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Wed 2 Nov 2011 07:52 AM

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Qatar eyes first polls in wake of Arab Spring unrest

Gulf state plans elections for advisory council in 2013, has backed uprisings in other countries

Qatar eyes first polls in wake of Arab Spring unrest
Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani

The Gulf Arab state of Qatar, which has actively backed Arab Spring pro-democracy movements, plans to hold the first elections to its own advisory legislative council in the second half of 2013, its emir said on Tuesday.

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," Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani 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. We are confident that you would be capable of shouldering the responsibility."

He did not say if the council would be given more weight. It can discuss and pass some laws but they have to be approved by the emir.

Qatar, ruled by the al-Thani Sunni monarchy for more than a century, has been a major supporter of the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and actively backed Libyan rebels who overthrew Muammar Gaddafi.

The small, wealthy island state 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 people the world's highest per capita income.

Sheikh Hamad 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 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 the leading Arabic broadcaster Al Jazeera, won the rights this 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.

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