Writers and intellectuals critical of Qatar are free to visit the country and share their opinions, even if they differ from the government’s stance, a high-ranking local official has said.
Culture Minister Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al Kuwari said the only off-limit subjects are those that “offend” Islamic values, according to a statement carried by the government-run Qatar News Agency (QNA).
He added that Qatar is sufficiently confident in itself as a country that it does not need to block contrarian viewpoints.
“This is the freedom that we enjoy,” he said.
Al Kuwari made the comments this weekend at Doha’s annual International Book Fair.
The event is popular among residents in part because of its wide range of titles, many of which cannot be found at the country’s limited number of bookstores.
Publishing industry observers have previously said that books at the fair are not subjected to the Ministry of Culture’s standard review of publications imported into Qatar.
While publications aren’t technically banned here, some books – particularly those dealing with controversial topics such as sex or religion – are sometimes not approved, which effectively prevents bookstores from selling them.
Stories set in Qatar also appear to be sensitive subjects for the country’s censors.
Al Kuwari previously promised to overhaul his ministry’s system of reviewing publications in late 2013. However, his focus at the time was on making the system more efficient for publishers and cutting bureaucracy, rather than loosening restrictions.
His most recent comments appear focused on allowing controversial writers to enter the country. Despite the limited scope of his statement, it nevertheless comes at a time when many are questioning the limits of free speech in Qatar.
Many Qatar residents have expressed reluctance to air their views publicly since the country enacted a new cybercrime law last September.
The legislation contains vaguely worded provisions that outlaw the online publication of any content that “violates any social values or principles” or jeopardizes “general order.”
No one appears to be facing any charges yet under the new law in Qatar.
However, elsewhere in the Gulf, authorities in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – which all have similar legislation – have arrested individuals for critical comments posted on Twitter, according to various media reports.
Al Kuwari said those with negative views of Qatar should visit the country to base their opinions on first-hand information:
“We are keen to invite our opponents before our supporters because we believe in freedom of thought. (Negative viewpoints) could result (from) ignorance and lack of information, so we are calling upon (critics to) see the remarkable achievements made in all fields.”
Human rights activists regularly give Qatar credit for allowing them into the country to investigate the living and working conditions of migrants and, in many cases, formally present their findings.
Amnesty International, Building and Wood Workers’ International and the United Nations have all held press conferences in Doha to share their critical conclusions.
In contrast, UAE immigration officials barred Human Rights Watch researchers from entering the country last year.
A high-profile exception in Qatar was the detention of two British human rights researchers who visited the country last August. While critics blasted their sudden disappearance, some observers questioned the legitimacy of their employer.
The organization appeared to have financial connections and sympathies with the UAE, which was embroiled in a diplomatic dispute with Qatar at the time.
Meanwhile, scores of foreign journalists have visited Qatar in recent years without issue, visiting the Industrial Area and talking to expat laborers before publishing stories that frequently cast the country in a negative light.
While QNA’s English-language version of Al Kuwari’s comments did not touch on the issue of nationalities, the Peninsula reported that he was specifically referring to “foreign writers and intellectuals,” raising a question about whether there is less leniency for nationals.
For example, Qatari poet Mohammed Rashid al-Ajami is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence on charges of inciting the overthrow of the government.
A lawyer for Al-Ajami – who goes by the name Mohammed Ibn Al-Dheeb in his poetry – argued that he was provoked into reading poetic verses that were indirectly critical of Qatar’s royal family. The poems were apparently later uploaded to YouTube without his knowledge.
Attorney Najeeb al-Nauimi also said the poem was recited during a private gathering – not in public, as is prohibited under law.
Others said it was irrelevant whether Ibn Al-Dheeb made his comments in public or private, and that he should be free to recite a poem to anyone.
Only those that offend Islamic values? That’s as vague (by design, I’m sure) as the rest of the law. Depending on who you ask you’ll get various renderings of Islamic values, if women should cover their faces, if it’s OK to beat your wife, etc, etc. So essentially, he said a lot of words but still said nothing? I fail to see any clarification that was made…..
Non Qataris will get a certain amount of tolerance, if they over step they will be asked to leave. Qataris will have to know their place and open dissent will not be allowed.
Don’t forget we still have the spreading false news or rumours law. That can be used to imprison and silence anyone on trumped up charges.
Ya if they start enforcing that, I’m sure you’ll find a way to comment from behind bars
Have I commited any crime?
“That can be used to imprison and silence anyone on trumped up charges.” A spoon can be used to perform open heart surgery, but just saying it doesn’t make it true. So do tell, is spreading the unfounded assumption that the cyber crime law will be used to imprison and silence people on fabricated charges violating the false news or rumours law you speak of
I have read your comment half a dozen times and I can’t understand it. Will you rephrase?
Sure, what don’t you understand?
Please rephrase the last sentence beginning with “So do tell…” what is the main idea of it?
Inferring, without evidence, that a law to protect the spread of false information will be used indiscriminately on innocent people
Ah, I see. I’d disagree and say that an inference is subjective and at a very low level of evidence. You and I can see the same event and draw different inferences from it, can we not?
Obviously, and likely a case one will argue in defence of crossing the line
I think that we will both agree that the perceptions of the existence of a ‘line’ let along its location, will be enough to keep willing debaters going for some time.
I’m not debating the line, I’m highlighting the irony in the initial comments that seemed to be lost on the commenter, that is, but not limited to, how openly and free all the comments here are within moderated standards which we agree to, but how most of the criticism is about how supressed expression is or could be. The spirit of the law being specifically highlighted in said comment, is to stop false rumours, false news, invoking fear, damaging reputations missing the point about being accountable really for flippancy, which is the same thing. So I’m not debating the inference of the comment, although the word ‘can’ is used to express a possibility which in itself infers the probability through its use. The irony is that in trying to make a likeable point about how this law will for sure be misused, the commenter is in fact abusing the protection that law is meant to afford the public and private stakeholders by being baseless and an opinion dressed as fact.
Je suis charlie
Well I guess Richard Dawkins won’t be appearing in a Qatar Foundation debate any time soon….
I like the idea of what he says but the Iranian religious dictators say the same but in practice oppression is still widespread.
Hopefully Qatar is moving along the the right path and is not afraid of its citizens or visitors. Let’s hope the wind of change blows through a progressive society.
Talking of Dawkins, here’s a link with an Arabic translation of the ‘God Delusion’ in PDF format at the bottom for anyone who may be interested…..an unofficial translation, but I’m sure RD doesn’t care….downloaded 10m times apparently, 30% in KSA!
Thanks. Here’s a link to the English version of the Quran. Apparently over 350 people convert to Islam every day in the US alone.
Good for them. At least they have that choice. In Qatar it is the death penalty for leaving Islam but it must be said it has not been enforced for sometime. However in Saudi and Pakistan you cannot say that
And how many leave Islam everyday? We would need to compare the two figures.
Well, you have to respect the massive choice these people make, often against the current of their surroundings, families, friends. In addition to belief, there are lifestyle choices involved. Taking that leap requires quite a bit of bravery.
No doubt, no doubt. Lifestyle changes of that type can be difficult.
In the “WEST” is not like here. People look into, change religion, don’t like it, convert back. this scenario plays out often I’d think. We have that freedom that is not enjoyed in more conservative societies. That’s an impossibility here often under threat of death.
Of course, being murdered by people that don’t agree with you or by your family takes a lot of bravery.
I do know people who’ve been disowned by their families after converting to Islam, and I’m sure the same happens the other way around too, when a person becomes less religious than their families would want. That doesn’t take away from the massive personal choices these people make.
Just for balance…….
His many fake conversion to marry a muslim? I know of at least six and I don’t have many friends…..
Sure, that happens too… fake is maybe a bit strong but people do convert for love sometimes. What they do with their faith afterwards is another matter.
I’ll be your friend here on Doha News comments. I’m a Muslim, I know many genuine converts to Islam, and although I don’t agree with all your views, I have nothing against you personally.
I’ll be your friend too
Un-huh, and I have a bridge to sell you really cheaply.
Meaningless words at a book fair cost nothing. Qatar allows little internal dissent, and any international criticism is met with either smoke-and-mirrors excuses or the promise of impending remedial action that somehow never happens..
true : so why is Mohammed Rashid al-Ajami imprisoned then ?
Given that his trial was held in secret it’s hard to tell. Nobody can actually pinpoint which poem caused offence, and he called the Emir “a good man” so it hard to believe that he was guilty of insulting the Emir.
His trial (at least parts of it) were not in secret – I remember we covered some of the hearings.
Correct Shabina, some was in public, but the detailed “evidence” on which he was convicted was not made public. And frankly to say that “parts of it were not in secret,” as that makes it somehow acceptable, is not what anybody from a democratic culture wants to read.
Welcome to QATAR
‘Staunch defenders of free press’ attend Paris rally?w=480&h=1155
This is a huge step and a good step!
Each country has its own rules and regulations. I love what Qatar has ‘done with the place’. People are safe and could have a healthy and safe life. Those who do not like it, should leave the place to somewhere where you feel more ‘fitting’.
Yes! but they are like greedy hogs whining and getting money
Althani, usually I like what you post but on this one I would like to correct you. There is an assumption that all expats here are paid a lot more here than they earned back in their home country. This is not necessarily true, especially when the cost of living here is taken into account and the net profit or loss is examined.I was financially better off in the UK but it was a choice I made to come here to see a different part of the world. I did not have to come here and to do so I left a secure job in the UK. I would also like to answer those (not you) who sometimes say that we come here because we are not good enough to keep our jobs back home. If that were the case then people should not fly on Qatar Airways,Emirates or Fly Dubai or many other companies where lives are in the balance. We are here by choice but it is a contract, we provide a service that is either not available locally or that locals are not willing to do themselves. For this service we are paid, we do not receive charity and we are not guests in the country. By providing the service and getting paid we have the right to be here. When contracts are finished by one party or the other we can then leave. While we are here we have the right to complement or complain about anything of the country that we wish unless we agree otherwise in contract. We are also bound by statute which we cannot avoid through contract. Whether people like this or not is irrelevant as it is the fact of the situation. Our lives and existence have the same value as local lives. One is not more important than the other. It may be your country but it is also for the time being where we live.
Hmmm, does that then make those who designed the system swine herders? 😉
Anyway, I dismiss attitudes such as yours, when there are enough Qataris to adequately staff the country then the system will change, until then, like any service, you have to pay market price to get the services you want. Qatar faces stiff competition and low-desirability, so salaries are high. Why do so many have issues with this?
Are you sure that you understood the comment?
The way that things are going today I’m not sure that I understand anything.
I was a bit confused by the reply but I did spend 5 mins trying to consider all angles and possible meanings. Came up with nothing though. Clarified now though.
Just think, five minutes of your life that you’ll never get back.. 😉
Ah, now I understand! My swineherder comment was meant for guest, not you.
Your reply is great, Actually my comment was out of hand, But to be honest before I ever made contact with this site I never had that view towards expats or anyone not local, Just like how countless expats here love to make false assumptions as well, Calling us idiots and monkeys, anyway it’s all good
I said it before on this website, and i will say again. The greatest problem here is that it is completely base on generalization of people by Nationality. unfortunately, many people do not see this as big issue.
I notice unfortunately, majority not all Western expats generalize Qataris when they comment, majority of Qataris not all generalize everybody for reasons known to them, Filipinos not all generalize Indians/Pakistani/Nepalis/Other Arabs etc, dont even let us talk about the Kerelite Indians, Majority don’t want to see the black Africans and the labourer at all…two groups that suffer most in my opinion. its goes on and on from one nationality to another. some people even respect or not to respect base on your religion, where you work or type of car you drive.LOL. Here, people are judge directly without any form of direct conversation with the person based on nationality or skin colour. Until people are judge base on their personality and behavior things will not change for the better. This is my personal experience since June 2011 in Doha.
In conclusion, generally in spite of all these which is not peculiar to Qatar, is not a bad place to live.
I hate judge mental generalizing people.. It’s deep rooted in Qatar..
I understand that it is difficult being the minority in your own country. I also understand that there is a lot of abuse thrown at Qataris much of which is racist and should not be tolerated in the same way that it should not be done anywhere. What we sometimes forget is that you guys are subject to most of the same frustrations that we are on a daily basis. However the other side to this is that for many expats the only contact that we have with Qataris or people who appear Qatari is on the road and it is there I am afraid that a lot if not most of the damage is done. I have been here fore 3 years in March but I have only met with a handful of Qataris in person. Those I have met have been very pleasant to me and make me feel sorry that I don’t know more of you.
I agree 100%, Actually it’s really sad that were all kinda segregated into groups, What I know is that generally Qatari people aren’t as so social in general, We act very dense in social settings even with other Qatari like in majilis or something, But very friendly with friends, Maybe that’s the issue? we can’t connect to well with expats? That’s just from my experience anyway..
Perhaps someday we will discuss this over coffee.
I agree that people should have the possibility for constructive criticism and anything that can improve their living standards. I’m actually in the situation you describe: I’m making less than a made before by changing jobs – but I did it for 2 reasons, the jobs is more in line with what my heart years for, helping people, and 2) it facilitates practicing my religion and the ability to pray no time every day, a luxury you don’t have in Europe. A colleague recently told me: ‘I’m bother by all the Islam here’. That’s the kind of remarks that makes me tell him; in that case, you should look for some other place to live as the religion is clearly embedded in this society. And if that’s what disturbs you about this place, you’ll never fit in.
Good comment and I agree. I prefer a secular setup but I knew before I came here that it would be as it is. There will always be people here who just cannot come to terms with that. For them there may be no other choice but to leave which is fine as the choice to come here was a bad decision for them.
Did I really read that? The professionals are paid well, no question, but then Qatar needs to pay them well to attract their expertise (not that Qatar always understands how to use it). The rest are people from undeveloped countries with no local employment opportunities so no means of supporting their family, and no future, Their only option is labouring in places like Qatar which by the Kafala depress their wages, subjects them to often awful living conditions and generally exploit them to their last drop of blood. The pittance they send home allows their families to survive. Greedy hogs?
Yes, all those thousands of sub-contracted labourers, bound by kefala, yes, they’re all safe and healthy, loving the place, I’m sure…….stop judging the place through only your own lens. And of course, ironically, considering your comments, many would like to leave, because it is not what they were told or promised, but they can’t because they don’t have their passports or an exit permit!
I do not know each person individually, but I have spoken to many ‘workers’ across the board. If you have been around the world, you’ll encounter plenty of situations where people are taken advantage of.. even (or maybe even more so) in New York city. So I would definitely never pretend all is good everywhere, but these things are greatly exaggerated most of the time; people that want to leave, will find a way to leave. And word to mouth would have such an impact that the availability of labour for that market and lack thereof would make the market implode over the course of a few years. Yes, not every person in treated as a prince when arriving in a foreign country, but I’ve spoken to plenty of people who told me that they make in a year what would take them 10 years or more to make in their own country. Some nuance here and there ..
Are you trying to contradict the Qatari Culture Minister? He said critics are welcome and you are asking them to leave? I’m sure you must be in a better position to decide for Qatari Culture than him.
I’ll get back to you when you learn how to read..
I believe I am perfectly capable of reading and comprehending your basic level of English. You asked people who criticize Qatar to leave. The culture minister of Qatar welcome critics in Qatar. Hence, you are contradicting the culture minister.
Now if you want to get back to me after you have learned to express yourself better in the English language, please go ahead and take your time.
I remember seeing a Winnie the Pooh book in Jarir bookstore once. I nostalgically picked it up to have a look and was shocked to find someone had gone through every page with a black marker to cover up the character “Piglet”! Every book on the shelf was done line this. I guess he must have been offense enough to warrant attention from the censors. Crazy.
Piglet is a dangerous subversive. One look at his thighs and you crave a bacon sandwich….
What’s the definition of Islamic values? What are they? What’s the definition of “offend”?
Whatever they want it to be. See Pakistan, Saudi, Iran, Sudan and a few others…. Plus a Nepalese teacher falsely accused in Qatar…
Do you have a blog MIMH? I might as well
Yes. Too busy to update it recently. (On the run from the secret police)
The name is familiar and doesn’t the guy has a daughter living a nice life in Belgium?