Qatar is an Arab Emirate which has been ruled by the Al Thani Family since the mid 1800s. According to historical records, the Al Thani are named after the founder of the family Sheikh Thani bin Mohamed who is the father of Sheikh Mohamed bin Thani, the first ruler of the Qatar peninsula in the mid nineteenth century. Al Thani are a branch of the Arab tribe of Beni Tameem. The country gained its independence from the British in 1971 and was since ruled by Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani. Accused of taking the country's oil and gas earnings for personal use, the Amir's ended in 1995, when the Amir's s son and the country's current leader Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani came to power through a bloodless coup against his father. Since the coup Qatar's new leader Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani has introduced reforms to the Qatari political and economic system. The Qatari political system is made up from the following elements:
• The government's legislative branch is comprised of the Council of Ministers, which is composed of the leaders of Qatar's 15 ministries.
• The Advisory Council (Majlis al-Shura) is a 35-member consultative body.
Currently the representatives of Council of Ministers and representatives of the Majlis al Shura are elected only by the country's ruler and not the Qatari people, however this is set to change under the new constitution which comes to force in 2005. Currently members of the Council of Ministers and Majlis al Shura are chosen from the the most influential families of the Qatari society. The tasks of the two organisations are as follows:
The Council of Ministers proposes laws and decrees, while the Advisory Council (Majilis A shura) reviews legislation put forward by the Council of Ministers. After the legislation has been reviewed and consultations have been offered and reviewed, the final decision for the approval of the legislation will be made by the Amir. Nevertheless, since the change of leadership in 1995, there have been some steps taken towards the slow democratization of the Qatari political system. These include:
• The abolition of domestic press censorship
• the holding of elections to the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in April 1998;
• The first direct elections to the Central Municipal Council, held on 8 March 1999, at which women, too, were allowed to vote and stand for election. Although no women were elected in the municipal elections, in May 2003, Qatar appointed its first female member of the cabinet in the role of Minister for Education.
• In July 2002 the Majlis al Shura recommended the creation of a permanent constitution which is to supported by an elected parliament to Qatar's ruler. Subseqently Qatar's leader Sheikh Hamad promised that at least partly elected parliament will be in place before the end of 2003.
• As promised by Qatar's Amir in April 2003, Qatari voters (men and women) turned out to vote. The main goal of the elections was the approval of the constitution which calls for the establishment of a 45 member parliament, where 30 members are directly elected by the public, whilst the remaining 15 are chosen by the country's ruler
The constitution establishes a separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers and sets out the following distinctions and divisions of power:
• The 45-member Shura Council will have wide powers in legislating and questioning ministers as well as withdrawing confidence in them on the approval of one third of its members.
• Under the constitution, the Amir of Qatar appoints the prime minister and the cabinet, who in turn, are accountable to the Shura Council, which can remove a minister by a two-thirds vote.
• The proposed constitution provides for freedom of opinion and the formation of Non-Governmental organizations but does not authorize political parties.
• The constitution also guarantees equal rights for all citizens, including the rights of women to vote and to be elected. They took part in the municipal elections of 1999, the first elections ever to be conducted in Qatar, and the irst Qatari woman won a seat in the second municipal elections, held in April 2003.
• The constitution also gives the Shura Council the power to approve or reject a budget proposal.
• The Amir has to give a reason for rejecting a draft law, but he has to approve it if the Council passes it again with a two-thirds majority. The Amir also retains the right to suspend the law in extreme circumstances.
• The Amir has the power to dissolve the council but would then have to call fresh elections within six months.
• The assembly will be able to call Cabinet ministers to account and have them dismissed, but the constitution states that Qatar's rulers will be descendants of the incumbent Amir, with the office passing to the son of the Amir designated by him as crown prince.
Further reforms were announced in May 2004 when the Amir approved a new legislation (to come into effect in late 2004) which allows workers to form trade unions and take strike action. It also bans under-16s from working, sets an eight-hour working day and declares equal rights for women. According to Qatar's ruler, the constitution will come into force in 2005 subsequent to parliamentary elections being held. Although ultimately power in Qatari politics is held by the Amir, the recent elections in the country, and its new constitution which gives wide ranging freedom of expression, assembly and religion, reinforce Qatar's image as one of most reform minded and progressive countries of the Middle East.
By: Meir Javedanfar- www.meepas.com