Last year's first Tuesday in November was probably a breakthrough day in the history of a small but today very important emirate in the Gulf - the State of Qatar.
That day, at the opening of the 49th regular session of the local Shura council, a parliamentary advisory board called Majlis as-Shura, the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, announced in his speech that elections to this assembly would be held in October this year. According to the emir, the preparations are in the final phase. The importance of this announcement is also evidenced by the fact that it took place in the presence of the Qatari Prime Minister and most of the government.
A bit of history
Shura council has existed for almost half a century. So why is the information about holding the election in 2021 so important? To answer this question, we need to look back at history. Shura council was founded in 1972 as an advisory body to the emir, and its members were not elected but appointed. Only the Qatari constitution, approved in a popular referendum in April 2003, turned it into a democratically elected body, two thirds of which are elected by universal suffrage and one third appointed by the emir. According to the constitution, Shura council should have three powers: to approve (but not prepare) the state budget; monitor the performance of ministers through a vote of no confidence and prepare, discuss and vote on proposed legislation that will become law by a two-thirds majority vote of Shura and the emir's consent.
Women named for the first time
However, the real election has never taken place. It was announced in 2006 that it would take place in 2007. The Legislative Council then postponed it to June 2010. However, it did not take place then either, and in November 2011 the then Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani announced that the election would take place in 2013. However, it was later postponed due to the ongoing handover of power to his son, the current emir, Sheikh Tamim. The term of office of the Consultative Assembly was therefore extended until 2016.
Another historic milestone took place in November 2017, when Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani appointed four women to Shura council, while being able to participate in the assembly's work for the first time. After that, however, the election was again postponed to 2019, while the previous term of office of the members of Shura was extended once again. In October 2019, the emir issued an order to establish an election organization committee chaired by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdul Aziz Al Thani.
An important element
In this context, the words of the Emir of Qatar at the meeting must be seen very positively and hopefully: "This election will be held in accordance with the Constitution and the referendum ... We are therefore taking an important step to strengthen citizen participation ... We have our well-established system, which is rooted in society and connected to the structure of our community. It is not a pluralistic system of many parties, but rather an emirate system based on proven traditions of fair and rational governance, which is connected to people through a promise of loyalty, loyal relations, mutual trust and direct communication between the system and community ... Election is not a criterion of national identity. This identity has crystallized over time and has best manifested itself in the form of solidarity and cohesion of our community with its tolerant moral values and love for our country, as demonstrated, among other things, in the rejection of the blockade."
Let us therefore wish Qatar that this step towards the democratization of society given by the constitution can finally be fulfilled. Although Shura does not have decision-making powers, it is in terms of historical continuity in the public life of the State of Qatar an important element. Its full occupation in accordance with the constitution and on the basis of valid election will undoubtedly be an extremely important step on this path.
The author is the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Czech Republic to the State of Kuwait and the State of Qatar.