30 members of the country’s legislative body were elected by the people on 2 October.
Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani inaugurated the opening session for the country’s first-ever elected Shura Council on Tuesday, marking a new chapter in Doha’s domestic affairs.
The Father Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani was also in attendance.
The amir started off his speech by congratulating the new Shura Council members in what he described as a “historical moment” that marks the completion of the institutions stipulated in the constitution.
“I am confident that you realise the greatness of the national responsibility in carrying out your legislative duties and in consolidating cooperation with the Council of Ministers to achieve the higher interest of the country,” said Sheikh Tamim.
Earlier this month, Qataris elected 30 members of the country’s legislative body for the first time, leaving the final 15 to be appointed by the amir himself.
Among the appointed members, which included two women, was Ahmed Nasser Ibrahim Al-Fadala as the Shura Council’s secretary-general who replaced his predecessor Fahad bin Mubarak Al Khayareen.
During the opening speech at the session, Sheikh Tamim acknowledged a series of achievements that have been accomplished in various fields, including food security, self-sufficiency and economic diversification.
“The state still has a lot to do in diversifying sources of income, but the task is not limited to the state. The private sector has a role in this, and in the field of the financial sector, despite the global tremors in the past years, this sector has shown cohesion in facing them,” said the amir.
He also noted how the recent change in Qatar Petroleum’s name to QatarEnergy reflects the Gulf state’s support for a transition towards clean and renewable energy, adding that Qatar pays special attention to environmental protection.
During his speech, Sheikh Tamim said he instructed the Council of Ministers to work on preparing legal amendments to promote equal Qatari citizenship. Those amendments will be later presented to the Shura Council to approve and modify them.
“Nevertheless, it is known that citizenship is not just a legal issue, but a civilisational issue before that and a loyalty and belonging, and a matter of duties and not just rights,” said Sheikh Tamim.
While the announcement of the country’s first Shura Council elections was met with global and local praise, the electoral law itself was criticised for its exclusion of some members of Qatari society. This sparked fierce debates online as well as small-scale protests that later calmly faded.
The current electoral law stipulates that Qatari nationals wishing to vote 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 Qatar by a specific date.
Candidates must also be “native” Qatari and aged 30 and above by the closing date of the nomination. As per a referendum voted in by Qataris in 2003, such laws can only be changed by the Shura Council, which was unable to do so until it’s elected into office.
The amir said the process requires “an intensive social and educational work” to counter “tribal bigotry vis-à-vis public interest or loyalty” to Qatar and its national unity.
“This negative aspect of tribalism took us all by surprise recently when some of its negative manifestations reminded us of its existence. Although our enlightened society swiftly overcame it, we cannot ignore the disease for mere disappearance of its symptoms,” said Sheikh Tamim.
On the World Cup
“As this FIFA Cup hosting has accelerated the completion of many of the projects that we were originally in need of, it also intersects with the social and cultural tasks and challenges that we face as a modern state whose global economy and trade relations are intertwined,” said Sheikh Tamim.
He noted that the major sporting event enhances Qatar’s global status and the role of sports in demonstrating the “the openness and tolerance of the hospitable Qatari people”.
Afghanistan remains a major file in Qatar’s foreign policy. The Gulf state hosted the Afghan peace process and has taken a significant role in recent evacuation efforts since the Taliban takeover of Kabul on 15 August.
Sheikh Tamim said Qatar’s role has been praised for not only evacuating Afghans and foreigners, but rather due to its belief in dialogue as an alternative to war. He added that Doha’s approach to resolving conflicts through mediation allowed it to accept a request to mediate between the US and the Taliban.
“As we aspire to a welfare society that is productive at the same time, and to a peaceful state, yet capable of defending itself, and a society with a high standard of living…we also look forward to a foreign policy that contributes to maintaining all these,” said the amir.
On the GCC
The Shura Council session comes almost ten months since the signing of the Al-Ula Declaration, which ended the GCC region’s worst diplomatic crisis in years.
“Brotherhood, history and geography make it incumbent to preserve the Gulf Cooperation Council and improve its institutions to commensurate with the aspirations of our peoples,” said Sheikh Tamim.
The amir also said the country seeks “to consolidate and develop the consensus achieved at Al-Ula summit”, which was held in Saudi Arabia on 5 January.
“We proceed from our well-established principles regarding justice in international relations, and from the standpoint that we are part of the two Arab and Islamic worlds, as we do not deny our identity,” he said.
On the pandemic
With the coronavirus still posing a threat to the world, the health crisis remains a key area of focus for authorities worldwide.
While Sheikh Tamim noted that the pandemic caused an unprecedented impact at a global level, he noted Qatar’s success in managing the crisis.
“Our health institutions have successfully passed the difficult test posed by the coronavirus, indicating the level of development they have accomplished in quantitative and qualitative terms,” he said.
The amir took the time to thank all institutions and their employees who helped the country succeed in its battle with the pandemic.
“We have sought to strike a balance between people’s health, as a priority, and the economic necessities, and I think we have presented a successful example in this difficult stage,” he said.
Sheikh Tamim ended his speech by wishing the new Shura Council success in fulfilling their tasks.