Qatar is a hereditary emirate ruled by the Al-Thani family, headed by Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. The emir exercises full executive power. The 2005 constitution provides for continued hereditary rule by the emir's branch of the Al-Thani family. Shari'a (Islamic law) is a main source of legislation, and the emir legislates by decree. Political parties are forbidden by law. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces. There were judicially sanctioned corporal punishments and arbitrary and prolonged detentions in overcrowded and harsh facilities. The government continued to restrict civil liberties, such as freedoms of speech (including the Internet), press, assembly, and association. Some limitations on religious freedom existed. There were also some restrictions on foreign travel, as well as arbitrary deportations. Trafficking in persons was a problem. Legal and cultural discrimination against women limited their full participation in society. Worker rights were severely restricted, especially for foreign laborers and domestic servants.
The U.S. government seeks windows of opportunity to promote democratic reform and provides U.S. technical and programmatic assistance wherever possible. Major U.S. efforts focus on increasing awareness of the benefits of reform and broadening the political participation of citizens within the government. The U.S. government uses a combination of programmatic and diplomatic means to assist the government and citizens in their efforts to build and sustain democratic institutions. The U.S. government's democracy promotion efforts include: promoting democratic elections, the rule of law, and legislative reform; supporting civil society development, freedom of expression, and independent media; and engaging youth in the democratic process.
In April 2007 the country held its third election since 1995 for the Central Municipal Council. To assist, the U.S. government, through an implementing partner, provided technical assistance to the Permanent Election Committee, with an emphasis on increasing voter awareness and candidate training. The country is expected to hold the first elections for its parliamentary body, the Advisory Council, as soon as November 2008. In anticipation of the elections, the United States will assist with training and awareness programs. In 2007 the chief of mission and other U.S. officials held several roundtable discussions to discuss democratic values and ideals with prospective candidates for both elected bodies. The U.S. government also funded exchange programs for elections officials to learn about the U.S. electoral system.
To promote the rule of law and legislative reform, the U.S. government utilizes several resources. In the area of curriculum reform, a U.S. implementing partner provides technical assistance to the Qatar University College of Law. A U.S.-funded implementing partner also provides technical assistance to the Advisory Council and the Central Municipal Council and their administrative staffs on parliamentary and legislative procedures in advance of the upcoming parliamentary elections to strengthen the capacity of these bodies to legislate and advocate for democratic elections, procedures, and reforms. The U.S. government sponsors exchange programs for members of the local law community to expose participants to democratic systems of law outside of the country. Other U.S.-sponsored programs focus on training in investigative techniques, forensic studies, and legal procedures for security personnel. At the same time, U.S. efforts include engaging local stakeholders to advocate legal reform in accordance with internationally accepted norms and increase transparency in the legislative process. In 2007 high-level U.S. officials, including the U.S. attorney general, echoed this message while visiting the country.
The U.S. government actively supports the development of civil society. NGOs do not formally exist in the country; the law effectively discourages their establishment. A more recent law, thus far untested by local NGOs, may make the registration process easier. The embassy continues to identify and build the capacity of potential NGOs and associations. The chief of mission and other U.S. officials hold informal roundtable discussions on the value of civic participation and the formation of NGOs interested in promoting democracy and human rights. The U.S. government funds exchange programs and management training opportunities for civil activists and leaders of potential NGOs. U.S. officials consistently engage the government on reforming restrictive laws prohibiting freedom of association and the legal formation of NGOs. To engage youth in the democratic process, a U.S. implementing partner provides technical assistance to the Supreme Education Council in developing curriculum and implementing a legal/civic education program for middle schools. U.S.-sponsored speakers from the United States often make presentations and lead discussions with local audiences on civic activism and Muslim involvement in the United States, and a U.S. grant enables local children to produce videos on the importance of civic engagement.
The U.S. government continues to address severe restrictions on freedoms of expression and the press. The chief of mission and other U.S. officials regularly engage the media and government stakeholders on internationally accepted standards of expression, professionalism, and objectivity. In 2007 the U.S. government sponsored two programs to train local journalists in journalism standards, specifically in reporting on elections. Two local journalists also received U.S.-sponsored fellowships designed to increase media professionalism.
Since half of the country's citizens are under 20 years of age, the U.S. government prioritizes engaging youth on the importance of education, civic involvement, and democratic principles. The chief of mission and other U.S. officials visit schools and invite youth to embassy events to encourage creative thinking and the free expression of ideas. The United States regularly engages the Supreme Council on Education and the Ministry of Education, and a U.S.-funded implementing partner provides technical assistance on curriculum reform. Because the role of women in society has been traditionally limited, the United States engages women on increasing their participation in the democratic process through targeted workshops, roundtable discussions, exchange programs, and training sessions.
One of the most important U.S. priorities is to address the working and living conditions of the large expatriate workforce. This vulnerable population, made up primarily of male unskilled and semi-skilled laborers and male and female domestic workers, is often subjected to inadequate accommodations, miserable work conditions, forced labor, and trafficking in persons. The chief of mission and other U.S. officials regularly engage government stakeholders and foreign diplomats from labor-sending countries on ameliorating the situation. The U.S. government also funds a training program providing specialized antitrafficking training to Ministry of Interior investigative personnel. Further, a U.S.-funded implementing partner creates awareness and provides advocacy services to the many expatriate community support groups by facilitating communication and coordination between these groups and NGOs in the sending countries.