|Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani with chiefs of staff of countries militarily involved in Libya [Reuters]|
The Gulf state of Qatar, which has actively backed Arab Spring uprisings, has announced plans to hold elections to its own advisory legislative council in 2013.
The election will be the first to the Shura Council, 30 of whose 45 members will be elected and the others appointed by the emir under a constitution approved in 2003. All the body’s current members are appointed.
“We have decided that the Shura [Advisory] Council elections would be held in the second half of 2013,” Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the emir, said in a speech to the body, the state news agency QNA reported.
“We know that all these steps are necessary to build the modern state of Qatar and the Qatari citizen who is capable of dealing with the challenges of the time and building the country,” the emir said.
“We are confident that you would be capable of shouldering the responsibility.”
He did not say if the council would be given more weight. At present, it can discuss and pass some laws but they have to be approved by the emir.
Qatar, ruled by the Al-Thani family for more than a century, has been a major supporter of the uprisings that toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and actively backed Libyan rebels who overthrew Muammar Gaddafi.
The small, wealthy state located on a peninsula adjacent to Saudi Arabia is viewed as one of the countries least vulnerable to the drive for reform sweeping the region, its natural gas riches giving its 350,000 citizens the world’s highest per capita income.
The current emir seized power from his father in a bloodless coup in 1995 and in 2003 declared his son Tamim his heir.
“Qatar played a major role supporting democracy in countries like Libya, so this decision helps build the narrative of Qatar as a pro-democracy force,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.
“One criticism was that it wasn’t meeting expectations on domestic reform. That is now addressed as it makes greater representation for citizens at home.”
Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, won the rights last year to host the 2022 Football World Cup.
“The world is turning its eyes towards Qatar, so Qatar has to be concerned about how others are seeing it,” Hamid said.