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Controversy in Qatar over electoral law’s exclusion of tribe

Seven people have been referred to prosecutors for “publishing fake news” regarding the Al Murrah tribe’s discontent with the regulations for Qatar’s upcoming election.
Qatari man votes 2015 municipal elections

A controversy is unfolding in Qatar over one tribe’s anger at an election law. 

Qatar’s first-ever elections for its parliament, the Consultative Assembly, will take place in October following several years of delays. Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, approved the laws governing the election last week. Anyone 18-years-old and over with a grandfather born in Qatar can vote. To run, candidates will need to be of Qatari origin and have turned 30. 

The controversy stems from the Qatari origin requirement for candidates. This stipulation prohibits some members of the Al Murrah tribe from running in the election, BBC Arabic reported Monday. 

The Al Murrah tribe lives in both Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and has historically had a fractious relationship with the Qatari state. In 1995, the then-emir of Qatar, Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, was deposed in a bloodless coup by his son, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani (whose son is the current emir).

 In 1996, Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani allegedly attempted a return to power, supported by the Al Murrah tribe. Qatar alleges that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain played a role in the 1996 plot to return Emir Khalifa to power.

The fraught relationship between Al Murrah and Doha has continued in the 21st century. In 2005, thousands of Al Murrah tribespeople were stripped of their citizenship by the Qatari government. During the Qatar diplomatic crisis in 2017, Al Murrah leader Sheikh Taleb bin Lahom bin Shreim called Qatar’s government a “a source of haven for terrorists” and accused them of being too close to Iran in an interview with Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya news outlet. 

Supporters of the tribe are now again angry at the government over the electoral law. On Monday, the Arabic-language hashtag “Al_Marrah_was_Qatar_before_the_government” trended on Twitter as users defended the tribe and its longstanding roots in Qatar. A Monday video showing members of the tribe denouncing the government for racism was viewed more than 200,000 times on the social media site.

Other members of the Al Murrah tribe expressed support for the Qatari government. 

Some of those commenting on social media were Saudi critics of the Qatari government. In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt closed their borders to and severed relations with Qatar, accusing their neighbor of supporting terrorism. The dispute related to Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and relations with Iran. The so-called anti-terror quartet and Qatar officially ended the dispute in January and have been patching up relations since. 

The issue heated up Sunday when Qatar’s Interior Ministry announced the referral of seven people to prosecutors for “publishing fake news” and inciting "racial and tribal arrogance" on social media, according to a ministry press release. The action was related to the election issue, according to BBC Arabic.