GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Tribalism and Elections in Qatar
Paper Proposal Text :
In his seminal work “The Arab Political Reason” Mohammed Abed al-Jabiri demonstrates how the tribe is one of three major determinants of politics throughout Arab history. According to al- Jabiri; the Arab political subconscious is formed by social relations that are tribal both in nature and character. These tribal relations occupy the centre stage in the Arab political theatre, whereas relations of production and economics play a partial and secondary role in society.

In recent history in the Arab world, new forms of government were established and institutionalisation has started to take foot. Tribal power eroded but the amount of this erosion has been minimal in many Arab countries including Qatar. The tribe endured exhibiting remarkable resilience and adaptability. Today in Qatar, as in many other Arab countries, the social and political system is based on tribes, relations between tribes themselves, and relation between the tribes and the state.

In the late 1990s, the democratic wave started to batter the shores of the Middle East, one of the last strongholds of authoritarianism. Questions of regime legitimacy arose triggering a chain of events in 2011 that ultimately toppled long-standing authoritarian leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and rocking the regimes in Syria and Bahrain to their core. Regimes responded but implementing substantial, electoral and institutional reforms. In Qatar, as in other GCC countries, the emphasis was on reform and the expansion of the electoral process. In this regard, Qatar held municipal election in May 2011 and again in May 2015. These elections revealed that the electoral process was susceptible to the power of tribes and tribal relations which acted as the main determining factor in the electoral process and election results.

The prominence of tribes in the Qatari electoral process places the subject of tribes and election at the centre stage of political discussions. It does so because a consolidated democracy must proceed from a civil society with a vibrant political culture; as well as an egalitarian rule of law, a functioning state, and a functional bureaucracy. Furthermore, for a civil society to flourish, the social structure needs to move away from tribalism. Notably, when Sheikh Hamad came to power in 1995, he consolidated his power by seeking to balance tribal functions and state relations. Nonetheless, the structure of society and polity in Qatar remains predominantly tribal and patrimonial

This paper will argue that:

Tribal social structures negatively affect the development of consolidated democracy, as vital prerequisites of political transition; civil society and vibrant political culture.

Tribalism robs elections from their democratic value and meaning. When elections are held, people vote for their family members, cousins or relatives, without considering the political promises or policy agendas

Tribalism renders elections a vote for tribal affiliation and thus there will be heightened vertical cleavages along tribal lines, instead of horizontal cleavages along class lines.

To support the above arguments, this paper will deploy a qualitative approach investigating the effects of tribalism on democratic transition and election in Qatar. Semi structured interviews with opinion leaders in Qatar will be conducted to investigate the influence of tribalism on the electoral process and election results