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Royal Factionalism and Political Liberalization in Qatar

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Qatar's much publicized liberalization campaign that began in the mid-1990s was a direct result of efforts by the new Amir, Shaykh Hamad, to compensate for his fragile base of support within the ruling Al Thani family by appealing to a broader base of Qataris and also to the international community. Historically, the Al Thani family had been one of the only centers of potential opposition to the reigning Amir, with merchant families or the religious establishment having been politically neutralized due to a variety of historical and structural reasons. Nevertheless, in relation to both groups the state has pursued a nuanced policy of simultaneous co-option and political incapacitation. Meanwhile, steady rises in oil and gas revenues allowed the state to significantly deepen its capacity in relation to society, and, by doing so, to ensure that groups from within civil society did not rise to positions of prominence. Within the Al Thanis, Shaykh Hamad undertook a number of significant changes, not the least of which was the creation of new institutions and offices that were staffed by his loyal supporters, including some of his sons and daughters. He also streamlined the line of succession to include only his own descendants. With the traditional political disquiet of the Al Thanis thus silenced, at least for now, all talks of liberalization have been dropped and the Qatari state remains fundamentally autocratic.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2009

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