October 14, 2021 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1601

After No Women Were Elected In Qatar's First Parliamentary Elections, Qatari Public Figures And Journalists Blame 'Tribalist Patriarchal Society'

October 14, 2021 | By Z. Harel*
Qatar | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1601

On October 2, 2021, Qatar held the first parliamentary elections in its history, in which no women were elected. While Qatar's constitution states that its parliament consists of 45 members – 30 directly elected by the public via secret ballot and 15 appointed by the emir – no parliamentary elections had yet been held in the country, and all the MPs had been appointed by the emir.[1]

In October 2020, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Aal Thani, announced that parliamentary elections would be held in a year's time, in October, 2021, and indeed they were.

The parliamentary candidates included 248 men and 26 women. On the eve of the elections, Qatari newspapers highlighted that women candidates were running in 14 of Qatar's 30 electoral districts, underlining the significance of their candidacy and expressing optimism regarding their chances.[2] However, no women candidates were ultimately elected.

The fact that not a single woman made it into Qatar's parliament was met with much dismay and disappointment among public figures, former women MPs, and several Qatari journalists, who blamed Qatar's tribalist society and patriarchal culture for discouraging the presence of women as leaders on the political stage and failing to value their contribution. One journalist lamented that some of the women candidates were more talented and creative than the men, while others called for introducing a gender quota in parliament to rectify the injustice.

The criticism of the failure to elect women to the parliament and the accusations against Qatar's "patriarchal" society were debated in Qatar's newspapers. Senior Qatari journalists rejected claims that Qatari society is patriarchal, and adopted an apologetic tone, emphasizing how valued women are in Qatar and arguing that their absence from parliament does not reflect their overall contribution. Meanwhile, some academics and public figures conceded that Qatari society is patriarchal and conservative, calling this typical of Arab societies, and adding that more time and intellectual maturity are required before women can be elected to parliament. Some called for educational efforts to emphasize the importance of women's voices and roles  as both candidates and voters.

On October 14, 2021, some two weeks after the elections, the Qatari emir issued a decree appointing the 15 additional MPs that the constitution authorizes him to appoint. Among them are two women,[3] perhaps in order to quell the public criticism. 

It should be noted that following the Emir of Qatar's 2020 announcement of the upcoming parliamentary election, Qatari journalists quickly expressed doubt that proper democratic elections could be held in Qatar, pointing to its tribalist and patriarchal culture and lack of democratic infrastructure.[4] One anti-democratic measure implemented prior to the election was the barring of members of the Al-Murrah tribe from candidacy.[5]

Qatari women go to the polls (Source: Al-Sharq, Qatar, October 4, 2021)

This report provides an overview of the Qatari discourse following the country's first parliamentary elections  elections and the outcome of no women being elected.

Qatari Public Figures And Journalists: No Women Were Elected Because Of Our Tribalist Patriarchal Culture

When the official results of the parliamentary elections were released and it became clear that no women had been elected, Qatari public figures and journalists expressed their disappointment, blaming tribalism in Qatari society and the country's patriarchal culture. Some expressed hope that the Emir would rectify the injustice by appointing women to parliament, based on the authority granted him by the Qatari constitution to appoint 15 MPs in addition to the 30 elected by the public.

MP Hind Al-Muftah, a woman member of the outgoing Emir-appointed parliament,[6] tweeted immediately after the release of the election results: "Qatari women have been appropriately successful by participating in [Qatar's] first experiment in parliamentary elections. They presented an honorable model of intellectual and professional maturity during the [election] campaign and in their candidate platforms. We should be proud of them. [And yet] our tribalist patriarchal society failed to support or empower them in practice. Congratulations [to the women candidates] on your participation in the elections to their conclusion. I am proud of you."[7]

Hind Al-Muftah's tweet

In a similar vein, Qatari journalist 'Abd Al-'Aziz bin Muhammad Al-Khater, who writes a column for the Qatari government daily Al-Sharq, tweeted: "As expected, no woman candidate made it into parliament. The state gave [us] a chance [to march with the times], but the problem is the internal [pace] of Qatari society."[8] He added in a subsequent tweet: "We heard women candidates who were better than many of the men. They were creative and expressed their ideas and views beautifully, but [nevertheless,] I was certain the tribal point of departure would dictate the terms and mechanism of winning [a seat in parliament]."[9]

Abdulaziz Alkhater's tweet

A woman candidate in the parliamentary elections, 'Aisha Jassim Al-Kuwari, expressed her disappointment in the election results and called for changing the situation by allotting seats for women in the next elections. She told the French press: "Allotting seats [for women] would be a lifeline ensuring women are represented in the next parliament. We hope four or five women are appointed [by the Emir], because the presence [of women] in parliament is very important. Some of the women candidates were disappointed, of course, because they presented good plans that the voters liked, but we must not forget that some women voted for a man, and therefore, this is the will of the people and we must respect that."[10]

Criticism and disappointment were also expressed by Qatari journalist Fatima Yousuf Al-Ghazal, who herself had failed in a run in 2015 for Qatar's Central Municipal Council. In her October 6 column in Al-Sharq she wrote: "No woman managed to break through the ideological and patriarchal barriers preventing her from succeeding in the first parliamentary elections... The main reason is a cultural heritage that does not acknowledge the value of a woman making it into the parliament, even though over the years she has proven herself worthy of any political or executive position, and has successfully filled her roles across all branches of government... and even though the presence of the Qatari woman in parliament is important, as it is one of the authorities responsible for legislation regarding family, children, and women's work, rights, and obligations. I hope women see more luck in the one-third of parliament [appointed by the Emir]. Another reason for the women's lack of success is the ignorance among traditionalist voters, who vote [for their male relatives] due to familial and personal considerations, and who do not understand the importance of the election process, which is meant to allow those who possess skill, ideology and vision to enter parliament so they can actively contribute to the sustainable development of society..."[11]

Discourse In The Qatari Press Following The Criticism: Apologetics And Rejection Of Criticism On The One Hand, And Recognition That Qatari Society Is Patriarchal And Needs To Change, On The Other

The criticism of women candidates' failure to get elected, and particularly the statements by outgoing MP Hind Al-Muftah that Qatari society is patriarchal, gave rise to a discourse of apologetics in the Qatari press. Some journalists were quick to reject the claims that Qatari society is tribalist and patriarchal, and stressed the importance of women's participation as both candidates and voters in the elections, their contribution to Qatari society, and the fact that they are valued.

Senior Journalists: Qatari Society Is Not Patriarchal And Women Are Valued

For example, in an October 4 article, Muhammad Al-Marri, editor of the daily Al-Watan, disagreed that Qatari society is patriarchal, writing: "I do not agree with the definition of our society as patriarchal even if none of the women candidates won [in the parliamentary elections]. This is a matter of choice and persuasion of society. Both genders participated [in the elections] according to the same criteria, and all were allowed the same procedures and the same concessions. In general, women are fully valued in [our] homogenous society, which is based on cooperation, mutual aid, and integration. They have proven their skills in the many tasks and obligations that they have taken upon themselves, and their absence from the first elected parliament is no indication, because they are present with distinction in more than one place."[12]

Qatari journalist Ibtasam Aal Sa'd, who has a column in Al-Sharq, also rejected the definition of Qatari society as patriarchal. She argued that, while Qatari society may have reservations about direct interaction between the genders, this is a result of etiquette and a desire to preserve the uniqueness of women. In a tweet she wrote: "Qatar is not a patriarchal society; it's a society that still places women in professions in which they will excel separately, without rubbing shoulders with men, even if they share the same workplace. This does not diminish their value; it is the appropriate way to act with a woman, by virtue of her nature as a woman."[13]

Aal Sa'd reiterated this view in her October 4 column in Al-Sharq: "While none of the women managed to win a seat in parliament, they certainly gained popularity and experience for the next rounds, God willing. Even if they lost in this battle for [parliamentary seats], they won in the elections, in that they presented their ideas and their excellent platforms in an enlightened and praiseworthy manner and received support and encouragement from residents of their election regions. This is an aspect that cannot be interpreted as it was interpreted by a former MP who was appointed, not elected [i.e., Hind Al-Muftah. She] said that it was 'the tribalist and patriarchal society' that gave its votes to the male candidates and refrained from giving women a chance to prove their abilities and to fulfill this mission alongside the men. [But in actual fact,] we do not have a so-called a tribalist and patriarchal society that prefers voting for a man over voting for a woman. Rather, there is still hesitation about  direct and unlimited interaction [between the genders]. Yet this does not mean diminishing a woman's worth and her ability to take responsibility; in most cases, this is a type of polite conduct towards her in order to preserve her uniqueness..."[14]

Intellectuals Acknowledge That Qatari Society Is Patriarchal And Conservative: It Will Take Time For Women To Be Elected To Parliament

In contrast, several Qatari academics and public figures leaned towards accepting that Qatari society is patriarchal and conservative, but added that this is true of all Arab societies and that it will take more time and ideological maturity for women to be elected to parliament. One explained that this is a global phenomenon, evident even in the U.S.

Thus, for example, 'Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, former dean of the Faculty of Shari'a and Law at Qatar University, explained: "The failure to elect women to Parliament is natural in Arab and Gulf societies, in which the patriarchal culture is dominant. This is a cultural heritage which society has not overcome to this day despite advanced education, culture, and media openness, and contact with other cultures. Women did not vote for women, and they rely on the talent of men more than on the talent of women because men have advanced in political, legislative, and legal roles and they have experience, while women do not have such long [years of] experience in this context. Only a few Arab parliaments have women members."[15]

Former MP 'Abd Al-'Aziz Kamal also argued: "Qatari society is still conservative and thus the issue of women entering Parliament requires more time, ideological maturity, and culture. This is not a new issue. Even in the United States women gained the right to vote only in 1929. [American women] fought for many years until they won membership in Congress in the 1970s [sic]. This is a global phenomenon."[16]

Muhammad Musfir, professor of political science at Qatar University, stated that "Qatari society is still conservative" and  explained: "Women voters did not vote for women candidates. That is, there is a social problem that we must understand." He called for "action to increase social education in order to show the importance of women's votes and women's role, both as candidates and as voters, because women have an important and influential role," adding: "We need to understand that we are at a stage of learning and education for participation in decision-making... and in the coming years, women will certainly win several seats in parliament."[17]

Writer Bothaina Muhammad Al-Janahi also acknowledged, in her October 5 column in Al-Sharq, that there is patriarchalism in Qatar, calling it "a result of ancient times and religious, political, and economic currents that pushed women aside and limited their roles." In her view, it is "to be expected that the patriarchal system would influence [voters] to vote for men and to believe in the status of the man [as the one who deserves] to take on important and sensitive political positions and roles." Nevertheless, she argued that the election results in Qatar could not be explained solely by patriarchalism, since both men and women vote and women did not necessarily vote for women. The political and social situation in Qatar, she said, make it "a hybrid society, which on the one hand, allows women to accept senior management positions and on the other, continues to preserve the traditional conservative social structure," which gives preference to men over women.[18]


* Z. Harel is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[2] See for example, September 25, 2021 and Al-Sharq (Qatar), September 29 and October 2, 2021.

[3] Al-Raya (Qatar), October 14, 2021.

[6] In 2017, the emir appointed the first four women MPs, among them Al-Muftah.

[7] https:/, October 2, 2021.

[8] https:/, October 2, 2021

[9] https:/, October 2, 2021.

[10], October 6, 2021.

[11] Al-Sharq (Qatar), October 6, 2021.

[12] Al-Watan (Qatar), October 4, 2021.

[13], October 3, 2021.

[14] Al-Sharq (Qatar), October 4, 2021.

[15] Al-Sharq (Qatar), October 4, 2021.

[16] Al-Sharq (Qatar), October 4, 2021.

[17] Al-Sharq (Qatar), October 4, 2021.

[18] Al-Sharq (Qatar), October 5, 2021.

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