First Shura elections spark controversy
Originally published on Global Voices
This post was published on 19 September by the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the MENA region. An edited version is republished as per a republishing agreement.
The London-based Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) called on Qatari authorities to release 21 citizens who were detained earlier this month for peacefully protesting recently-issued laws that regulate the state’s first legislative elections.
In a statement published on September 19, GCHR urged the Qatari government “to immediately release all detainees in connection with the recent peaceful protests, and to protect public freedoms, especially freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly.”
The group also called on Doha to amend three laws that regulate Qatar’s first-ever Shura Council elections.
On July 29, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, ratified Law No. (6) of 2021 that governs procedures for the Shura Council elections due to be held in October, in which two-thirds of the 54-seat assembly are to be elected for the first time. The emir also ratified Law No. (7) of 2021 which details the formation of the council and its jurisdictions. Furthermore, the emir issued Decree No. (37) of 2021 defining the 30 electoral districts of the Shura Council, from which one member is to be elected for each electoral district.
The two laws and the associated decree are seen by GCHR, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and others to establish blatant discrimination between Qatari citizens, denying a large group of them the right to run for office or the right to vote, or both, and completely marginalising other groups in society.
According to a report issued by HRW on September 9, the new electoral regime bars Qataris who are classified as “naturalized” rather than “native” under the country’s controversial 2005 nationality law from running as candidates and prohibits them from voting.
Unprecedented popular protests
The ratification of these laws triggered rare protests in Qatar, by mostly members of Al-Murra tribe, one of Qatar’s largest tribes, whose members are largely denied the right to run for office, vote, or both.
A peaceful gathering held on August 9 by Al-Murra tribesmen demanded that the Shura Council elections law be overturned, as well as demanded the right to full citizenship, respect for freedom of expression, and the promotion of social justice among citizens. The protests continued for several days.
The security forces made several attempts to break up what turned into a sit-in. They also stormed the homes of influential members of the tribe, arresting dozens of them who led the protests and participated in them.
Detained and denied family access
According to GCHR, reliable local sources have confirmed that the number of detainees from this tribe has exceeded 50. Many have been released after being forced to sign written pledges not to demonstrate again. However, 21 people remain in detention at the State Security Service or in police stations, according to the same sources. The authorities denied them access to their families or to a lawyer.
Among the detainees from the tribe are Hazzaa bin Ali Abu Shraydeh, Dr. Rashid bin Ali Abu Shraydeh, Saeed Al Dajran, Jaber Abu Shaqla, Abdullah Al Alyan, and poets Saleh Al Nusheira and Ali bin Rashid Al Subaih Al-Marri.
Hazzaa bin Ali Al-Marri, PhD, is a lawyer who played a prominent role in leading and mobilizing for these protests. He appeared in several recordings, in one of which he made an appeal to the Emir of Qatar, saying:
We will demand our rights and dignity in this country and from within the country, even if we are destined to die in prison.
Hazzaa uses his Twitter account to publish his frank words and critical opinions on what is happening in Qatar. On July 28, he wrote:
منذ نشر الدستور في الجريدة الرسمية ونحن ننتظر استكمال المؤسسات الدستورية،تأخر لأكثر من 15 عام،تأخر وتأخرت معه المحكمة الدستورية،ونسأل الله أن يأتي بعد هذا التأخير كل الخير. https://t.co/X7fW0Ko7Au
— د.هزّاع بن علي (@DrAbusharida) July 27, 2021
Since the constitution was published in the Official Gazette and we have been waiting for the constitutional institutions to be completed, it has been delayed for more than 15 years, and the Constitutional Court was delayed with it. We pray this delay brings good news.
GCHR was informed that the protesters have designated his home, located in the Al-Muaither area of Al-Rayyan City, 16.5 km from the capital Doha, as the headquarters of their gatherings.
“Chosen candidates and voters”
The state’s first elected Shura Council, due to take place on October 2 and governed by these discriminatory laws, will consist of 54 seats.
On September 15, Qatar’s Supervisory Committee of the Shura Council elections announced that 294 candidates, from over 30 constituencies across the country, have registered their candidacy in the preliminary election lists. Reports received by GCHR confirmed that some candidates were forced to withdraw due to pressure from influential government forces, and that others had their names removed from the candidates’ registry.
On the same day, Mubaraka Al-Marri, a Qatari female citizen tweeted to her 23,000 followers:
— مباركة المري #2022 (@MBH_68) September 15, 2021
My brothers and sisters in Constituency (16), my name has been removed without my knowledge and without notifying me of any appeal, and without my ceding [my candidacy]. I will reach to the Elections Committee to clarify the reasons for [my] exclusion.
Meanwhile, many citizens have taken to Twitter to describe the upcoming elections as a sham that does not represent the people of Qatar.
Mohammed Almarri tweeted:
تأسيس #مجلس_الشورى_القطري وآلية انضمام جميع اعضاءه سواء بالتعيين او “بالانتخابات” ليس لها علاقة بالديمقراطية ، والسبب ان مُرشحي #انتخابات_مجلس_الشوري والناخبين تختارهم الحكومة بدون ادنى مبادئ العداله والمساواة ولا حتى المصلحه العامة!!!
— Mohammad Almarri (@UserAlmarri) September 17, 2021
Establishing the Qatari Shura Council and the mechanism by which members are to join, whether by appointment or ‘elections,’ has nothing to do with democracy, and the reason is that the Shura Council’s candidates and voters are chosen by the government without the slightest principles of justice and equality, not even public interest!!!