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May 12, 2005 Special Dispatch No. 907

The Reaction to 5,000 Members of the Aal-Marra Tribe Being Stripped of Their Qatari Citizenship: Why is Al-Jazeera Silent?

May 12, 2005
Qatar, The Gulf | Special Dispatch No. 907

The Qatari Interior Ministry recently revoked the citizenship of 5,266 Qatari men, women, and children, all of them members of the Al-Ghfran tribe, which is a sub-group of the Aal-Marra tribe. The official reason given was that the members of this tribe hold both Qatari and Saudi citizenship. The real reason, however, seems to be that several members of the Aal-Marra tribe were apparently involved in the 1996 coup attempt. [1]

Following the move, Qatari authorities cut off electricity and water supplies to the homes of the tribe members. Their salaries were cut off, and they were denied education, health, and other services. [2] Many were pressured to leave Qatar, and about 3,500 of them emigrated to southern Saudi Arabia where they had relatives. Those who were outside Qatar at the time of the decision to revoke their citizenship were prohibited from reentering the country. [3]

The arbitrary measure sparked criticism throughout the Gulf, and particularly in Saudi Arabia. Some human rights organizations called on the Qatar government to rescind the measure. Saudi newspapers condemned the Qatari authorities and attacked the complete absence of coverage of the issue by the Al-Jazeera TV channel. The following is an Arab media review of the affair:

The Aal-Marra Tribe Writes to the U.N. to Help

Aal-Marra tribe members set up a Web site, http://www.qatarhumanrights.org, to increase awareness of their situation and to call upon the Qatari government to rescind the decision. The site featured the text of an e-mail that tribe members and Qatari citizens could sign and send to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The letter read (English in the original):

"Dear Sir: I am a Qatari citizen who have been oppressed by the Qatar Government by stripping me from my Qatari nationality and other rights such as dismissing me from my job and house and asking me to either leaving my country or going to prison.

"It is not only me who faces such actions; I am just one of approximately 6000 Qatari citizens from the same tribe who faces the same fate.

"Reasons given by the government is due to the possession of dual nationality, whereas tens of thousands of Qatari possess dual nationality and some declare this openly without fearing deportation. Also not all 6000 citizens has a dual nationality.

"Actual reason as we see it, is the participation of a few people from our tribe along with others from different tribes in the coup that took place in 1996 against the current Amir. Providing that all who participated with the coup have been prosecuted and jailed.

"We see this type of action as a whole punished that affects innocent people including children, women and elderly. These families are suffering for more than 6 months so far from this discrimination and oppressed.

"Therefore we ask you as a guard for the human rights to find a solution and force our government to obey the United Nations rules and respect our rights of citizenship.

"As you know that Qatar, a signatory to UN human rights convention, is going to host the southern west Asian nations – UN office for human rights. So the should respect their citizens rights first.

"Thanks, Qatari oppressed person." [4]

Human Rights Organizations Call on Qatar to Rescind Move

Several Arab human rights organizations joined the tribe in its protest, issuing communiqués calling upon the Qatari government to rescind the measure. The Arabic Network for Human Rights issued a communiqué stating that "punishing an entire tribe for the deed of a few is against the principles of law and justice" and called on the Qatari government "to reverse its position and to respect the laws of justice and integrity by rescinding or amending this oppressive decision." [5]

The Human Rights First association published a communiqué stating that it "opposes collective punishment and punishments given without due legal process," because "punishment must be individual, for the one who committed the crime." The association called on the Qatari government "to reexamine the collective punishment" and "to use all means to restore matters to their legal path, in adherence to the human rights conventions that Qatar signed and ratified." The association also called on "all human rights activists and organizations in the Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula, the Arab homeland, and [the entire] world to act urgently to rescind the collective punishment of over 5,000 Qataris." [6]

Saudi National Organization for Human Rights director Bandar Al-Hajjar told the Saudi daily Al-Yawm that his association was willing to help the Aal-Marra tribe. [7]

Saudi Columnists: Where are the Human Rights Organizations?

Because of the tribe's Saudi connection, the Saudi media widely discussed the affair, and many articles condemning Qatar's decision appeared in the press. In her column in the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, Nura Al-Muslim wrote: "The bitter news about the Al-Ghfran [tribe] is very painful, and proves that despite many international pressures, the status and honor of the individual [in Qatar] is still shaky. It is sad that innocent people are the first victims of politics and regional conflicts, and that they are the ones to pay a heavy price… Where are the human rights [organizations] and Amnesty [International] in the face of these measures?… Why are they silent, [instead of producing] solutions, alternatives, and legal recourse for these people, who were fired from their jobs and have become displaced?" [8]

Qeinan Al-Ghamdi, former editor of the Saudi daily Al-Watan, criticized Arab organizations' failure to act: "The Arab League did not and will not intervene [in this matter]. Further, it will not renounce or condemn [it], and the same goes for the Arab Gulf States Cooperation Council, on the pretext that there should be no interference [in a state's internal affairs] – an excuse emphasized clearly at the recent [Arab League] summit in Algeria.

"This means that the Arab organizations – the Arab League, the [Arab Gulf States] Cooperation Council, and so on – are organizations of the regimes, not of the peoples. Thus, every regime has the right to torture its people with terrible suffering without anyone reining it in or criticizing it, as was the case with Saddam Hussein, who slaughtered and exiled thousands of Iraqis before the eyes and ears of all the Arab regimes – until America came and rescued the [Iraqi] people from its executioner…

"The problem of the 5,000 who were expelled from Qatar was preceded by the problem of the Bidun [a group of non-citizens]. Most of them are from Kuwait; they number in the tens of thousands, and their problem is terrible and disastrous. [9] They have no [official] identity, and are therefore half-alive, or completely non-existent, because they have no rights…

"It appears that there is no solution, either for the Bidun or for the members of the Aal-Marra tribe, besides U.N. intervention. Who knows, perhaps Qatar's move will pique the appetite of the world powers, and they will establish a seventh Gulf state, to be called the State of the Bidun, for all those whose citizenship has been revoked." [10]

Saudi Columnist: We Have Lost Our Weapon Against Israel

Columnist Salem bin Ahmad Sahhab wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Madina: "Stated very simply, Qatar is implementing an abhorrent collective punishment [of the Aal-Marra tribe], and we do not even know the reasons for it. How we renounced and condemned the gross collective punishments by the enemy Zionist state [that followed] fedayi activity by one individual or another. Israel's punishment [for such activity] always involved the closure of a particular area for a few days, or the destruction of homes, so that some residents of the [West] Bank or [Gaza] Strip would be displaced.

"Obviously, this is not acceptable, nor anchored in any law. Nevertheless, it does not amaze us when we are talking about the Zionist enemy state. Yet what happened regarding the Aal-Marra tribe is indeed amazing.

"Are we, in the Arab world in general and in the Gulf in particular, allowed to remain silent in light of these actions, arguing that this is an internal [Qatari] matter and nothing more? We have added a new weapon to Israel's [arsenal], that it can boast of to the world – since it has always presented itself to the civilized world as an oasis of democracy in the Middle East, and [stated] that all the others are oppressive totalitarian regimes. This, despite all the human rights violations that it commits – which was always the weapon that we, the Arabs, [used] against it. Today, we are about to lose this weapon, if the punishment of the Qatari citizens of the Aal-Marra tribe continues.

"I am amazed at Qatar. Is it not fitting that it should look around and see that its actions have set a dangerous and unbecoming precedent? After all, Qatar claims that it acts towards openness to the world in the areas of economics, tourism, education, and medicine…" [11]

Why is Al-Jazeera TV Silent?

Many articles criticized Qatar's Al-Jazeera TV for its failure to even mention the affair, let alone condemn the Qatari government as it frequently condemns the governments of other countries.

In the Saudi daily Al-Watan, Qeinan Al-Ghamdi wrote: "'Saudi Arabia executes four citizens accused of killing policemen' – This was the text of a news item on the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel yesterday… I had hoped that either before or after this item, Al-Jazeera would [also] broadcast commentary on the revocation of Qatari citizenship for over 5,000 citizens from the Aal-Marra tribe…

"Had any other country done this to one of its citizens, Al-Jazeera would have mobilized its correspondents and its programs [to cover] the affair. How is it that it ignores over 5,000 [Qatari] citizens…?" [12]

Columnist Muhammad bin Suleiman Al-Uheidab wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh: "In our Arab media, neutrality is still a dream – moreover, it is a failed dream.

"… [ Al-Jazeera's ] claim that it is a neutral television channel that gives a podium to those with none, and whose motto is to bring 'one opinion [alongside] another opinion' is proven to be a lie… Why doesn't Al-Jazeera give a podium to the Aal-Marra tribe when they cannot find a podium? Why doesn't Al-Jazeera present [the tribe's] opinion… ?!" [13]

Iraqi columnist Daoud Al-Basri wrote on the progressive website www.elaph.com: "... I expected the Al-Jazeera people to take the opportunity, and for Dr. Faisal Al-Qassem, on his fiery program The Opposite Direction, to take the historic opportunity, to enthuse, defend the values of chivalry, help the downtrodden, help the needy, prevent oppression, help the oppressed … and devote a fiery program to Qatar's oppressive move revoking the citizenship of thousands of people…

"Of course, our expectations have turned into a dream only. Al-Jazeera is in no hurry to discuss the affair. What really interests it is occupation, symphonies, songs glorifying the gangs of murder and abduction, like the criminal gang called the Association of Ulema [i.e. the Association of Sunni Scholars of Iraq, which supports the terrorist operations there]… For Al-Jazeera to discuss and shed light on the issue of human rights in Qatar, or on the suffering of foreign citizens or Arabs in Qatar, is an impossible and vain wish … since [in Al-Jazeera's eyes] it is a blatant intervention in Qatar's domestic affairs..." [14]


[1] In 1996, after Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Aal Thani became the Emir of Qatar, his father, the previous emir, tried to depose him.

[2] It is not clear whether salaries were not paid only to government employees or to all tribe members in Qatar.

[3] It should be noted that while Section 15 of the Qatari Citizenship Law permits revoking the citizenship of someone who has committed a crime, this punishment applies only to the criminal himself, and not to his immediate or extended family. Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), March 31, 2005; Al-Arabiyya TV (Dubai), March 30, 2005; Al-Arabiyya TV (Dubai), April 20, 2005.

[4] http://www.qatarhumanrights.org /

[5] http://www.hrinfo.org/press/05/pr0413.shtml, April 13, 2005.

[6] http://www.hrinfo.org/saudi/spdhr/2005/pr0402.shtml, April 2, 2005.

[7] Al-Yawm (Saudi Arabia), April 21, 2005.

[8] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), April 21, 2005.

[9] Bidoun is short for bidoun jinsiyya, meaning "without citizenship." The bidoun include some 120,000 people, most of them Bedouin, without no right to Kuwaiti citizenship even though they were in Kuwait even before it passed the 1959 Nationality Law. See http://www.hrinfo.net/en/discussion/2004/bk.shtml;http://www.hrw.org/arabic/mena/list/text/bidun3.htm

[10] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), April 2, 2005.

[11] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), April 30, 2005.

[12] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), April 3, 2005.

[13] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), May 3, 2005.

[14] www.elaph.com, April 13, 2005.

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