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Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Acton princess calling for reform in Saudi Arabia


Royal runs campaign for change in her homeland from a suburb in west London

Her Royal Highness Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdul Aziz is one of the more unlikely critics of the élite that runs Saudi Arabia. The oil state boasts a 15,000-strong royal family but it is rare for a voice from within its ranks to become part of the growing clamour for reform in the desert kingdom.

As the youngest daughter of the country's second king and niece to its current ruler, she is from the highest echelons of the Saudi monarchy. Just as her privileged status gives her considerable authority in the debate about change, so this carefully dissenting royal has much to lose if her actions incur the displeasure of Saudi Arabia's ultra-conservative regime.

But then Basma Bint Saud is no ordinary Saudi princess.
A 47-year-old divorcee and a successful businesswoman, she has spent the last five years in the country building a parallel career as a journalist and a blogger, confronting head on sensitive subjects from the abuse of women and poverty in the world's second biggest oil exporter to the chilling effect of the mutawa, the kingdom's draconian religious police.

Such has been her success at shining a light on the problems in Saudi society (a Facebook fan page has 25,000 followers), she now conducts her campaign not from her birthplace in the capital, Riyadh, or her previous home in Jeddah but a recently-acquired house in the west London suburb of Acton which she shares with three of her five children.

The princess underlines that she was not forced to leave Saudi Arabia and goes out of her way to emphasise that her criticisms do not relate to her octogenarian uncle, King Abdullah, or the other senior members of the monarchy. Instead, the focus of her anger is the tier of governors, administrators and plutocrats who run the country day to day.
Amnesty International this month accused the Saudi authorities of conducting a campaign of repression against protesters and reformists in the kingdom in the wake of revolutions sweeping the Arab world, during which Riyadh sent troops into neighbouring Bahrain while protests for greater political freedom among Shi'ites were stamped out. The impression of increased authoritarianism was not allayed by detention in October of three young Saudi film makers who posted on the internet a documentary about poverty in Riyadh.

The princess insists she is no "rebel" nor an advocate of regime change. But in an interview The Independent, she equally does not pull her punches when it comes to the question of who bears responsibility for the ills that she considers beset her country.

Sat in a living room decorated with Saudi artefacts and in front of a table carrying a plate of Saudi dates ("the best in the world"), she said: "The problems are because of the ruling ministers. We have ministers who are incapable of doing what has been ordered from above because there is no follow up, because there are no consequences. If you are poor man and you steal, your hand is cut off after three offences. But if you are a rich man, nobody will say anything to you."

She added: "We have 15,000 royals and around 13,000 don't enjoy the wealth of the 2,000. You have 2,000 who are multi-millionaires, who have all the power, all the wealth and no-one can even utter a word against it because they are afraid to lose what they have."

Asked if her decision to speak out means she risks losing what she has, she replied: "Oh, definitely. Definitely."

Speaking fluently with a neutral English accent picked up as a teenager in the Home Counties, Basma is the first to admit she is the product of a not only a privileged upbringing but also an atypical one for a Saudi princess. She is the 115th - and last - child of King Saud, the eldest surviving son of Saudi Arabia's founding monarch Abdul Aziz.

King Saud was overthrown in 1964 by his brother, Faisal, and left for exile in Europe. Basma's mother, a Syrian-born woman who was chosen for her future husband when she visited Mecca on the haj at the age of 10, took her children to the Middle East's then most cosmopolitan city, the Lebanese capital of Beirut, where the young princess was schooled by French nuns among Christians, Jews and Muslims who did not adhere to the austere Wahhabi branch of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia.

When Lebanon's civil war broke out in 1975, the family fled for Britain where she attended a Hertfordshire girls' school and an international college in Oxford before spending two years studying in Switzerland. It was a very different existence from the closeted upbringing normally led by young Saudi royals.

She explained how, at the age of 17, she joined one of the first visits to post-Mao China by foreign students, describing vividly how her group were taken to a farm and treated to a delicacy in the form of the brains of a live monkey chained and slaughtered at the table. She said: "Some girls screamed and fainted. Others were sick. I went to the car and refused to go back into the building. China was like visiting the moon."

Equally alien was the land of her birth when she returned in early 1980s. Upon entering the royal court ("I was very careful, very nervous to behave correctly"), she found a cut-off society which, paradoxically, was more relaxed than present-day Saudi Arabia.

She said: "If China was like the moon, then arriving in Saudi Arabia was Mars. At least you can see the moon from Earth. It was a completely secluded society but I wouldn't say backward - not as backward as it is now. It was much more open and tolerant. You wouldn't hear people saying ‘go to prayer', ‘go and do this and that'.

"This is the atmosphere you have now. It is such a non-tolerant atmosphere, even of other sects. Any other sect that doesn't actually belong to our community is thought to be - I'm not going to be sharp but very specific - not the true Islam."

It is an intolerance which she claims pervades Saudi society, fromented by the mutawa, otherwise known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices, ironically founded her father to act as a check on traders charging inflated prices.

The princess said: "Our religious police has the most dangerous effect on society - the segregation of genders, putting the wrong ideas in the heads of men and women, producing psychological diseases that never existed in our country before, like fanatacism. The mutawa are everywhere, trying to lead society to a very virtuous life that doesn't exist. Everthing is now behind closed doors."

Amid regular accounts of executions  - Amnesty International last week described as "truly appalling" the death penalty carried out on a Saudi woman for "sorcery and witchcraft - Basma makes the point that human rights abuses happen to both genders but fall disproportionately on women.
As a result, she is slightly bewildered by the focus on the continuing prohibition on Saudi women, who cannot go to university or take a job without a male guardian's permission, from being allowed to drive.

She said: "Why don't we actually fight for a woman's right even to complain about being beaten up. That is more important than driving. If a woman is beaten, they are told to go back to their homes - their fathers, husbands, brothers - to be beaten up again and locked up in the house. No law, no police will protect them.

"We are overlooking essential rights of a human being - the right to mix between the sexes, to talk and study freely... We have got human rights but they are paralysed. They are completely abstract, for the media and the western world."

The princess, who divorced from her Saudi husband six years ago and went into business setting up a series of restaurant chains which she now intends to expand into Britain, has not been afraid to air similar views in Saudi Arabia, writing in newspapers and websites on issues from the mutawa, to women's prisons and clothing. She eschews what she describes as the expected "sleep by day, live at night" leisured life of Saudi princesses and is instead setting up a charity to fight poverty in the Arab world by offering a Fair Trade-type deal to artisans which will include access to education and health care.

But in a country where doctrine and adherence to orthodoxy can be everything, Princess Basma is aware of the hostility generated by a woman speaking out. She has studied Islam in depth, becoming a scholar of the faith's great texts to give her the authority to challenge the teachings of Saudi imams. Armed with the evidence of scripture, she has rebuked the authorities in writing on issues from driving to the doctrinal basis for the requirement that women cover up in public.

But the eruption of democracy movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria has brought an abrupt end to her reporting from Saudi Arabia. This summer, officials began to suggest she "edit" her work. She said: "The first time they took out some sentences. The second time, paragraphs. The last time, they told me to change the whole article or the editor who published it would go to prison. I didn't want to send anyone to prison on my behalf."

Even though she insists her work was carried out until recently with the blessing of King Abdullah, here is a princess treading a narrow line.

Following the death in October of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz, the 86-year-old heir to the throne, Saudi Arabia is still ruled by the ageing and conservative generation of her uncles, who she says have given her "very strong hints" that her criticisms are not currently being met with approval.

Sitting close to a photomontage of the Saud dynasty which shows her father as a young man next to her grandfather and beside the boy Prince Nayef, the 78-year-old head of the interior ministry who is de facto ruler, Basma underlines her respect for her father's ruling brothers.

She said: "I am still an obedient citizen and I will always be behind the royal family. But I will never be quiet about what is happening on the ground. The unfairness of the distribution of wealth, about the power that has been unevenly given to people because they have complete obedience to those above them.

"I owe my uncles everything and what I owe them most is to tell them the truth. My mistake, my ruin is going to be insisting on telling the truth even if they don't like it. Because I think they need to hear it, especially from one of their loyal, royal own."

(Source: The Independent)

Saudi princess: What I'd change about my country


Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz tells the BBC there are many changes she would like to see in Saudi Arabia - but that now is not the time for women to be allowed to drive.

I speak as the daughter of King Saud, the former ruler of Saudi Arabia. My father established the first women's university in the kingdom, abolished slavery and tried to establish a constitutional monarchy that separates the position of king from that of prime minister. But I am saddened to say that my beloved country today has not fulfilled that early promise.

Our ancient culture, of which I am very proud, is renowned for its nobility and generosity, but we lack, and urgently need, fundamental civil laws with which to govern our society.

As a daughter, sister, (former) wife, mother, businesswoman and a working journalist, these are the things that I would like to see changed in Saudi Arabia.
1. Constitution
I would like to see a proper constitution that treats all men and women on an equal footing before the law but that also serves as a guide to our civil laws and political culture.

For example, today in Saudi courts, all decisions are made according to the individual judge's interpretation of the holy Koran. This is entirely dependent on his own personal beliefs and upbringing rather than universally agreed principles or a written constitution as a guide.

I am not calling for a western system but an adaptation of that system to suit our needs and culture. Thus our constitution should be inspired by the philosophy of the Koran with principles that are set in stone and not open to the whims of individual judges as is the case now.

In particular, the constitution should protect every citizen's basic human rights regardless of their sex, status or sect. Everyone should be equal before the law.

2. Divorce laws

I strongly believe that current divorce laws are abusive.

Today in Saudi, a woman can ask for a divorce only if she files for what is called "Khali and Dhali". This means either she pays a big sum of money running into tens of thousands of dollars or she has to get someone to witness the reason why she is filing for a divorce - an impossible condition to fulfil given that such reasons usually are the kind that remain within the four walls of a marriage.

Another way to keep a woman in the marital home against her will is the automatic granting of custody of any children over the age of six to the father in any divorce settlements.

This state of affairs is in complete contradiction to the Koran, upon which our laws are supposed to be based. In it a woman is given full rights to divorce simply in the case of "irreconcilable differences".

3. Overhaul of the education system

The way women today are treated in Saudi Arabia is a direct result of the education our children, boys and girls, receive at school.

The content of the syllabus is extremely dangerous. For one, our young are taught that a woman's position in society is inferior. Her role is strictly limited to serving her family and raising children. They are actually taught that if a woman has to worship anyone other than God it should be her husband; "that the angels will curse her if she is not submissive to her husband's needs". Girls are also strictly forbidden from taking part in any physical education. This is a result of a complete misinterpretation of the Koran. I consider these ideologies to be inherently abusive.

Aside from that, the focus in most of our educational system is on religious subjects such as hadith (sayings attributed to the prophet), Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), tafssir (interpretation of the Koran) and of course the Koran. The attitude is that "learning itself, anything other than religion won't get you into heaven so don't waste your time". I would like to see religious teaching limited to the Koran and the Sunna (the way the prophet lived), where the true ethics of Islam lie. The rest is blind rote learning of the most dangerous kind. It has left our youth vulnerable to fundamentalist ideologies that have led to terrorism and abuse of the true meaning of the Koran.

Instead of wasting our youths' intellect on memorising quotations whose origins is uncertain (such as those found in hadith, Fiqh and tafssir) we need to encourage them to think freely, innovate and use their initiative for the betterment of our society. Early Islam was a time of great creativity. Scholars excelled in sciences and literature. Our religion should not be a shield behind which we hide from the world but a driving force that inspires us to innovate and contribute to our surroundings. This is the true spirit of Islam.

4. A complete reform of social services

The ministry of social affairs is tolerating cruelty towards women rather than protecting them. The only refuge homes that abused women can turn to are state ones. In these, women are continuously told that by seeking refuge they have brought shame on their families.

If they come from powerful families then they will be sent straight back to their homes in fear of the wrath of a powerful patriarch. As a result we have seen many cases of suicide by educated women, doctors and scientists who were sent back to their abusers.

We need independent women's refuges where the rights of women are upheld and backed up by powerful laws that can override family traditions and protect women.

The ministry of social affairs not only abuses women's rights but is also one of the reasons poverty is rife in the kingdom. A corrupt system that lacks transparency has meant that more than 50% of our population is poor and needy even though we are one of the wealthiest countries on earth.

5. The role of the Mahram (chaperone)

Women in Saudi cannot get around or travel without a mahram (a kind of chaperone - usually a male relative).
At the time of the prophet, women used to have a man to accompany them but in those days Arabia was a desert literally full of pirates.

Today the only purpose of such a law is to curtail women's freedom of movement. This not only infantilises women but turns them unnecessarily into a burden on their men and on society.

Today women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive.

This one seems to concern western observers the most but there are more essential rights we need to obtain first.

I am definitely for women driving but I don't think this is the right time for a reversal of this law. In the current climate if a woman drives, she could be stopped, harassed beaten or worse to teach her a lesson.

This is why I am against women driving until we are educated enough and until we have the necessary laws to protect us from such madness. Otherwise we might as well hand out a licence to the extremists to abuse us further. If as drivers we get harassed, they will say to the Islamic world "see what happens when women drive, they get harassed they get beaten" and they will call for even more stringent laws to control women. This is something we can't afford. Fundamental changes in the law and its attitude to women are needed before we take this step.

On the whole it is the rights and freedoms of all citizens that are crucial in Saudi Arabia and from those the rights of women will emanate.

An insular kingdom

  • Established in 1932 by King Abd-al-Aziz
  • One of the most devout and insular countries in the Middle East
  • The royal family is 15,000 strong
  • The Al Saud dynasty holds a monopoly of power; political parties are banned
  • Saudi women live a restricted life and are banned from driving
  • The country includes the Hijaz region - the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the cradle of Islam
  • Saudi Arabia sits on more than 25% of the world's known oil reserves

Princess Basma

  Youngest daughter of the country's second king and niece to its current ruler
  Educated in Britain and Switzerland
  Lives in Acton, London

(Source: BBC)

Qatar tops MENA region in female literacy rate


Qatar is the only country in the MENA region where female adult literacy is higher than male adult literacy, which confirms the vital role women have come to play in nation building, says Qatari writer and Faculty Member of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, Dr Amal Mohammed al Malki. Excerpts:

Q: How would you assess the present status of Arab women?
A: Arab women have achieved some critical rights, such as a more equal personal status code for women in Morocco, the right to divorce in Egypt, the right to vote and run in elections in Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait over the last decade or so.

However, there is so much more to be done. Women are still caught between politics and culture.

There is the need to institutionalise their rights to ensure they are not left to be hijacked by political factions or outdated traditions.

How would you rate the role of Qatari women in the process of nation building?
Qatari women are a central resource in Qatar’s strategy of national development.

According to World Bank statistics on women and development in the Middle East, Qatar is a leader in women’s advancement in the MENA region. Qatar closed the malefemale secondary school enrollment gap back in 1980, much, much before any other MENA country.

UNESCO figures for 2000 put Qatar as one of the only six MENA countries (along with the UAE, Kuwait, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Jordan) where adult female literacy is over 80 percent. It is the only country in MENA where female adult literacy surpasses male adult literacy.

Among the school-age population, Qatar stands third in the ratio of female to male literacy, second only to Palestine and Saudi Arabia. More than any other MENA country, Qatar has encouraged women to continue their education after high school, with three Qatari women attending a post-secondary college or university for every male who does so. Qatari women study the humanities, arts, and education at the tertiary level by a ratio of 9:1 over men, suggesting that Qatar, already and will for decades to come, rely primarily on experts drawn from its female population to design and implement its core educational strategies.

What are the stages of development Arab women have passed through in the past one to two decades?
Arab women’s recent development has been mainly tied to politics and economy, and thus we see that women in stable economies and political atmospheres have been granted more freedom and equality, especially in terms of education and employment.

The two main global agreements in recent history that have benefited Arab women are the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a universal “bill of rights” for women that requires all signatories to abolish all laws that are inconsistent with women’s equality with men and the Fourth World Conference on Women, better known as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing Declaration 1995).

What has been the impact of Arab Spring on Women in the Arab world?
Nothing that is positive so far. On the contrary actually, women rights are further jeopardised due to change of political ideologies and women themselves are the first victims of any political unrest, so until the Arab Spring settles down and we see its results on women’s struggle for equality, I’m afraid any claim of it having positive impact on women is just hypocrisy.

However, I would like to reverse the question and talk about the impact of women on the Arab Spring.

Women have proved that they are in fact equal citizens with political consciousness and can be major players in the political scenes.

Men and women stood side by side in every venue calling for freedom and political reform. They talked to the world east and west and utilised traditional media as well as new media.

They proved to the world and their own societies that they aren’t passive and that they have voices which they used in all languages.

Why is it that you are the only Qatari faculty member of the Education City?
It happened that I had the right qualifications and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. The moment I knew what I wanted and that is to teach in Education City, I was determined to achieve my aim.

I believe nothing is impossible and you can overcome any obstacle with determination and hard work. To teach in a branch campus here in Qatar, I had to go through the main campus, which meant that I had to teach in Carnegie Mellon- Pittsburgh before teaching here. It was one of the most fulfilling experiences that shaped who I am today.

Do you think that Qatari women are unwilling to take up such responsibilities?
I believe in the will and power of Qatari women and I believe that many will follow in my footsteps.

What kind of role do you foresee for the Qatari woman by 2030?
I see her working as a partner and a leader. She will be the wife and mother, student, educator, manager, minister, politician, economist, pilot, athletic, and many more. She will demand the respect of the world and will break all stereotypes about her.

(Source: Qatar Tribune)

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Pakistani cleans shoes to atone for beheading

Thousands of Indian pilgrims barely registered the man in the orange bandanna and Ray-Ban sunglasses taking their shoes and storing them in wooden cubbyholes before they entered the Sikh shrine in this town in northwest Pakistan.

The unassuming 62-year-old tending to the shoes is a top government lawyer and devout Muslim. At the shrine, he is on an unusual solo quest — taking on menial jobs to atone for the beheading of a Sikh by Islamist militants.

Over the past two years, Muhammed Khurshid Khan has traveled to Sikh shrines in Pakistan and India, volunteering to polish shoes, clean bathrooms, cook meals and do other chores. Such service is known as "seva" — selfless service — in Sikhism, and it holds a special place in the faith.

Attacks against Sikhs, Christians and Hindus have spiked in Pakistan in recent years as the Taliban and their allies gained strength. Atrocities by Muslim extremists against religious minorities now are so common that they rarely illicit more than routine condemnation by officials, much less collective contrition or shame.

In helping Sikhs, Khan is reaching out to an extremely small minority in predominantly Muslim Pakistan — the government estimates there are 30,000 Sikhs in the country of 190 million people.

"I have a desire to serve the Sikh community because my community has done them serious harm, and that hurts me," said Khan, taking a break from his work at the shrine in Hasan Abdal, 45 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of the capital, Islamabad.

Khan, one of two dozen deputy attorney generals in Pakistan, began his mission in 2010 after militants kidnapped three Sikhs returning from Afghanistan to their homes in Pakistan. The militants demanded some $240,000 — an amount the families could not afford. Two of the captives were freed in a commando raid, but 30-year-old Jaspal Singh had already been beheaded.

"That news pierced my heart," said Khan. "How could Muslims do such harm to such a peaceful community?"
A day after Singh was beheaded, Khan went to the dead man's home in the northwest city of Peshawar to offer condolences. He sat on the floor with Singh's relatives, but they became wary once they realized Khan was a government official.

Khan then visited a Sikh shrine in Peshawar and asked religious leaders if he could perform seva to atone for the beheading. After two weeks his request was approved, and for the next four months he went to the shrine in Peshawar every day after work, polishing worshippers' shoes for hours.

Handling the shoes of devotees is considered a particularly worthy form of seva because it shows humility and a belief that all people, rich and poor, are equal in the eyes of God.

"When I was permitted to do seva, that day felt like the happiest day of my life," said Khan.

He said he initially hid his quest from his family because he worried they would be embarrassed and ask him to stop, but they are now supportive. He also avoided media interviews until a reporter reminded him that Islam tells followers to publicize good deeds as an example to others.

"My message is love and peace," said Khan, who also visits Hindu temples and Christian churches to reinforce that religious minorities should be protected. "These minorities have been living here for centuries."
Khan has not contacted the beheaded Sikh's family since just after the killing.

Harnam Singh said his slain brother left a widow and four young children and the family has trouble making ends meet.

"We appreciate what Khan is doing because it shows solidarity with the Sikh community," said Harnam Singh. "It would also be good if someone could provide some help for the family because they are facing serious problems."

Sikhism was founded in the 15th century by Guru Nanak Dev in the Punjab region of South Asia, which was divided between India and Pakistan in 1947 when the countries gained independence from the British empire. There are about 20 million Sikhs in India.

The shrine in the Pakistani town of Hasan Abdal is revered because it houses what is believed to be a handprint of Sikhism's founder. This week, there was a festive atmosphere at Gurdwara Panja Sahib, a brick building adorned with arched windows and topped by a large dome. Indians, and some Pakistanis, were visiting as part of a 10-day pilgrimage to celebrate the Sikh new year.

Some worshippers filed in to listen to a religious leader read aloud from the Sikh holy book, the men cutting a particularly vivid figure in their brightly colored turbans. Others splashed holy water on themselves from a pool around the shrine and placed their hand on the founder's print impressed into a rock. Some children jumped into the pool for a swim, and hundreds of pilgrims ate donated rice and spicy fried snacks while religious music blared.

Khan surveyed the gathering from his perch behind a long wooden counter and said he hoped his actions would highlight the need to protect Pakistan's minorities.

"The message is a soft image of my religion Islam, a soft image of my country Pakistan," said Khan. "We are not terrorists."

(Source: AP)

Archaeologists plan to uncover Doha's past


In a pioneering effort that may throw more light on the origins of Doha, archaeologists are preparing for excavations in the city, but the dig is unlikely to be easy. Urban archaeology is not easy, and Doha being a city teeming with modern constructions, the process will be complicated, say archaeologists.

“It’s complicated, since there are many buildings in the city, finding patches, which are available for digging, will be challenging. The problem with modern buildings is that they ruin the archeology,” Dr Robert Carter, Senior Lecturer, University College of London-Qatar told The Peninsula.

Yet, they are planning to consult historians and look for signs of early occupation in Doha in the early 19th century.

“We need to find places in the central Doha, where the old town was located and dig some holes to look for evidence of earlier occupation. Now the historical understanding of Doha is that it was originally two towns – Bidha, the older town, and Doha. They  eventually grew together,” Dr Carter said.

“If we could get a wide enough excavation we will be happy to find out how people lived at that time, what their international connections were, what they were eating, what they were living in, what their life style and economic situation was,” he said.

As the University College of London-Qatar is scheduled to begin its academic activities in archeology by September, they aim to begin the research about early settlements of Doha, through the Qatar National Research Fund.

“We need to get a training dig, since we need to teach students about archeology materials and analysis so we hope to get a site preferably close to Doha or in Doha. It will be very interesting to find the origins of Doha and historical research with some oral history,” said Dr Carter.

“We have a plan and we are pushing a research application to find funding to do this,” he said.

The archeology research will look for foundations of buildings from the early 20th century and beneath expecting to find signs of early occupation in Doha in the early 19th century.

People had been living in Doha even in the early 18th century according to British soldiers who were mapping gulf that time.

“The old town area was around the Souq Waqif or the Khabeeb mosque area. So, that’s going to be difficult. However, they recently cleared the area near the mosque which again had a traditional architecture in it, so the archeology should survive underneath,” said Dr Carter.

“I have seen some of the holes they have been digging and putting pipes, I can see the archeology there,” he said.

A large area of modern Doha is being reclaimed form the sea, however, by examining aeriel photographs from the 1940s the researchers will distinguish the original, recent extensions and reclaimed lands.

Once archeological evidence are found the team will conduct lots of research and special studies on the food remains, ceramics, architecture, plaster used in making buildings. They will then decide on the appropriate action to be taken to do with the findings.

“In the long term we will integrate our discoveries with the historical research going on in parallel, oral testimonies about earlier life in Doha,” said Dr Carter. Finally a publication through open access online outlet will be published based on large findings of the origins of Doha.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Friday, 13 April 2012

33 Qataris are aged 100 or more: QSA data


According to data released by the Qatar Statistics Authority (QSA) there are 33 Qatari senior citizens who are aged 100 or more. They are part of the 7,347 citizens aged 65 years and above – 3,506 men and 3,841 women.

Senior citizens were the focus of attention as Qatar marked the World Health Day yesterday under the theme “Ageing and health - good health adds life to years.”

The number of senior citizens in the country is on the rise, with an increase in life expectancy.

According to 2010 census, there are 13,817 senior citizens (aged 65 and above) in Qatar. Of them 6,470 are non-Qataris - 4,643 men and 1,827 women.

Qatar has been providing the best services to senior citizens. There are 12 citizens and 11 expatriates at the Qatar Foundation for Elderly Care.  Another 64 Qataris and 38 non-Qataris are admitted at the Rumaila Hospital and 64 Qataris and 38 expatriates are at the Hamad Medical City.  

In a statement issued on the occasion of the World Health Day, Minister of Health and Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Health HE Abdulla bin Khalid Al Qahtani said that Qatar has paid great attention to the issue of ageing, which was clear in Article 21 of the Qatari constitution that deals with the care to be given to the elderly people.

He said that the National Health Strategy 2011-2016 launched last year will positively contribute to the achievement of Qatar National Vision 2030, which puts the provision of a comprehensive health system as a main target. “Ageing and health” is a very important issue because the world is expected to see a four times hike in the number of people aged 80 and above  between 2000 and 2050,  reaching about 395 millions, he added.

The Minister called for using the World Health Day to unite efforts to promote healthy lifestyle from birth to death, so as to prevent or delay the incidence of non-communicable and chronic diseases, in addition to disability in advanced stages of life.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Qatar: The Duality of the Legal System

This article by A. Nizar Hamzeh first appeared in the Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 30, No.1, January 1994, pp.79-90. The article analyses the background of Qatar's legal development and its organization of the judiciary. The article is made available through the Documentation Center, American University of Beirut in collaboration with Al Mashriq project.

A unique legal system prevails in Qatar in the Arab Gulf states. Two characteristics define Qatar's particularity. First, as a traditional Muslim society, people have settled their disputes according to the sharia court (Islamic court), which applies sharia law (Muslim law). Second, the independence of Qatar in 1971 marked the termination of British protection and with it British jurisdiction over non- Muslim residents. Consequently, the Amir established the Adlia court (civil court) to meet the needs and problems which resulted from the termination of British jurisdiction.1

The foregoing characteristics, peculiar to Qatar, have produced a viable dualism in its legal system different from that of the other Gulf states. This is not to suggest that dualism does not exist in the legal systems of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Dualism, however, in these systems is invisible rather than visible. All four dynasties rule on the basis of Islamic legitimacy and the sharia law. Yet, in contrast to the four states where the economic activities and civil matters of non-Muslims are regulated by special committees or courts which are supervised by the King and the Council of Ministers, Qatar's Adlia court is not subordinate to the Amir and his ministers. The court is a rather independent body with a well-defined structure, something which is not present in the legal systems of the other dynasties. In contrast to the prerogatives of the ministers of justice of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and UAE, Qatar's minister of justice may supervise but does not legislate secular laws, which are the prerogative of the Adlia court itself. This unique phenomenon of dualism which has never been studied consistently or independently will allow us to determine the extent of compatibility between the sharia law and the modem law of the Adlia court. This article will therefore focus on Qatar's legal system as suggested by the background of its legal development, the organization of the judiciary and the implications of dualism.

The territory of the state of Qatar is situated halfway along the west coast of the Gulf, and its territory covers a total area of 4,400 square miles. The oil industry, which developed much faster than the rest of the economy, has raised Qatar to the third highest per capita income in the world. In the 1980s this figure stood at $11,400, with $2 billion drawn from oil revenues. The present population is estimated at 300,000 inhabitants, most of whom reside in Doha, the capital city.2

Over the centuries Qatar's legal system has emerged in three stages: tribal law or desert law, sharia law and modern law.

Scholars are almost unanimous in their opinion that custom is not only the oldest source of law, but also an important one that has shaped the different legal systems in traditional societies.3 Like other Arab Gulf states (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Oman), Qatar was made up of Badu (nomads) and Hadar (settled people). While the Badu roamed in the inland region in search of food, the Hadar lived in towns along the coast. Until the end of the eighteenth century, the Qatari tribes settled their disputes according to the customs of desert law recognizing Islam as an article of faith. Each tribe had its own dirah (territory) and its own shaykh (chieftain). The tribe depended on the shaykh for guidance and protection. Thus, the shaykh was the center of power, simultaneously a political chief and the supreme judge of tribal disputes.4 For example, in matters such as the amount and form of dowry payments, use of wells, homicide, theft, adultery and rape, the shaykh * was the sole power in settling disputes in the absence of legislation enforced by a centralized government. In the case of homicide, for instance, if a person from a certain tribe was killed by a member of another tribe (whether the killing was intentional or unintentional), both tribes became involved in what was called a 'blood feud'. In this blood feud tribes followed strict desert law. The victim's tribe would pursue revenge the third day after the homicide, hoping to kill in vengeance some member of the killer's tribe. However, if the killer's tribe was weak, it had the right to ask for the protection of another stronger tribe, until the shaykh of that tribe could find an acceptable solution for the victim's tribe. According to desert customary law, if the victim's tribe does not accept material compensation offered by the killer's tribe, the killer must be executed.5 Thus, justice was not an institution of peace and harmony but rather a strict enforcement of desert rules and customs. Although the desert law prescribed behavior and set sanctions for deviators, it lacked procedures for the enforcement of the principles of forgiveness and reconciliation. Nevertheless, the distinction between desert law and sharia law becomes increasingly blurred with the coming of sharia law as a sole basis for settling disputes among Qataris.

The second stage of Qatar's legal development extended from the end of the eighteenth century to 1916. This stage was characterized by the dominance of sharia law. Unlike modern Western law, sharia law is not an independent branch of knowledge nor is it the creation of legal scholars or secular institutions. Sharia, which literally means 'the way to follow', was revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, in AD 570. Thus, the sharia is a religious system in both its sources and rules. 6 In this connection, the sharia, contrary to Western laws, does not differentiate between civil obligations and religious ones. The sharia appears to be a one-way legal system from God to the individual. As David and Brierly put it, 'the Shari'a is, therefore, centered around the idea of man's obligations or duties rather than any rights he might have'. 7 In addition to this revelation, in a theocratic system there is no separation between state and religion. The role of the state in Islam is only of value as the servant of revealed religion. Although the sharia holds that civil authorities have the power to regulate society to preserve public order, the new regulations should not deviate from or diminish the importance of the sharia as a sole source of law.8

However, towards the end of the eighteenth century Shaykh Ibn Abdul Wahhab founded Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism as an Islamic movement was influenced by the Hanbali rite, one of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence.9 The Hanbali school of law insists upon strict adherence to the Qur'an and Sunna as the major sources of the sharia. It rejects individual reasoning or interpretation as a source of sharia law.10 Following the Hanbali rite, Ibn Abdul Wahhab rejected innovations running counter to pure Islamic faith. He sought to return Muslims to the 'Right Path' and eliminate negative practices of customs and tribal distinction, binding the Arabian peninsula into a unity based on purity and true religion. In fact, followers of Wahhabism thought so highly of their teacher that they refer to the era before him as jahiliyya (ignorance). 11 The Wahhabi movement was responsible for the emergence of the Al-Thani family as rulers of Qatar since 1878. The Al-Thani family, adherents of Wahhabism, used the movement to legitimize their power. Also, with the help of the Ottoman Empire, which was the dominant power at that time, they centralized authority and brought Qatar under sharia law as it was interpreted by Wahhabism. The sitting judges of the sharia court at that time had full jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters. The judges applied the sharia law in resolving the disputes arising. If individuals were dissatisfied with the verdict, they had the right to appeal their cases to the Amir of the ruling family, who had full judicial power as a court of appeal. Thus, there was no separation between the judicial power and the executive power of the Amir.

The enforcement of sharia law limited desert law to a certain extent. One major limitation was that the authority of the shaykh of the tribe came to an end. Second, the application of sharia brought such customs to an end as blood feud, superstitions, black magic and bida' ([undesirable] innovations). For example, the blood feud was outlawed by the sharia court. However, other customs of desert law were integrated within it: aspects such as principles of reconciliation, payment of dowries, use of water wells and business contracts. Despite the fact that the sitting judge applied the sharia, he applied custom in matters that were not covered by the sharia law. Thus, one might argue that regular customs as opposed to irregular ones were incorporated in the sharia. In this connection, it should be noted that while custom is not part of Fiqh, the sharia does not condemn it.12 Nevertheless, sharia law as a dominant legal system had to face a critical third stage of legal development.

The third stage of Qatar's legal development extends from 1916 up to the present. With the intrusion of British political influence and the discovery of oil in 1940 came the introduction of Western laws. The British involvement in Qatar from 1916 to 1971 brought British legal institutions. Under the British Foreign Acts, British legislation was given extraterritorial validity in the principalities of the Gulf.13 In the case of Qatar, British jurisdiction did not supplant local jurisdiction (i.e. sharia law) but instead was parallel to it, governing British and non-Muslim residents in Qatar, who worked for British oil companies and businesses, while Muslim residents remained subject to the jurisdiction of the sharia court. The British court was located inside the British consulate, its judges administered justice by applying the principles of the English common law, including the right to be represented by a lawyer in disputes. Final appeal against a decision of the British court was to the Privy Council in London . 14 However, after the independence of Qatar in 1971, British jurisdiction over non-Muslim foreigners ceased. Consequently, the sharia court regained full jurisdiction in all civil and criminal matters over all foreigners in Qatar. Thus, the status of non-Muslims became incompatible with the law applied by the sharia court. In response to the new situation the Amir, Shaykh Khalifa Bin Hamad Al-Thani created the Adlia court, as distinct from the sharia court, to deal with the backlog or disputes among foreigners and Qatar's nationals. In addition, with the increase in oil revenue, the government began to experience modernization in various fields. Modernization took place in the areas of education, medical services, housing, social welfare programs, state administration, transportation and communication. Thus new laws and new judicial techniques were urgently required to deal with consequences and problems of modernization that were unknown not only to sharia law but to the sharia court as well. Therefore, the Adlia court was deemed necessary in the absence of British jurisdiction for non-Muslims, and in the light of a changing society. Qatar's legal development has culminated in a dual judicial system.
The constitution apparently marked the beginning of an attempt to organize the judiciary. This organization had resulted in a division of Qatar's judicial system: while the sharia court applied sharia law, the Adlia court applied Western civil law.

The amended Provisional Constitution of 19 April 1972 which superseded the Provisional Constitution of 2 April 1970 defines the new state of Qatar in Article 1 as an 'independent sovereign Arab state; its religion is Islam and the Islamic Shari'a is the main source of legislation'.15 With exception to Article 1, however, there is no reference to the sharia law, neither in the procedural Articles 9, 10, 11 or the Judges' Article 65 which states that 'Judges shall be independent in the exercise of their power and that there shall be no interference in the administration of justice by any one'. 16 Thus, it is apparent that the constitution avoided specific reference to the kind of judicial system, which became an apparent dualism. However, according to the regulations of the presidium of the sharia courts and religious affairs, sharia judges are required to have a degree in sharia studies from an Islamic school. Currently most of the sharia judges and personnel are graduates from either Saudi Arabia or from al- Azhar University in Egypt. 17 The sharia court, according to the same regulations, has full jurisdiction in all civil and criminal disputes over Qatar's nationals and Muslims from other countries. The following is an institutional and jurisdictional division of the sharia court (see Figure 1).18

SHARIA COURT
Petty Sharia Court
This court consists of the first and the second court. Each court has two judges. The first court has jurisdiction over cases that need prompt action, such as felony, assaults and theft. The second court handles cases of personal status, such as divorce, marriage and contracts among people.

Grand Sharia Court
This court is headed by a chief judge who is also the president of the presidium of the sharia courts and religious affairs. The court acts as an appellate court to the Petty Sharia and has jurisdiction over major criminal cases such as homicide and serious theft. In cases of personal status, it has a wide jurisdiction on matters of inheritance and family disputes, and it also handles land and property disputes among Muslims. The court acts as a trustee for the property of minors and persons of diminished capacity. The court issues Fatwas on various matters. Its decision is final and cannot be overturned.


Presidium of the Sharia Courts
The presidium is an administrative body rather than a court. It is headed by the chief judge of the Grand Sharia court. The presidium supervises the work of the sharia courts and the chief judge selects their judges, who are appointed to their posts by royal decree.

Therefore, unlike the common law court, the sharia court is not based on case law, the judge does not have to follow precedents and is not bound by the decision of previous cases. The significance of the sharia judge is further highlighted by the absence of the jury system which is a dominant feature of the common law court. The judge applies the verdict of God by virtue of his knowledge of the sharia law. As for procedures, the sharia courts require neither the plaintiff nor the defendent to be represented by a lawyer before the court, Muslims represent themselves directly.

ADLIA COURT
The Adlia court was established in 1971 by royal decree No. 13. The court was supplemented by Qatar criminal laws (decree No. 14), which specified the jurisdictional responsibilities of the Adlia court in criminal cases. Thus, according to both decrees, the following is an institutional and jurisdictional outline of the Adlia court (see Figure 1):19

Petty Penal Court
This court consists of two departments. Each one is headed by a chief judge. The Petty Penal court has jurisdiction over cases such as felony, misdemeanours, traffic accidents, theft and cases that involve violation of the behavioral moral code.

Grand Penal Court
The court is headed by a chief judge called 'the president of the Grand Penal Court'. It has jurisdiction over major crimes such as homicide and serious offenses such as grand theft. It also acts as a court of appeal for suits tried by the Petty Penal court. However, Articles 17, 22, and 23 of the criminal laws specify that in certain crimes, such as intentional or unintentional homicide, and sex crimes such as rape, homosexuality and prostitution, if the accused is a Muslim, only the sharia court has jurisdiction over such crimes. However, the Petty and Grand Penal courts have jurisdiction over non-Muslims.

Civil Court
This court consists of three departments. Each department is headed by a single judge. One department reviews and rules on cases related to rental and lease properties. The other two departments rule on civil, commercial and personal status of non-Muslims. In this connection, the sharia court retains its jurisdiction over the personal status of Muslims. 
 
Figure 1: Insitution of the Judicial System in Qatar
Labor Court
The court was established in 1962 by royal decree No.3.20 The labor court has jurisdiction over all disputes brought to it under the labor law irrespective of the religion of the plaintiff and the defendent. Thus, the sharia court has lost jurisdiction over labor disputes among muslims, which is a part of its jurisdiction according to sharia law.

Court of Appeal
This is the highest court in the Adlia court in Qatar. The judge of the Court of Appeal is also the president of the presidium of the Adlia courts. He is appointed by the Amir and assisted by two judges appointed by him. The Court of Appeal is located within the presidium of the Adlia courts. It reviews appellate cases from the various courts, penal, civil, as well as labor. The ruling of the court of appeal is final and binding.

Presidium of the Adlia Courts
The presidium , which is headed by the chief of the Court of Appeal as stated above, is responsible to the minister of justice. The president selects justices of the courts and organizes the judicial apparatus of the Adlia court.

Unlike the sharia court, the Adlia court sources of law are based on a modern Western concept of law, where rules have been taken from Romano-Germanic legal systems. The judges of the Adlia court issue their verdict in accordance with the precepts of civil law, in which the rule of law is perceived as a rule of conduct according to the concept of justice. Thus, contrary to the sharia judges who apply the verdict of God, the judges of the Adlia court are more concerned with a general rule of conduct for the future. Furthermore, decree No. 13 in Article 6 (section b, c) requires judges and lawyers of these courts to have a law degree from a law school of an accredited university. The decree also requires the judges to have practised law for a requisite period of time. Moreover, the law requires that both the plaintiff and defendant be represented by lawyers in the court.21

Dualism is probably understood as the outcome of ambiguity rather than harmony in the judicial system. Yet it appears that every legal system has certain implications. However, the scarcity of the data makes it difficult sometimes for specific assessment of the obvious dualism. Nevertheless, the implications of the dualism of Qatar's legal system can be seen in the eclipse of the role of the sharia court, the rise of 'legal notables' and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

The increasing numbers of civil, criminal and labor laws which are under the jurisdiction of the Adlia court, have gradually contributed to the eclipse of the role of the sharia court. One might even argue that its role has been restricted to matters related to family law. A review of statistical reports published by the Presidium of the sharia Courts indicates that while there has been an increase in cases related to family law and Muslim personal status, there has been a decrease on the other hand in cases related to crimes and felonies.22 The reports show that cases of personal status such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and property rights have increased from 60 per cent in 1984 to 85 per cent in 1988, while the cases of homicide and felonies have dropped from 40 per cent in 1984 to 15 per cent in 1988.23 However, the reports do not explain what the reasons behind this decline are. One possible explanation is that most cases of major crimes and serious offenses have been transferred to the Petty and Grand Penal courts of the Adlia, which probably handle these cases in a more sophisticated way not known to the sharia court. Overall, the statistical reports for the same period do not show the sharia court's jurisdiction over matters related to trade, labor, business and other related matters. The lack of jurisdiction over such areas is due to their having been taken over by the Adlia labor court. Consequently, this has led not only to the eclipse of the role of the sharia court but more importantly to a differentiation between religious duties and civil obligations, whereas they are inseparable according to Islamic sharia law as stated earlier. By the same token the ulama or sharia judges who issue fatwas in matters not covered by the sharia have become of no importance to the Qataris, since there have been other channels through the Adlia court where matters of criminal, trade, labor and business are well defined and the general rule of conduct is well established.

Furthermore, the sharia courts have always influenced government policies. For example, the sharia requires that every Muslim pay zakat (compulsory alms giving); however, neither the Adlia court nor government regulations force them to do that. Moreover, sharia law according to its main source, the Qur'an, forbids the taking of interest by individuals. Despite its clear condemnation, there are a total of 15 commercial banks operating in Qatar. Their operations are monitored by the Qatar Monetary Agency, its laws are secular and entirely divorced from Islamic regulations or influences. However, the banks offer their services to individuals, including Muslims, charging interest on loans and paying interest on savings.24

The rise of the new elite of lawyers is another important implication of the dualism in Qatar's legal system. While the sharia court structure is made up of the traditional religious elite such as the ulama and judges, the Adlia court on the other- hand, as soon as its court judges and personnel became independent of the sharia court has prompted the emergence of a new elite of judges and lawyers as opposed to the traditional ones. The new elite has become what Ehrman calls 'the legal notables'.25 The legal notables of Qatar are made up of judges and official public prosecutors and lawyers, trained personnel employed in government and private business, and the legal services groups. Although statistical figures about the legal notables are not available, speculation can be made about them by using related figures of Qatari students who study abroad in various fields such as modern law and business administration which are neither available nor well established in Qatar. Out of 1,300 students studying abroad, 387 are in social sciences and humanities.26 Out of these 387, 96 students are majoring in business administration, followed by 43 students majoring in Western law, in comparison to 13 students studying sharia law. Then come political science and economics majors (27 students each). The rest of the students (94) are majoring in humanities." However, contrary to the sharia law, students who study in Saudi Arabia and Egypt (al-Azhar Sharia University), students studying Western law, business administration and related fields get their degrees from Western countries or from Arab countries with Western educational influences such as Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. Thus it can be assumed that posts of judges, lawyers, trained personnel and higher adminstrative posts of the legal notables are supplied from the same student, who in turn become the legal notables. However, there are at least seven established law firms in Doha, which offer legal services for Qatar's nationals and businesses.27 More importantly, having been exposed to liberal ideas and different concepts of Western law, the new elite are put in competition and are naturally in conflict with the traditional religious elite of the sharia court.

A third probable implication is the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. The impact of the present dualism on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism seems to be insignificant so far. However, the separate judiciary of Qatar's legal system may reinforce certain interests and alienate others. This is not to suggest that Islamic fundamentalist trends do not exist in Qatari society. However, possibly owing to the establishment of the sharia court and its judges who are usually government appointees, they tend to reinforce the legitimacy of the political authority in their interpretation of the sharia. Thus the responses of the establishment sharia may sound conservative rather than militant.

Nevertheless, the ensuing tension and ambiguity between legal norms and behavior as a result of dualism can alienate certain people in Qatar. In this respect, Ehrmann notices that 'institutions that are deeply rooted in tradition and values ... will be generally more resistant to modern law'.28 Thus one would expect that Qatari Islamic fundamentalists are to be more alienated and resistant to the Western law of the Adlia court than the establishment sharia, Furthermore, fundamentalist Muslims believe that power in Islam is ascribed only to God and only the sharia court executes God's law.29 Consequently, modern legal systems are alien to the existing Qatari fundamentalists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, at Takfir wal- hijrah, Hizb al-da'wah al-islamiyyah, and Hizb tahrir al-jazirah. While the first two parties are Sunni-based, the second two are Shiite-based.30 Although much of their activities are covert and underground, it is well established among Qataris that the declining role of the sharia court will increase the militancy of Islamic fundamentalism, especially among the lower strata such as rural households and the badu.

The purpose of this article has been to investigate and to determine the extent of dualism in Qatar's legal system. It is found that dualism is visible and significant owing to two distinct types of judicial organization, the Adlia court and the sharia court. While the sharia court's sources and procedures are based on Islamic sharia, the court of the Adlia is based on a Western concept of law. The fact, however, remains that the Adlia court is neither part of the sharia court, nor supplementary to it. It is entirely independent and belongs to the modern legal sytem, the civil law. Thus the belief that Qatar is still governed by the sharia only, and the Adlia court is supplementary and incompatible with the sharia can be disputed.31 While the sharia court is still a viable source of moral guidance to many Qataris, there is more than a little evidence to support the fact that the sharia court's jurisdiction has been limited and even excluded from certain areas, such as labor, trade and business. In practice the sharia court entertains issues of Muslim personal status such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and crimes related to the family. However, its role in influencing individual behavior and state policies has been increasingly limited. Moreover, the presence of dualism has led to the rise of legal notables, as opposed to traditional religious ones. Furthermore, the presence of the modern legal system of the Adlia court may also increase the already alienated militant fundamentalist groups, which consider the Adlia court alien to the sharia. Thus the gap between the two laws will continue to increase as neither the sharia nor the civil law is applied on an integral basis. In the end, it depends on the state responses towards managing the dualism. Perhaps the civil law needs to be asserted over the sharia law. Whichever is the alternative, it is essential to have a legal system that is harmonious and embodies practical solutions to legal problems which might not find answers in religious faith only.


NOTES