Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani [Mustafa Yalçın/Anadolu Agency]
Tribal sensitivities have resurfaced in Qatar after some members of a main tribe found themselves ineligible to vote in the country’s first legislative polls, due in October, under a new electoral law for the advisory Shura Council.
Members of the Al Murrah tribe, one of the Gulf’s largest bedouin groups with roots tracing back to eastern Saudi Arabia, gathered this week to protest at the law that bars Qataris whose family was not present in Qatar before 1930 from voting.
Videos posted on social media on Monday showed a group of men protesting outside a building in Qatar. Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the footage.
One tribesman posted a video appeal to the emir. “Unfounded political inequality and selective citizenship could lead to divisions,” lawyer Hazaa bin Ali said in the appeal to Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani posted on YouTube and on his Twitter account.
“We stood by your ancestors, your highness, and we stood by you in the blockade crisis,” he added. “We will demand our rights and our dignity…We ask you to do what is right.”
Some members of the tribe, which includes several clans, have had a fractious relationship with Qatar’s ruling family stretching back decades, including when some sided with Saudi Arabia and its allies after they imposed a boycott on Qatar in mid-2017 in a dispute that was partially resolved in January.
In 2005, Qatar stripped some tribe members of their citizenship, saying it was because they held dual nationality, denying it was punishment for suspected involvement in a failed 1996 coup to reinstate deposed emir Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad.
The social media debate about electoral inclusion in the small but wealthy gas-producing state, where foreigners account for the bulk of the population, prompted the interior ministry earlier this week to transfer seven people to the public prosecutor for spreading false news and inciting “strife”.
The government communication office did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. A former prime minister and member of the ruling family called on Tuesday for patience.
“We are undertaking an experiment of popular participation, I do not want to call it democracy, and in any new experience there will be some gaps, but this is not the way to apply pressure,” ex-premier Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani tweeted.
The emir last month approved laws for elections to choose two-thirds of the Shura Council, with Sheikh Tamim continuing to appoint 15 members of the 45-member body.
The Council will have legislative authority and approve the state budget. It will exercise control over government ministries but not separate bodies set up by the emir to decide defence, security, economic and investment policy.
Kuwait is currently the only Gulf monarchy to give substantial power to an elected parliament, though ultimate decision-making rests with the ruler as in neighbouring states.
Qatar’s electoral law is based on a new constitution approved in a 2003 referendum, which stipulated the polls. The interior ministry on Wednesday announced extended hours in electoral districts to lodge complaints to the voters committee.
“We must show respect to the state and the sovereignty of law and can demand what we see as our rights through legal means,” tribesman Ali Fetais al-Marri, a former Qatari attorney general, said in a video on Twitter.
Other tribe members took to social media to urge support for the elections and a new Shura Council to review the laws.
Reflecting continued regional tensions in which social media has been a weapon, Marc Owen Jones, assistant professor at Hamad bin Khalifa University, published social media activity showing external accounts artificially amplifying the issue.