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Friday, October 22, 2021

What are the most pressing social issues for Qatar’s incoming Shura Council?


With Qatar just a day away from its first elected Shura Council, incoming members will be met with various issues.

The Shura Council elections in Qatar have been revered as a historic and massive step forward for the Gulf state in improving public inclusion in legislative matters.

More so, the elections have given the average Qatari a means of representation and a more active role in ensuring the growth and advancement of the nation’s society.

After just two weeks of campaigning efforts, candidates running for the race have focused concerns on these prominent social issues.

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Climate change

Among the top priorities for the incoming council is the rapid deterioration of the world’s climate.

The newly-elected Shura will have to tackle challenging environmental issues and develop related laws that will help promote sustainability and scientific research, according to Director of the Environmental and Municipal Studies Center at the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME) Dr. Mohamed Saif al-Kuwari.

He noted to Qatar TV that the new council will have a vital role in ensuring the country remains in line with the national plan for climate change, which is deemed vital on an international level.

A recent report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] said that global warming will keep intensifying over the next 30 years, with just a small chance remaining to prevent more drastic consequences of the climate crisis. The UN chief has since said that the report is “code red” for humanity.

Environmentalist and policy-oriented social change advocate Neeshad Shafi, said climate change should be among Qatar’s, as well as the region’s, highest concerns.

“For the GCC region, climate change implications will impact various fields, including environmental, economic, political and even security. The Arabian Peninsula is characterised by great variability in seasonal and annual precipitation, as well as extreme temperatures,” said Shafi.

The incoming council’s efforts should also include necessary suggestions needed to preserve local land and marine environment, both of which play a vital role in the country’s ecosystem and environmental culture.

Qatar has a diverse marine and land environment. The Gulf country’s waters are home to one of the largest herds of dugongs, with numbers of the shy and lovable marine mammal reaching 840, marking the largest gathering of the aquatic animals in Qatar in some three decades.

It also boasts large migrations of whale sharks, with more than 100 whale sharks congregating near coral reef colonies 90 kilometres away from land between the months of April and September every year.

Despite worrying statistics for global warming, Qatar has been actively working on improving conditions across the country in recent years.

The Gulf nation has engaged in major efforts to boost sustainability and environment preservation with several policies and plans ahead of the much-awaited World Cup 2022.

This includes the execution of major projects in infrastructure and transportation that follow the highest international standards.

In addition, Qatar is implementing gradual transportation to full-electric includes public bus services, government school buses, and Doha Metro’s buses. This aims to reduce harmful carbon emissions caused by conventional buses in less than a decade from now, in addition to achieving efforts to maintain environmental sustainability.

Authorities are also working towards establishing an integrated network of electric car chargers, in order to support the ministry’s plan to gradually transform the electric transport system.

Such efforts are crucial to Qatar, especially as the country works towards tackling the “worst sustainability, air quality” ranks.

Electoral law

The announced electoral law ahead of campaigning earlier this month caused tensions among some members of Qatar’s society, some of whom criticised candidacy and voting requirements.

In August, social media users in Qatar discussed the rules set in place for citizens to vote, as well as the criteria needed to run for a position in the council, sparking debates and small-scale protests in the Gulf state.

As per current law, Qatari citizens will be able to vote for 30 members of the 45-seat legislative council while the remaining 15 members will be selected by the amir himself.

To vote, Qatari nationals must be 18 by the time the final electoral lists are announced. However, those who have been nationalised are only eligible if their paternal grandfather was born in the Qatar.

The stipulations were met with objection by some who described them as “discriminatory” against members of Qatari society who cannot run as they are not considered “native Qatari”.

This sparked a nationality debate in Qatar, with members of some tribes in Qatar feeling excluded from participating in the elections and carrying out their civic duties. However, some members of those tribes have made it to the final list of the Shura Council election candidates.

As it stands, these stipulations are codified in the constitution, and such laws can only be changed by the Shura Council, which is unable to do so until it is elected into office.

Women in Qatar

With dozens of women in the race, various campaigns in Qatar have focused on improving the conditions of widowers and divorced women in the Gulf state, pushing the future council to look at the broader scope of women’s rights.

Over the past years, women in Qatar have made their mark in various fields, from breaking barriers in extreme air sports to dominating the academic and political fields.

However, change still needs to be made to advance women’s place in Qatari society. In 2017, four women were appointed to the Shura by the amir – the first time such move for the legislative body.

By the end of August this year, the preliminary list of nominees for the elections were announced and comprised of 300 Qataris. At least 40 women submitted applications to register as candidates for the Shura Council elections.

On 15 September, the list of the finalised candidates was released, which included 284 candidates, including 28 women, from a total of 30 electoral districts.

The solidified place of women in the upcoming Shura will further push the council to look further into women’s rights and needs.

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One example of an area of improvement is guardianship laws. A Human Rights Watch Report [HRW] revealed in March, titled “’Everything I Have to Do is Tied to a Man’: Women and Qatar’s Male Guardianship Rules” unveiled the layers of the male guardianship tradition as well as perceived “discriminatory” laws in the Gulf state.

The report complies 50 interviews of women affected by a patriarchal cultural system that restrains women from excelling by treating them as minors. This includes the right to travel, obtain college degrees as well as access to adequate gynaecological care.

Migrant rights

Qatar has made massive strides in improving the conditions of migrant workers in the Gulf state.

In March, Qatar introduced the region’s first ever non-discriminatory minimum wage, under which employers employers must pay allowances of at least QAR 300 for food and QAR 500 for housing on top of the minimum monthly basic wage of QAR 1,000.

Employers who pay their staff less than the minimum wage will face one-year in jail and a QR 10,000 fine.

As part of the major labour reform agenda, Qatar drastically enhanced monitoring across the board to detect violations, enacting swifter penalties and further strengthening the capacity of labour inspectors.

These labour reforms also include the dismantling of the controversial “kafala” or sponsorship system, becoming the first country in the region to do so.

However, some companies in Qatar have failed to adhere closely to new laws placed to protect the rights of migrants. This includes failure to follow summer outdoor working hours or not abiding by the newest labour laws.

Migrant rights’ activist Malcom Bidali said that the Shura Council will be the body that will “set the stage for a migrant worker’s experience from the moment he or she lands in the Gulf state, eagerly searching for a new life, career and future.”

“It is essential, therefore, to question whether, or how, the incoming council members – the first to be voted into public office by Qatari citizens – will respond to various demands and issues,” said Bidali.

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