small steps to make this country a "democracy." Maybe it will never become a democracy, we'll just have to wait and see. I am happy with my life here in Qatar. Now I am able to wear whatever I want, drive, vote, run for office amongst other things.
I think other countries in the Gulf deserve this criticism more than Qatar.

Posted by Amani at November 8, 2003 2:19 AM
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